Four years ago, filmmaker Doree Simon lived something worse than her worst fear. She lost her 23-year-old brother Kevin to an overdose.
“Growing up in Pittsburgh, Kevin never got in trouble, had excellent grades, played sports, kept his room clean, and was the only boy, making me and my sister look dramatic in comparison. He was shy and sensitive, overall a sweet and normal kid. When his family found out that he was using heroin, it didn’t make sense,” remembers Doree.
“We thought that heroin made people strung out and incapable of living a normal life. We did not think you could graduate from college, maintain a relationship, look healthy, act happy, get a job, go to work, or even have a regular conversation — all of which Kevin did while addicted to heroin.”
According to the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk, some 20 million people live with substance use disorder but research shows that over 20 million people have resolved a problem with drugs and alcohol. There are millions of family members who have been affected by their loved ones’ addiction.
“When I first learned that Kevin was using heroin, and then later when he died, I remember thinking, Where is everyone? Why aren’t we doing something? Shouldn’t every family be in the streets, raising awareness, insisting on support and funding and love?”
As Doree and her family set out to find answers to these questions, they pinpointed stigma as the paralyzing factor that directly impacted Kevin’s chances of recovery. “When he finally realized he had a problem, he was too ashamed to admit it. He hid it. It got worse. He died.”
As a filmmaker, Doree decided to channel her loss into a documentary not only to honor Kevin but to help create a healthier environment for people with addiction.
In 2018 Doree attended the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk, looking for more answers and connections for the documentary. There, Doree connected with walk organizer Jessica Williams. The two became friends and as Doree learned more about the recovery walk’s mission, her film became increasingly focused on the dangers of stigma and how her brother was affected by it.
“I wish I had known about the issues within the treatment industry and solutions such as medications and harm reduction efforts. I wish we saw fewer caricatures of “junkies” and more stories of people in long-term recovery, highlighting multiple pathways to recovery. I wish people understood the dangers of using stigmatizing language. I wish I had encouraged my brother to try medications instead of just working a 12-step program, which didn’t seem to work for him.”
Doree continues “I believe that if people tell their stories and live honestly and openly, the stigma around addiction will be dramatically reduced, if not eliminated altogether. I am making the film I wish my family had been able to see when Kevin was alive.”