America's opioid crisis is starkly laid out in the opening moments of HBO Documentary Films' "Warning: This Drug May Kill You." There's a guy slumped over on a bus. A woman passed out on a street. Another guy collapsed backward across a bench. Then there's a doctor, in a Perdue Pharma promotional video from 1999, explaining that "we doctors were wrong in thinking that opioids cannot be used long-term. They can be. And they should be."
For the rest of the hour-long film — available free this month on HBO Watch (watch.hbo.com) and HBO Documentary Films YouTube (youtube.com/hbodocs) — viewers don't meet another MD. It's all about the disturbing, depressing and often devastating stories of four people who were prescribed these drugs, and how their lives unraveled.
For Stephany Gay from Illinois, it all started when she was a straight-laced teenager suffering with kidney stones. The pills didn’t just offer her relief. “It numbed my feelings, and made me feel, like, okay about everything,” says Gay, who was soon taking far more than she was supposed to. Concerned about her inability to stop, she and her mom went back to the doctor. She left with an even more powerful prescription. Because she shared it with her sister Ashley and then the supply got cut off, both of them eventually turned to heroin. Now, Ashley’s dead and Stephany, who has been in and out of rehab, can’t take care of her daughter.
But Stephany is still alive, which sets her apart from the film’s other addicts, including Wynne Doyle, a wealthy mother of three who got hooked after a Caesarean section. Her two teenage sons recount what it was like to discover her body after she’d overdosed on pills. Two sets of parents in a support group also talk about the horror of losing their children, both in their young 20s and both found with a syringe nearby.
It doesn’t matter that they had resources and families who loved them. They all also had a prescription for opioids.