For a tourist, Delray Beach, Florida is an idyllic vacation paradise. For an addict, the city has another, less glamorous designation — the rehab capital of America.
The heroin epidemic has created a billion dollar treatment industry, much of it populated by less than reputable treatment facilities. This is the setting for the documentary film American Relapse, screening Friday, March 29 at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Shot over a 72-hour period in 2016, the film follows the efforts of recovering addicts Frankie and Allie as they attempt to place addicts in treatment.
“In order to tell the story, we had to capture stuff that was ugly, unnerving and dangerous,” says Pat McGee, who co-directed the film along with Adam Linkenhelt. “We chose not to look away from those things. It was important for us to document what was really going on. If we had looked the other way, what would have been the point of doing this?”
American Relapse, which spun off the Viceland docu-series Dopesick Nation last year, has already won seven awards from 11 film festivals throughout the country. McGee talks with us about the film’s two protagonists and their struggles against an often corrupt treatment industry.
Q: What was the inspiration for American Relapse?
A: I met Allie because of Jaime and Ian Manheimer, two of the executive producers on the film. Jaime went to high school with her. I instantly knew this lady was smart, a guardian angel who was trying to help people. She feels hope in situations most people find hopeless. She’s got an opinion and she’s passionate. Allie and Frankie are two warriors who are working hard to get people the sort of treatment they deserve.
Q: What makes this film different from other documentaries about the drug culture?
A: There are a lot of stories about addiction. We came at this from a different perspective. We needed a window that was unfiltered as possible. Some addicts have friends and family who give them support. We saw a lot of people who didn’t have that.
Q: Delay Beach is at the epicenter of the rehab industry. What did you learn about that business and how it affects addicts?
A: If there’s money to be made off an addict, someone is going to do it. The amount of money involved in this industry is staggering — treatment centers are making millions of dollars. There are people called junky hunters. To them, it’s about profit. Frankie and Allie don’t ask people what kind of insurance they have. Their first question is ‘Are you safe?’
Q: What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
A: To start a conversation that shatters the stigma of addiction. We need to step away from that shame that addicts feel. The American Relapse team wants people to know that if they are struggling with addiction there are people who believe in them. They may not be in front of you now but they are there.