Set the scene – it’s a bone-chilling, wet, windy February night. Hundreds of used syringes blanket the ground. You don’t know where to take your next step.
You sit under a muddy concrete overpass where many homeless people sleep every night, and where hundreds of people have never awakened because they have had a deadly dose of heroin.
You are drenched in fake vomit, makeup drips down your tear-stained cheeks, and your hair sticks to your wet, frozen face, which is now numb. You have to pretend to throw up on yourself again and again and then pretend to die over and over.
This is what I experienced during the filming of "Blink of an Eye," a short film about the dangers of opioid addiction.
When I took the role, I thought it would be just another acting job. Never did I imagine I would be in a place like this.
My mother and I drove home that night in silence. I felt like I had been beaten. I was physically and mentally exhausted. My body and mind ached. It was the most intense thing I had ever done. It felt so real. I was proud of myself for just surviving the night.
In the silence, I couldn’t get my mind off the people who experience what I had just been through in real life. I couldn’t imagine someone living the life of addiction.
I went to bed that night thinking that my part in the film was finished. I had no idea that it was just the beginning.
When I was cast in the role of "the girl," a normal teenager who becomes addicted and dies from a heroin overdose, I had no idea the magnitude of understanding that the role would bring.
"Blink of an Eye," written and directed by Greg Robbins, exposes the deadly consequence of heroin.
Coincidentally, my family had been greatly affected by an opioid overdose years earlier. My aunt, at age 50, died of a fentanyl overdose. She was a beautiful woman who lit up every room she entered. Everyone loved her smile, her sense of humor, her compassion. She had had a successful career, traveled and had owned several beautiful homes. She had two wonderful children, both just beginning new stages – marriage and starting families of their own.
Over the course of a decade, all of that slowly deteriorated. My aunt barely worked, moved to a small apartment, and became more and more isolated. Only a few knew the physical and emotional pain she was experiencing. She was ashamed that she was addicted to opioids. She was too ashamed to ask for help. She began avoiding people. But, the more she hid, the deeper she sank into depression, self-medicating, and self-loathing.
Heroin addiction can happen to anyone at any time in their lives. It is not just the stereotypical homeless man under the concrete overpass. Addiction shows no discrimination.
And when it strikes, it takes away your home, your possessions, your profession, your loved ones and your sanity. It takes complete control of your life. Addiction hijacks the mind, body and soul.
After the filming of this short movie, my job was far from over. My family and I became more and more involved with the film. I recorded the title song, "If I Get High," by Nothing But Thieves at California Roads Studios. I also helped with some post-production editing and marketing.
We also knew that it was time to speak up ourselves and share our story. We know that the more conversation there is about the opioid overdose epidemic, the more lives can be saved.
This epidemic is skyrocketing and it needs to stop. Addiction is a complicated puzzle that everyone needs to help solve – whether through spreading awareness and focusing on prevention, helping someone who is struggling, donating to a recovery house or even just talking about it.
Since filming ended in February, I have learned of more families that have lost loved ones to heroin. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories. It is hitting way too close to home way too often. Through this film and it’s social media efforts, we hear from people almost every day.
They send us messages, share their personal stories and thank us for making this film and trying to help.
Since the "Blink Of An Eye" film project began, I have gained a much deeper understanding of what an addict goes through – what a family goes through. It can happen to anyone from all walks of life. Many times, these people were first prescribed opiates for pain before becoming hooked. They become so addicted, and cannot get the pain pills anymore, so they turn to heroin, which is much cheaper. Other times, there is no physical pain to start, but purely emotional pain.
No one plans to become addicted. They set out to escape some kind of pain. I have learned that there should be no shame or stigma because addiction is out of their control. They need help. They need support.
Obviously, no drugs are safe, but I have learned that drugs obtained on the street are even more dangerous. Users do not know what they are getting. Heroin can be "cut" with fentanyl, a cheaper, deadlier synthetic drug. Marijuana, cocaine and other drugs can be laced, as well. You don’t know what deadly concoction you’re getting until it’s too late.
I have learned that the opioid epidemic is one of the worst public health crises we’ve faced. More people die from it today than those who died from AIDS at its peak, or who die from car accidents and gun violence. The rate is still growing quickly. According to the CDC, opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths in 2015 and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. This year alone in Erie County, there are an average of 6.8 opiate-related deaths per week.
I have learned that I never want a another loved one (or anyone) to go through the pain and horror of addiction. I have learned that we have to start the conversation. I hope this movie helps do just that.
"Blink of an Eye" is under 15 minutes. It is meant to be used as a tool to help others in their own efforts to conquer the growing epidemic. It is graphic. It is disturbing.
But it shows people that if they head down these paths, they play Russian roulette with their lives. They could be dead – in the blink of an eye.
"Blink Of An Eye" premieres on May 21 at Evergreen Health Services at 67 Prospect Ave. Seating is limited and doors open at 1 p.m. More information and the movie trailer can be found at www.blinkofaneyemovie.com and you can follow them on facebook and twitter at @blinkofaneye716.
Camryn Clune is a junior at Christian Central Academy.