**NOTE: All money raised in excess of our goal will be allocated towards advancing this project and series. This means more stories told, more impressions made, more resources contacted, more networking, more lives saved.**
Lethal drug overdoses are at an all-time high. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have released statistics that are both alarming and stomach-wrenching. Recent charts extending back to 2000 show a jump in lethal prescription drug overdoses, lethal opioid pain relieving drug overdoses, and, perhaps the biggest culprit here, lethal heroin overdoses. The end of 2001 yielded just around 2,000 lethal heroin overdoses in the US. 2014 registered over 10,000 and the numbers are well above their monthly averages every month since then. To make matters worse, the friends, families, and loved ones of these overdose victims don’t seem to want to talk about it. More and more obituaries are reading “unexpectedly” as opposed to “of a drug overdose” when citing their loss. Parents and loved ones are ashamed to talk about their child, husband, wife, sister, brother, girlfriend, boyfriend, or friend as an addict because of the stigma that is associated with addiction. It’s time to open the world’s eyes on this matter.
I am 24 years old and I have been sober nearly 5 years — I am a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. If you looked at me, though, you wouldn’t know or even guess. I look just like you: I smile wide, wear clean, tidy clothes, love material things, sport nice shoes, own a smartphone, drive a car, lease an apartment, and run a company. I have friends who drink and friends who don’t. I laugh and cry, I make mistakes and I make masterpieces. My point here is this: nowadays there’s no way to tell a victim of this crippling disease by their appearance. I’m going to tell the story of Billy Derr next. He’s the subject of the sketch you saw on the cover page and the subject of this entire piece.
Billy was one of my best friends. My sister was going through a rough patch in 2014 after her 4+ year relationship dissolved and she opted out of playing the college sport she’d been recruited to play. This all occurred as she was entering college and had just lived through my active addiction and how that wreaks havoc on the home life. Her New Years Eve plans had fallen through and, for the first time in a long time, Molly had nothing to do during a major holiday. Mind you, Molly was one of the most popular kids in her high school. She was an athlete, a volunteer and quite the artist. While I missed most of her high school career running amuck, I can definitively say that Molly never had a plan-less weekend. BUT, here we were, and Molly was devastated. She was with my family in New York, I was in Boston living my new sober life. I was back in school at this point and I had just made the college baseball team, so I had quite a NYE celebration ahead of me. Billy and I were headed to a party when Molly called me sobbing and helpless. I looked down, fully out of ideas, to see that Billy had tossed his last $40 on my lap. I looked up and he pointed forward in the style I assumed Louis & Clark had when they ventured West… Billy insisted we drive down to New York and surprise Molly. We picked up a friend of ours and drove onward ho. We arrived at my family’s place at 11:48pm and Billy barged through the front door. Mind you, Molly was the only member of my family that had met Billy. So when Billy stood in the doorway offering lap dances, everyone was confused and petrified. Luckily for them, Billy was a chunky dude who wore a dazzling array of clothes not meant for someone of his stature, so he was more a joke than a threat. Molly saw it was him, saw Cody (the buddy we picked up along the way) and me in the background, and started to cry. My sister didn’t have to spend NYE alone. Because of Billy. Because of Billy the drug addict.
I’m sure we’ve all got best friends like Billy. He quickly became an integral part of my life. And despite the fact that Billy and I knew each other less than three years, I quickly learned what it meant to have a best friend — something I had never been able to have or experience. What made us so close was what we called “stepping over bodies”,. It’s a shame, but the more people our age that we had come to know, see grow, and then bury really thickened our skin. And we’d tell our “normal” friends that we had a friend die of a drug overdose and they’d extend their best, but that never changed anything (not that we expected it to). During my time on this planet in recovery, I think I have had maybe three or four instances in which I found myself trying to explain this addiction to someone who has never experienced it. That’s a function of two things: either the “normal” people don’t ask, or more commonly they, too, have some experience with this disease, whether it be by way of loved one or family member, friend or foe. They know.
April 14th, 2016 was undoubtedly one of the hardest days of my life. Billy was found lifeless in his one-bedroom apartment. Cause of Death? Overdose. At first, I behaved just like I did with the 100 some odd before him. Spread the word, fight the tears, buy a pack of cigarettes, and tough it up. It never hits me at first, and I’m convinced that is solely due to the way I’ve come to condition myself to receive that kind of news. Just a few weeks earlier I’d heard the same news of another close friend. I white-knuckled for a few days and carried on. Granted, I was unbearable at work, home and everywhere else. But, I got through. At 12:30pm, though, I was asked a favor by Billy’s mother. And at 3:00pm that day I carried out that favor as I promised I would: I went to the Medical Examiner’s office and identified Billy’s body.
Since Billy’s passing, Jenny (his mother) has shown herself to be one of the strongest, most badass people I know. She has spent every day spreading Billy’s story. Speaking at schools, treatment centers, help groups… everywhere. And when I called her to speak about this project and praised her strength, she kept it simple for me: “Evan, it’s the only way I can mourn without going crazy.” I couldn’t help by smile as I stared at the picture of Billy I’ve got stuck to my dashboard. “I really think he’d be so f***ing proud of me for talking about all this.” Her slight southern twang really brought Billy to life as I’d heard in his voice time and time again. As I hung up and cruised down I-84 in Connecticut, I started tearing up again.
Jenny and I want to tell Billy’s story and also find the stories like his; the good, kind, funny, sweet kid who fell victim to this pandemic. Maybe, just maybe, if we spread this story and get enough people behind us, we can turn the tide on this world-wide storm we’ve found ourselves in. But it won’t change if it stays cloaked in shame and silence.
So this project’s objective is to bring to light the disease of substance abuse disorder or addiction. To make people aware that it’s not only the homeless man or woman sleeping under a bridge in tattered clothes begging for change that are susceptible to a lethal drug overdose. To help show the friends and families victimized by drugs that it’s okay to be open about it. So many times, people who die of a drug overdose go down as a junkie. We can change that! We can bring this disease to light and get people talking about it. Talking about how to realize someone has a problem. Talking about the fact that those people to your left and/or right, those people are just as susceptible to drug addiction and overdose.
My goal is twofold. First, produce a series of short documentary pieces, highlighting those who have been lost to addiction and more specifically heroin overdose. Billy’s story is the first, but there are many more out there. And second is to bring to light that anyone can find themselves an addict, no matter who they are and where they come from. Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and neither should we.
The first step in this process is to tell Billy’s story. Once this is completed, we can share it with the world through several well established connections within the recovery community.. The next step is to begin to gather names from others who lost their fight, resulting in a series of documentaries, all telling individual tales but with two overarching purposes: bring the disease of addiction to the forefront of the public arena and make it easier for people to start talking about their losses, connections, and problems.
We will conduct interviews of family, friends, and loved ones of Billy Derr in his hometown of Henrico, VA. We will collect footage the Derrs and friends have of Billy throughout his life. Our vision is twofold:
1. Billy was much more than a drug addict; he was a good friend, a great boyfriend, an amazing son, and an outstanding brother. He gave back to society. He made people laugh and smile. 700 mourners gathered to celebrate his life.
2. Families, loved ones, and friends need to speak up; if we can put our hands up and put our hands out, thus letting people know who we are and where we are, we can create a community for people like Jenny and her husband Kevin who are mourning a loss . These stories will continue popping up if we don’t put our finger on the flame.
We will be sending the finished project to blogs, treatment centers, recovery schools, networks, health centers, public offices, friends, family, production hubs, documentarians, festival circuits, award curators… We will have scheduled well over 1,000 emails by the time the video becomes ready for launch. And as soon as we hear that first person reach out and want their story told, we’ll do it all over again.
There’s no limit on how far we can go with this, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Jenny is not only on board, but she’s excited and proud to be a part of this and future projects that could come out of this!
As you can see, I am extremely passionate about this project. I have been personally affected by the disease of addiction and feel so strongly that only by increasing awareness, reducing shame and encouraging transparent dialogue can we begin to stem the tide.
Risks and challenges
Naturally, there are risks and challenges that come with every project like this (really, anything in the film and video world). To quote Sidney Lumet, "All great work is preparing yourself for the accident waiting to happen." In our case, we could be looking at faulty equipment or storage, travel problems, or, the words no producer ever wants to speak, corrupted files. To conquer these hindrances, we've factored into the budget a contingency sector to allow us to, on a whim, should we have to, replace any faulty equipment or drives. We will be filming and recording more than enough content to fill the video from front to back, so replacing clips will be easy should any not translate through our software.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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