TEWKSBURY – The names came one after another. Alyssa Dunn, age 20. Teresa Crowley, 29. Nicky DiMella, 20.
Each of the dozens of names was accompanied by a shot of someone holding a picture of the brother, sister, son, daughter, mother or father they lost to opiate addiction.
Their faces formed the ending for the short film “If Only,” shot in Tewksbury and screened for the first time at Tewksbury Memorial High School Wednesday.
The film, produced by James Wahlberg, tells the story of two teenagers battling addiction to prescription opiates. One of the boys gets help to beat the addiction, while the other dies of an overdose.
Premiere of “If Only,” a movie produced by Jim Wahlberg, now of Florida, and Marc Ginsburg of Tewksbury, owner of the Tewksbury Country Club, to raise awareness about abuse of prescription drugs. It was sponsored by the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and Millennium Health. Bunny Fratalia of Tewksbury, left, meets Jim Wahlberg, right. At center rear are Marc Ginsberg and his wife Leisa Ginsberg of Tewksbury. (SUN/Julia Malakie)
To fill the church pews for the funeral in the film’s final scene, Wahlberg asked that locals who had lost loves ones to opiate addiction be extras in the film. About 150 people came out in the middle of a snowstorm to share their stories.
Their photographs ran just before the credits.
Louise Griffin, of Lowell, lost her son Zachary Gys to an opiate overdose in 2013, at age 21.
“It is one of the loneliest, loneliest diseases a parent will ever have to go through watching their child struggle,” Griffin said. “It’s a disease that still has stigma, embarrassment and shame attached to it and as long as we all remain anonymous, this disease will continue, and it will continue to take our children’s lives.”
After the movie, Wahlberg asked all those in the packed auditorium who had lost a family member to drug addiction to stand up. More than half of those in the crowd rose.
“We all have to do our part, or we’re going to lose a generation,” Wahlberg said. “That’s a huge, huge price to pay. And there are some families in this room who have paid way too big of a price.”
The film was produced in conjunction with Millennium Health and the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation. The director was Michael Yebba.
The movie was filmed in Tewksbury, James Wahlberg said, in part because of the prevalence of the problem in Middlesex County. In 2012, there were 65 drug-related deaths in Middlesex County. This year, there had been 62 as of early April.
The film was made with the help of local partners, including Tewksbury Country Club owner Marc Ginsburg, who also worked as a producer on the film.
The film follows Isacc Diaz (played by Jeffrey Wahlberg, Jim Wahlberg’s son) a high school student who falls into opiate addiction. Well-known Tewksbury landmarks, such as the country club and St. William’s Church, are sprinkled through the movie. The cast includes former Boston Celtic Chris Herren, who regularly speaks to high school students about his battles with addiction.
Tewksbury high school students were shown the movie on Wednesday. Filmmakers are planning to distribute the film as an educational tool in schools to raise awareness about the problem.
“Until we really educate and make awareness for parents and the community, the problem’s never going to be fully solved,” said Nikhil Nayak, chief marketing officer for Millennium Health.
A panel discussion after the movie featuring experts in the field of addiction touched on several related issues, among them the over-prescription of opiate painkillers, roadblocks presented by insurance companies in getting help and the lack of facilities for those seeking treatment.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said her office was taking several steps to counter the epidemic of drug abuse. Those efforts included pushing for legislation to limit the number of painkillers that can be prescribed in emergency rooms and focusing on enforcement by pursuing dealers. She also heralded the reinstatement of drug court in Lowell as an important measure.
“My expectation is that by thinking outside of the box of some of these problems, that we will be able to bring this intractable problem to heel,” Ryan said.
Maureen Foster, of Somerville, lost her son Alex to a heroin overdose one year ago, at age 28. His picture was among those played at the end of the movie.
Foster said it was important for her to come to Tewksbury to be an extra in the movie because of the chance that it would help anyone else avoid the pain her family has been through.
“I wanted to help promote awareness and education about addiction, and put a face on it,” she said. “There’s been a lot of talk but it’s still not getting better. I hope this will have an impact.”
Originally posted on the Lowell Sun by Chelsea Feinstein, 5/28/15