Once a bustling industrial town, Huntington, West Virginia, has become the epicenter of America’s modern opioid epidemic, with an overdose rate 10 times the national average. A flood of heroin now threatens this Appalachian city with a cycle of generational addiction, lawlessness and poverty.

But within this distressed landscape, a new documentary film launching today reveals a different side of the fight against drugs – one of hope. “Heroin(e),” directed by Peabody award-winning filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon, launches today, as a Netflix original documentary short.

The film was produced in partnership with The Center for Investigative Reporting through our Glassbreaker Films initiative to support female filmmakers, made possible with support from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation.

Watch the trailer here:

YouTube video

Sheldon, a native and resident of West Virginia, highlights three women working to break the cycle of drug abuse one person at a time. Fire Chief Jan Rader spends the majority of her days reviving those who have overdosed – and training others to bring them back from the brink; Judge Patricia Keller presides over drug court, handing down empathy along with orders – and sometimes jail time; and Necia Freeman of Brown Bag Ministry feeds meals to women selling their bodies for drugs – and tries to get them shelter and salvation.

The three women form part of a coordinated effort in Huntington to take a holistic and clear-eyed approach to dealing with the epidemic. “Heroin(e)” shows how the chain of compassion holds one town together.

The film premiered this month at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and will screen at the Camden (Maine) International Film Festival this Sunday, followed by a panel of experts speaking about the opioid crisis.

Click here for updates on the film or to inquire about hosting a community or educational screening. If this story impacts you personally, or you just want to share your thoughts after watching, please do so by using the hashtag #HeroineNetflix.


Sheldon is a Peabody award-winning documentary filmmaker and visual journalist. She’s currently in-production on a feature-length documentary that follows four men’s yearlong journey with recovery in the heart of Appalachia. Her 2013 interactive documentary “Hollow” received a George Foster Peabody Award and a 2014 Emmy nomination. She’s the co-creator of “She Does,” a biweekly audio documentary series that documents creative women’s journeys. In 2016, Chicken & Egg Pictures awarded her with an inaugural Breakthrough Filmmaker award. Sheldon was a 2013 Future of Storytelling Fellow, and was named one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2013 by Filmmaker Magazine. She serves on the advisory boards of WVU Media Innovation Center and Looking at Appalachia and is a founding member of the All Y’All Southern Documentary Collective.


Glassbreaker Films from The Center for Investigative Reporting was launched with support from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation to help promote gender parity in documentary filmmaking and investigative journalism. By investing specifically in female filmmakers, Glassbreaker Films strives to provide a voice to women worldwide and inspire audiences with issues of social significance.

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