Chris Bell is a documentary filmmaker who has already explored issues related to steroid abuse
and performance-enhancing drugs in the athletic community with 2008's Bigger, Stronger, Faster*. With his 2015 film Prescription Thugs, he has expanded to look at the issue of prescription drug abuse, giving us a look at factors that have contributed to this rampant and deeply harmful form of drug abuse.
His film offers both a wide reach of personal stories, and interviews with people in medical, pharmaceutical, and recovery fields. The film was well-received, as an official selection at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, and poiently carries badly needed messages.
Many people are surprised to know that one of the most widespread and severe substance abuse problems involves drugs are that are perfectly legal and can be prescribed by a doctor. Information from surveys in 2015 provided by the Foundation for a Drug-Free World estimate that 15 million people in the U.S. misuse prescription drugs.
Commonly abused drugs like opioid painkillers (that chemically are very similar to heroin), and ADHD drugs (that can be abused as stimulants) are often more widely available than illegal street drugs, yet using them outside of close medical supervision for a non-medical purpose can be extremely dangerous.
A study by the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence found that medical emergencies directly caused by incorrect or excessive use of opioid painkillers has risen 183% between 2008 and 2015. This is an issue that urgently needs our attention and more education about its seriousness.
Prescription Thugs opens with Chris Bell's voice, "Welcome to the United States of Addiction." Through a dizzying blitz of images from the media and popular culture, he references the tolls of under-regulated and addictive prescription drug abuse, referencing Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson's deaths from prescription drug overdoses.
The documentary then quotes the chilling statistic that, although the U.S. is 5% of the world's population, it consumes 75% of the world's prescription drugs. The movie is filled with shocking statistics and facts, about the ways the system of pharmaceuticals is broken, in ways that can be harmful to people or fail to take into account the dangers of addiction.
From this broad, fast-paced introduction of the issue, the movie quickly takes a more personal turn. Chris' brother was Mike Bell, a professional wrestler who developed an addiction to pain meds.
He had been in and out of rehab multiple times, and told his brother and father on camera that "I can go three to four months [back to using], and then things start spiraling out of control." His family came together to try to help him, but in the end, Michael died after a severe relapse following another stay in rehab. He was 37.
This personal touch gives Chris' film a poignancy and urgency, as he interviews people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including Mike's wrestling buddies, a former drug rep, doctors, and a director of a rehab center, looking to the factors that lead to his brother's addiction.
In the last third of the movie, Chris further reveals that this problem is one that touches himself. He admits that he was lying, even in the middle of making the movie, checking himself into rehab as what he learning forces him to take his own recovery seriously.
This vividly shows the way addiction, and its habitual actions can easily take control, until the individual is lost.
This film's deeply personal touch gives it a power it wouldn't otherwise have.