Eighty-seven people showed up at the Festus 8 Cinema on March 24 to watch an FBI-produced documentary and take part in a panel discussion about opioid addiction.
The event was sponsored by the FBI St. Louis Citizens Academy Alumni Association and was free to the public.
Rebecca Wu, public affairs officer for the FBI St. Louis Division, said it was the first time the 2016 documentary, titled “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict,” was shown to the general public in Jefferson County, although it had previously been presented to Seckman High School students, said Jillian Bissell, Jefferson County Drug Prevention Coalition prevention specialist.
“We wanted to reach communities beyond the city and county of St. Louis,” Wu said. “One of the (FBI St. Louis Citizens Academy Alumni Association) board members, Randy Gray, is a pastor of Radiant Life Church in Festus. He asked if we would be willing to do the presentation down there. He helped organize it and find people to attend.”
“We were very pleased with the response of the people who were there,” Gray said. “I think people, churches included, all have to be more concerned about caring for your community and getting involved. It is about connecting with your community and helping them get the right resources.”
The goal of the 50-minute documentary, which features testimony from seven people who have dealt with opioid addiction, is to raise awareness about the problem by helping people understand how easily addiction can begin, the downward cycle addicts experience and the tragic consequences of the addiction.
“In the documentary, each person who is affected by opioid addiction says if they had known how easily it was to become addicted, they would have never done it,” Wu said “That is what we are trying to tell young people. Most young people know it is illegal to take heroin, but they don’t think the same about a prescription pain killer, because you get it from a doctor.”
After the documentary, a panel discussion was held featuring Bissell, FBI special agent Richard Quinn, Arnold Comtrea counselor Mirranda Cardinali, DEA special agent Bill Callahan and former addict Stephen Sutler of Arnold.
Gray said the panel discussion lasted about an hour.
“The DEA and FBI directors didn’t hold back; they were happy to respond and come to our area,” Gray said. “They knocked it out of the park.”
Bissell said the Jefferson County Drug Prevention Coalition has copies of the documentary, and schools or groups interested in showing it may contact the organization at 636-282-1010.
“There were a couple of educators and parents at the showing who thought it would be beneficial to show it in the school,” Bissell said.
Wu said there are no current plans for another screening and panel discussion in Jefferson County, but the FBI St. Louis Citizens Academy Alumni Association would be interested in presenting it again.
“If we could get this documentary to be shown in every high school in the country, that would be ideal,” she said.
Gray said there are plans to hold the same program in Jefferson City and Columbia, and if anyone in Jefferson County would be interested in showing the documentary and hosting a panel discussion, they can call him at 636-937-0800.
Wu said people may view the documentary on the FBI’s website (fbi.gov) or by searching for FBI Chasing the Dragon on YouTube.