IN A country that's in the throes of a heroin epidemic, a city called Huntington in West Virginia is considered ground zero.
The statistics associated with the city of 49,000 people are shocking:
• One in four adults in Huntington are addicted to heroin or some other opiate
• One out of every 10 babies born in Huntington in 2016 was dependant on opiates
• The city has a fatal overdose rate 13 times the national average
In his new film Heroin Town, which will be released in select Australian cinemas from November 17, Louis Theroux meets addicts those trying to help them.
Almost all of the heroin users he meets got hooked the same way. They started with legitimate pain, went to the doctor, got legal prescriptions and then got addicted. Once their prescriptions ran out, they turned to heroin, which is both cheaper and more readily available.
"It's very heavy," Theroux said to news.com.au about the documentary. And he's not wrong. The scenes showing addicts injecting heroin are hard to watch, but what Theroux found even more shocking was witnessing them being revived.
"The first day we were with the fire department, you get called somewhere and you just see
this guy who is lying on the ground looking blue around the lips and with a very grey face," the 47-year-old recounted.
"They spike him with this device they all carry called Narcan [a medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose] and seeing the person come back to life, it's like nothing I've ever seen before or since."
What he found just as shocking was the reaction of the addicts once they were brought back to life by the paramedics.
"Whereas I had thought they might have said, 'Thanks for saving my life,' it was quite the reverse," Theroux said.
"The feeling was like, 'You bastards! Now I have to go and score again because you just ruined my high.'
"To sort of sail as close to death in order to get the perfect high is the name of the game. If they hear people are dying, I heard this repeatedly from people, everyone wants a piece of that dope because that obviously is the good s**t."
The most riveting parts of the film are Theroux's in-depth chats with addicts who were more than happy to open up to the English filmmaker despite the fact they weren't paid for their participation.
"I think the reason they get involved is, it's a kind of reaching out for a chance to take stock and get distance on their lives," Theroux said about his contributors.
"They're totally aware of the indignity and the humiliation of being dependant on a substance ... but I think the biggest part of it is the need to be exposed to something more positive and the hope that that will jolt them out of what they're doing."
Theroux is famous for immersing himself into the lives of those he studies in each of his films. In Weird Weekends: Porn, he filmed a cameo in an adult film [not performing a sexual act] and in a doco on Infomercials he had a go at being a live salesman on the Home Shopping Network.
When asked if he ever considered trying heroin in his latest film to understand why people were attracted to the drug, Theroux laughed.
"Oh my god are you really going to ask that question?" he said to news.com.au.
"No, I never thought, 'You know what would make this a killer doco? I'll spike up 40 minutes in when the audience thinks they've seen everything. I'm going to get my own little rig and jack up and I'll have the producer on standby with some Narcan in case I overdose.' No, that did not cross my mind."
For the first time in over 20 years, the life expectancy in America is declining and that's largely attributed to the rise in fatal heroin overdoses.
And it's only going to get worse.
"I repeatedly asked people in Huntington, 'Do you think we've reached the plateau?'" Theroux told news.com.au.
"And I was told, 'No, it's going to keep building. We have not yet reached the apex of this phenomenon'."
When asked if he had any ideas about how to stem the tide of addiction, Theroux said, "There's no magic bullet."
"I almost said there's no quick fix," he said, "which would have been an unfortunate pun."
Louis Theroux's new documentary Heroin Town will premiere in Australian cinemas on November 17. Details available at www.sharmillfilms.com.au