Written Off – A Moving Documentary
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Pictures by John Troha
Written Off is a documentary about a heart-wrenching case which would be of interest to the community, its wide network of physicians, dentists, parents, teachers and the young ones.
It is a story about the life, the struggles and untimely death of a very smart young man with big dreams. It is a tragic tale of a mother’s loss and suffering but also of her strength and the smarts to help others. The documentary is an evidence of the skills of the movie maker; her persistence and the drive to both educate the public as well as a way to cope with the loss of a family member to drug addiction.
Invited guests for the premiere of “Written-Off” – sponsored by the Second Genesis Foundation - began converging outside the doors of Newseum on Tuesday June 27th, 2017. Unlike other movie premiere shows, people were not dressed in flashy clothes. There was a distinct elegance though with a tinge of sadness in the air on a perfect and pleasant summer evening.
Shortly before 6:30pm, I followed everyone to the seventh floor for the reception prior to the movie premiere. Debi Gasper introduced me to Molly Hermann, who co-produced this emotionally powerful documentary with Rob Lyall. After providing some background Molly showed me one of the journals kept by Matt Edwards – the subject of the documentary - whose life was cut short by opioids. As I looked around during the reception, I noticed many attendees had along with their name tags a picture of some loved one lost to this tragedy.
The journal entries were touching as the documentary would later reveal clearly as well as painfully. From his writings, Matt did not appear to be an addict but someone trapped in a whirlwind of chemicals that the human body can perhaps only endure for short duration for sometimes terrible afflictions.
“Matt was just 15 when a prescription for opioids following a botched toe surgery altered the course of his life,” aptly describes a postcard about the documentary. During the discussion moderated by NBC 4 Anchor Wendy Rieger following the documentary, his mother Jane Funk said the doctor should have labeled the prescription as “heroin” and perhaps should have given something like Motrin or some other non-addictive medicine to deal with the pain from the surgery.
Remarks by Ross Little, Chairman of the Board of Second Genesis, US Representative Ann McLane Kuster (NH-2), Dr Robert DuPont, prominent psychiatrist and addiction expert, and Ana Marie Cox, a political columnist, culture critic and senior political correspondent for MTV News, shed light on the gravity of this menacing societal problem. These distinguished speakers also called for a collective action by both Congress and the federal government to effectively address the problem of drug addiction caused by prescription medications.
Joining hands with the Second Genesis Foundation is the Community of Concern whose mission is “to educate parents and build partnerships of parents, students, schools and other organizations to keep young people alcohol, tobacco and other drug free.” Together they have developed a “Parent’s Guide for the prevention of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use.” This handout distributed at the documentary viewing contains valuable information explained in simple language and points to the resources available for help.
I came to know about the Second Genesis Foundation and the Community of Concern through Ms Michaela Pratt, President, Mentor Foundation USA – an organization playing an important role in helping youth at risk lead a drug-free life of achievements and purpose.
Putting the documentary, Matt’s journal entries, and the discussions with friends like Michaela and Molly in perspective, I went back to the time when I was 15 years old in Lahore, Pakistan. “Oh, my God, you are an addict,” I remember a family friend visiting from US saying after looking at the needle marks on my arm. I didn’t really know what the term addict meant.
As I pondered over whether I too had been prescribed that I noticed in the journal entries. In my case, the only remedy for a severe asthmatic attack was an aminophylline injection. The frequency of these intravenous injections and the visits to the emergency room started with once in three months to twice a day. Luckily, my mother’s prayers, my elder sister’s love and her idea, along with my father’s resources, enabled me to immigrate to USA where the environment has been more suitable for my asthma. Medical advances in the treatment of asthma with more effective medications with lesser side-effects have made it possible to look back at the life of daily misery and suffering some fifty years ago.
Because the opioids crisis is so menacing and pervasive, this documentary will have relevance to the readers, be they parents or students. It will also be of interest to the thousands of physicians belonging to the Association of the Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA) as well as dentists and pharmacists who interface with patients across America every day. Perhaps they find some awareness that can prevent more tragedies, loss of young life, broken dreams and ravaged families.
To help raise awareness, on August 31, 2017, the FED UP Coalition – calling for immediate, coordinated and comprehensive federal action to end the epidemic of addition and overdose deaths - is organizing a series of events in Washington marking the “International Overdose Awareness Day.”