WEYMOUTH — Nick Martel is a clean-cut young man who grew up in Weymouth, played youth baseball, studied hard in high school, and took a job at his hometown local access television station after graduating from Boston College. While running the cameras and listening to community reports from down-to-earth residents, he got fired up about an unexpected topic: opiate narcotics.
“I didn’t know about drugs. I am completely not the party type. Like many people, I was kind of skeptical on this issue; you get this idea that a drug addict is a person who just makes bad choices, but it became clear to me that’s wrong,” said Martel, 26, producer and technical director at the Weymouth Educational Telecommunications Corp., or WETC. Opiate abuse is more complex; it is not an addiction that strikes only problem youths or troubled families, he said.
Martel put in about two years of intensive filming and editing, and recently released a documentary, “Narcotic Misconceptions,” which manages to celebrate Weymouth’s beauty even while confronting the town’s opiate problem. Since its May release, more than 700 viewers have watched it on the WETC website or tuned in during a daily airing on local access TV Channel 11. The program, which will continue to run through July, has drawn up to 10 times the viewers as other shows.
Weymouth substance abuse prevention coordinator Lyn Frano said the film clearly has hit a nerve in town.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people who have seen it. It is getting through to young people who didn’t understand the impact of what is going on, ” she said.
Opiate abuse, often triggered by misuse of prescription painkillers such as Percocet, Vicodin, and OxyContin, is a health epidemic in many communities south of Boston.
Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey, who attended a community drug forum at Weymouth High School that featured Martel’s documentary, said the film is a strong contribution in a multifaceted fight to stem the narcotics problem that is wreaking havoc on families in the southern and western suburbs of Norfolk County.
In this area in 2011, 52 people died from opiate overdoses, he said. By comparison, 63 people died in motor vehicle homicides in the same period.
“I’m a firm believer that the fight against drug use begins with prevention; it is far better to catch people before they indulge than after they are hooked on heroin,” Morrissey said.
Frano, who runs the Weymouth Youth Coalition Substance Abuse Prevention Team, said people often isolate themselves and shut down when a loved one develops a heroin addiction; they do not draw on available resources, they are afraid to talk about it.
“We want to make sure the families are getting the help they need,” she said. “I think the documentary does a phenomenal job. It draws on family stories and experts to show how addiction to medication works, and it does so without putting stigma to it.”
Martel said he decided to produce “Narcotic Misconceptions” when he realized that the people appearing on the “Mayor’s Monthly Forum,” during episodes on the opiate problem were not spinning the issue, or trying to scare others.
They were honest, he said, and he came to see that their personal stories mattered.
Often, addiction arrives without warning, he said.
“I realized that it can be as simple as having a surgery, and going to the doctor, and getting prescribed pills. And then you think you’re sick, but it’s from going through withdrawal symptoms from the pills. Or you get addicted to the pills,” he said.
Martel recruited a mother to tell her story of dealing with a son’s addiction and recovery; a father to tell his story of a son’s addiction and death; and a former opiate addict to describe her life in Weymouth and how it was altered by a life-threatening heroin habit. He also interviewed drug experts and government officials.
One of the most emotional moments during the filming involved Bill Farrell, who recalled the 2010 opiate-related death of his son, Colin.
Others who lost loved ones to opiates, Martel said, backed out of filming because of the stigma attached to addiction.
Martel said he is proud of this work, even if the subject is not a favorite.
“People ask, why is Weymouth always getting slammed? Why focus on drugs? I think that is a typical feeling in town. I think that feeling used to go for me, too. Now I see things differently. It is important to raise awareness; this is happening everywhere,” he said.
Frano said the documentary takes on a difficult subject with integrity and is done by someone who cares about the town and its people.
“I know the town of Weymouth is really important to Nick,” she said.
“He grew up here. I think he didn’t really know about this drug problem, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t learn and raise awareness and tell others about it with kindness and compassion. He really got it.”