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Understanding The Opioid Epidemic

Screenshot of pills from the film, "Understanding The Opioid Epidemic."
Courtesy of WNED-TV, Buffalo - Toronto
Screenshot of pills from the film, "Understanding The Opioid Epidemic."

Airs Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018 at 10 p.m. & Sunday, Jan. 21 at Noon on KPBS TV

“Understanding The Opioid Epidemic” traces the causes behind the unprecedented growth in the use of prescription opioids and the devastating impact these drugs are having in virtually every part of America:

  • Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. The majority of drug overdose deaths in the United States involve an opioid. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
  • Overuse of opioid painkillers is fueling the current epidemic. Opioids include prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. According to the CDC, overdose deaths from prescription opioids – drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone – have more than quadrupled since 1999.
  • The opioid epidemic is different from previous drug crises in the United States. There is opioid abuse, addiction and death in virtually every area of the country and opioid abuse reaches into every neighborhood and socioeconomic group. According to the CDC, drug overdoses have increased among men and women, all races and adults of nearly all ages.

Understanding the Opioid Epidemic Trailer

Understanding the Opioid Epidemic combines stories of people and communities impacted by this epidemic along with information from experts and those at the frontlines of dealing with the epidemic. The program traces the history of how the nation got into this situation and provides possible solutions and directions for dealing with the crisis.


Through personal stories and interviews with experts, this film reveals the tragic impact of the overuse of prescription painkillers on individuals, families and communities.

"Addiction Affects Everyone"

"Opioid addiction is a problem that effects all age groups

They are stories that often begin with medical treatment for moderate to severe pain that evolve into drug addiction and death.

In addition to the personal stories of those impacted by the opioid crisis, the documentary explores the dramatic increase in the use and acceptance of prescription painkillers.


"Dealing with Addiction"

"Jennifer Weiss-Burke speaks about her son Cameron a high school wrestler who became addicted to painkillers after a sports injury. She gives insight on treatment of addiction

“Opioid addiction is a national crisis and we are grateful to those who shared their painful stories with us in order to help prevent further spread of the epidemic,” said Donald K. Boswell, president & CEO of WNED | WBFO. “It is our hope that the program’s website allows classrooms, community organizations and individuals to learn more about this issue and how communities are addressing it.”

"The Demand for Opioids"

"The crisis of opioid addiction is a relatively new problem in America. Prior to the mid-90s

The program addresses possible solutions to the opioid epidemic including more non-drug treatment for pain, improved opioid prescribing, and reducing the amount of opioids produced and prescribed in America.

Program Experts Suggest Solutions

"Experts from the program give suggestions on how physicians should treat patients to prevent new cases of opioid addiction. They advocate for building stronger doctor and patient relationships to find what is best in managing pain. Experts speak about providing easy access to information to patients

The best solution is preventing people from becoming addicted in the first place. But there is also a critical need for more and better treatment of those already addicted to opioids.

Download a PDF file of a family and community discussion guide.

"Where is the Outrage?"

There are small signs of progress in combatting the opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control reports opioid prescribing peaked in 2010 and decreased each year through 2015. Experts say the drop is a sign the culture of over-prescribing is changing. But fewer prescriptions have not resulted in a drop in opioid addiction and death. There are no easy solutions to the opioid epidemic.


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A production of WNED-TV, Buffalo - Toronto. Produced and Written by John Grant. Narrated by William Fichtner. Edited by Chris Bové. Camera: Jim Zinkowski. Associate Producers: Catie Grant and Steve Cichon. With funding provided by BlueCross BlueShield Association and the Brain Research Foundation.