The lack of awareness and understanding of the prevalence of substance abuse, coupled with the stigma of addiction, keeps people from talking about the growing number of teen who use or abuse drugs or alcohol. A group of mothers in northern California, watching children in their community face life and death battles with drugs or alcohol, vowed to turn this heartbreaking tide by educating teens and their parents about the very real risks of that first pill or drink. Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic arose from their determination to bring teen substance abuse out of the shadows and into the classroom and the community.
Interview with Collision Course Producer Joyce Mitchell
A top team of television professionals directed and produced Collision Course. We interviewed Producer Joyce Mitchell, whose received her fifth Emmy for Collision Course.
Q. As you filmed Collision Course, how did you select the people you chose to include?
The people I selected to participate in the documentary came from a variety resources. Some were suggested by the founders of PathwaytoPrevention.org, some were found by doing extensive research, others came our way as we were in the field shooting. However, everyone interviewed was pre-interviewed – even if on the spot. Years and years of producing television has given me the insight to determine who will me a good candidate for actual videotaping. Of course, interviewing technique is imperative in getting people to talk from their heart. Selecting a diverse number of people also is important. Not every interview can carry the same message. We tried to spread the message across the board – addiction impacts everyone, regardless of race or economic status.
Q.Collision Course reveals some heart-wrenching stories and vulnerabilities. Why do you believe people chose to tell their stories so candidly, and how did you develop such a sense of trust and safety as they told you their stories?
Developing trust with people being interviewed is sometimes challenging, takes time, and honesty. Participants were reassured that this documentary was being created to help others by raising awareness. Their stories, while difficult, helped us better carry the message. I had a couple of sleepless nights over some of the faces I encountered and the heart-wrenching stories I heard. However, knowing that we could save lives kept us all motivated to walk through the difficulty in an effort to take our cameras to new places and deliver to viewers a reality rarely seen on TV.
Q.What part of the filming process tugged most at your heart?
The most difficult stories were the ones about people who have traveled so far and so long down the path of addiction that I’m not sure they’ll ever find their way back. In particular was Kristina, who regularly prostitutes to get money to buy drugs. She said she was only 4-years-old when her older siblings turned her on to smoking weed. All of her life, this is all she’s known. Her future is bleak and given our current economic climate, I don’t know that she stands a chance. If she gets clean, she told me she will still have to sell her body to pay her other expenses. Public assistance is unavailable to her. She was a heartbreak. Then, the couple in the shooting den was tough. The 20-year-old young woman is from a wealthy family who somehow keeps throwing money her way. That money is apparently being used to fuel her habit – a habit that started with pills and is now out of control. When we were with her, the only place she could find a vein to inject her heroin was in her neck.
Her boyfriend Casey, a veteran who has served our country in battle, was exposed to drugs at a young age. Then, when he headed to Iraq and Afghanistan, he said he was handed pills to wake him up, keep him going, and wind down. Injured in combat, he was prescribed Oxycontin back here at home. He grinds up his prescription and injects it. The entire time we were with him – at least 2-3 hours – he was unable to find a vein anywhere in which to inject. His veins were collapsed and gone. He’s just 27-years-old.
Casey’s story raised my awareness about a growing problem among young people who join the military. In researching the problem, I found that Casey is far from alone. Our young men and women, recruited in high schools across our nation, are falling victim to drugs while in the military.
Q. The filming of Collision Course took place over almost two years. What impact–good and bad–did that have on the final product?
A documentary is a program that unfolds over the course of time. That way, a producer captures the development of stories over months and years.
Unfortunately, as we documented with Bryan, not everyone who gets clean stays clean. Because we had the time to follow Bryan over the course of 2 years, we saw his peaks and valleys. We first interviewed him clean. The night after our cameras shut down, he used. Then, we documented his journey back in to sobriety. The 2-year window of opportunity allowed us to show viewers that sobriety is hard work and not a one-time easy fix. But we also demonstrated that sobriety can be achieved.
Q.As you filmed, what did you learn about teen substance abuse that surprised you the most?
As a TV veteran who has produced programs about addiction in the past, I was surprised by several new trends. I think UC Davis Dr. Michael Wilkes said it best: “The kids are a step ahead of the toxicologists.” Learning about the drug “lean” caught me off guard. The dangerous concoction of cough syrup, alcohol, codeine, and other drugs popular in the rap crowd was new to me. Equally surprising was learning that kids are using drugs and alcohol at such a young age. This is attributed to being around older brothers and sisters. Some kids are exposed to their parents’ stash and are sampling it when the adults are away. What I came away with is that addiction is an epidemic, a pervasive and growing problem that desperately needs more attention and resources.
Q. What did you learn along the way that you would like to emphasize to our readers?
Our viewers need to realize that it’s easy to look the other way if you suspect addiction. However, education and prevention could save you – and your child. Awareness is the first step to change. Get the facts.
Parents – be vigilant and know what your kids are doing. Parents and adults, use Collision Course as an opportunity to personally examine your own habits. We are an indulgent society that has become heavily dependent on alcohol as a social tool. In addition, prescription pills are over-prescribed and over-used by young and old alike. Parents need to be good examples for their children and themselves. Addiction is a problem that knows no boundaries. We can all learn from this documentary.
As for young people, education and awareness prevents the problem. Mental health issues frequently initiate or perpetuate drinking and drugging. If you are struggling, ask a friend. A trusting adult. A parent. Help is available.
Don’t view mental health or addiction issues as a personal downfall. They are diseases – illnesses that respond to therapy and treatment. Get help. You are not a bad person trying to get good. You are a sick person trying to get well. Our program depicts addiction as a disease. For that, I am grateful.