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Bustle: New ‘Gateway’ Doc Offers A Familiar Look At The Opioid Crisis

Every day, more than 130 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. The new documentary Gateway, from director Dana Richie, explores this crisis through the lens of three families of addicts whose reliance on opioids began when they were prescribed the medication by their doctors to manage pain after surgery. The film examines how routine surgeries are an often-overlooked contributor to the nation’s opioid epidemic.

“What [Gateway] represents is doctors being more thoughtful when it comes to how they prescribe [opioids],” Richie tells Bustle. “Because we do show the dangers that can happen if it gets in the wrong hands or if they’re prescribed to someone who potentially could go down that path.”

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Gateway marks Richie’s documentary directorial debut and quickly morphed from a patient testimonial campaign for an alternative pain medication to a doc diving deeper into those patients lives. “Everything that came out of the interviews was extremely emotional and very authentic,” she says. “We felt that the stories just needed to be as long as they needed to be, and if it turned into a documentary then that’s fine.”

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Those patient testimonials include Jen Wysong, a mother whose post-C-section pain management plan led her to addiction. After suffering through years of drug abuse and setbacks, Wysong has now been clean for three years, and works as a peer support counselor at the same treatment facility that supported her journey to sobriety.

Richie was also able to sit in on the peer group Wysong runs at the treatment facility. “Listening to their stories, opening up about their struggles and what their lives are like; these are all amazing women who for whatever reason, found themselves in that situation,” she says.

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One of the more heartbreaking stories in Gateway is that of Jennifer Weiss-Burke, whose son Cameron became addicted to opioids after a number of surgeries related to his devotion to sports. Cameron died of an overdose at 18-years-old, and his mother has since opened a recovery center for adolescents in his name in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“She took this tragedy and was able to turn it around. Through helping others in the youth recovery center. I think it helped her feel like she’s making a difference in their lives and also helped her heal too,” Richie says of Weiss-Burke.

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Since premiering in 2019, Gateway has won Best Director and Best Documentary Featurette from the Festigious Film Festival, as well as Best Documentary Feature from the LA Movie Awards. But for Richie, it’s about the film’s impact, not the awards. “The more people that talk about [opioid addiction] and the more we share this information, the more we have awareness, which will ultimately lead to prevention. The more voices we hear, the more united we become, the more we can help to eradicate this epidemic,” she says.

You can watch Gateway online now. For more information on how surgery contributes to the opioid epidemic, visit Plan Against Pain.

https://www.bustle.com/p/new-gateway-doc-offers-a-familiar-look-at-the-opioid-crisis-21749688
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In the Media

Albuquerque Journal: Stories of Grief, Hope and Recovery

 

Opioid addiction.

It’s an epidemic that wreaks havoc on lives.

Jennifer Weiss-Burke, of Albuquerque, knows firsthand of the damage of opioid addiction.

Albuquerque resident Jennifer Weiss-Burke appears in the documentary “Gateway,” which examines the opioid epidemic. (Courtesy of Gateway Film)

Weiss-Burke lost her 18-year-old son, Cameron, to a heroin overdose on Aug. 13, 2011.

Weiss-Burke is featured in the documentary “Gateway,” which is making the rounds on the film festival circuit.

The film is about three families affected by opioid addiction that began with a prescription to manage pain after surgery.

It provides an intimate look into the struggles that can be caused by legal opioid prescriptions when the dangers of the medications are not properly understood.

Weiss-Burke agreed to tell her story because of the angle the documentary takes.

“It shows multiple sides of the opioid epidemic,” she said. “From a prescribing side, it shows recovery. It shows the side of loss and it covers such a broad range. These are issues that people need to hear and understand.”

The drug dealer in Cameron Weiss’ case was found guilty by a federal jury on May 13.

After losing Cameron, Weiss-Burke began a mission to build something that she wishes would have existed for her son – Serenity Mesa, a recovery center for adolescents battling addiction.

“When we created Serenity Mesa, it was out of frustration and despair,” she said. “I had lost my son and I wasn’t able to get him effective treatment because he was under 18. I spent thousands of dollars trying to get him help.”

Serenity Mesa has been open for nearly five years.

About 140 kids have gone through the program.

“Some days, I see my son in a lot of these kids,” she said. “They are all struggling with an addiction. They fell into it with prescribed opiates. They don’t understand the long-term effects. Cameron was in and out of jail, and it was a constant struggle for him. People don’t realize that it’s an hourly struggle. The slope is slippery, and we’re trying to provide some stability to these kids. They need to realize that a lifestyle change has to happen.”

The film also follows Jen Wysong of Baltimore, who fell into addiction after receiving an opioid prescription to manage pain after a Caesarean section.

Although her path to recovery was riddled with setbacks, she has celebrated more than three years of sobriety and is now a peer support counselor at the same treatment facility that supported her journey to sobriety.

Also featured is Dr. Richard Chudacoff, a New Jersey-based OB-GYN who is at the forefront of addressing the opioid epidemic by providing his C-section patients with opioid-free surgery.

The film is directed by Dana Richie.

“The film is meant to start a conversation for change,” Richie said. “We wanted to educate that there are nonopiate options available to manage pain. It’s too easy to go down this dark path of addiction.”

The production took six months to complete.

Richie and crew were in New Mexico for about a week with Weiss-Burke.

“Jennifer was chosen because of her amazing work with recovery,” Richie said. “When we started to hear Jennifer’s story, it was so powerful. We didn’t know what to expect. With each story, it took us down a different path because every person opened up with so much authenticity and trust. We went back to the drawing board to begin to weave everything together.”

Richie used 2018 data from the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science.

According to a report, a lot of the addiction stems from the overprescribing of opioids after surgeries.

Alabama remained the top state in the nation for opioid prescriptions per capita. New Mexico is ranked 29th.

In 2016, 41 pills per capita were prescribed in New Mexico, but in 2017 the number decreased by 15%, to 35 pills prescribed per capita.

Richie wants to get the film in front of as many eyes as possible, which is why it is available to screen online at planagainstpain.com/gateway.

Weiss-Burke said the conversation has to start and the stigma has to be addressed.

“A lot of parents feel like it’s their fault,” she said. “We have to talk more about this issue. Keeping it together during filming was difficult to do. My goal was to make it a day of filming without losing it. There’s stories of hope and recovery. We have to work together to address all of these issues. It’s a big problem, and it does start with the overprescribing of opioids.”

BY ADRIAN GOMEZ / JOURNAL ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
Saturday, November 30th, 2019 at 12:02am

https://www.abqjournal.com/1396499/film-tells-stories-of-grief-hope-and-recovery.html