TEWKSBURY – It was a somber Wednesday night, after the film ‘If Only’ premiered at Tewksbury Memorial High School. The movie was filmed at TMHS, St. William’s Church, Tewksbury Country Club, and other locations around town and featured a number of local students as actors.
The film, which focuses on opiate addiction, paints a sad picture of denial and death. As children grow to be teenagers and communication seems to diminish, parents are more at a loss for words, and for how to determine if their child will be the next victim.
The film was co-written and produced by Jim Wahlberg and Mike Yebba with the purpose of building awareness of the ever-growing opiate addiction problem.
The issue of drug abuse has been exacerbated by prescription drugs being provided to teenagers by either easy access to their parents’ medications, or being treated for pain typically caused by a sports or some other type of injury.
The prescribed drugs, which were originally meant to be ‘end-of-life’ pain medications, have been liberally prescribed to young people, and when the addiction takes hold, there’s no going back.
Many have died. The prescription drugs, no longer available or too expensive, are easily replaced by heroin, and the consequences have been dire.
At the conclusion of the film, a panel was set up for questions and comments.
District Attorney Marian Ryan spoke at length on the topic and how she encounters opiate and other substance abuse in her professional role. Ryan has been a constant presence in Middlesex County public and private schools, where she lectures and leads workshops to raise awareness of the dangers of prescription drug abuse, teen dating violence, anti-bullying, and distracted driving.
“What have we accomplished with the opiate task force in Merrimack Valley?” began Ryan, “What are the services we need to be providing for those kids?”
“We are focusing our enforcement resources and working with Lowell General Hospital with a task force that has measured goals. My expectation is by thinking outside of the box with some of these problems, that we will be able to bring this intractable problem to an end. I have filed legislature to stop opiates. This is a public health issue,” said Ryan.
A large part of the problem is getting adequate help for those who have become addicted.
“You have to be pretty far down the road to addiction to qualify,” said Ryan, “I look at a police report and I can tell when there’s an addiction issue. We need to be providing care to those individuals much sooner.”
Ryan created the Safe Babies Safe Kids (SBSK) initiative for the purpose of focusing on preventable death and injury to children. SBSK is a partnership between Ryan’s office, law enforcement organizations, social service agencies and medical care providers.
Representative Jim Miceli who was in attendance and called the film “powerful,” spoke to the assembly in reference to rehabilitation, “I would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Tewksbury Hospital. They have the best detox center, outstanding rehab program, second to none,” said Miceli to applause.
Wahlberg was next to speak, “It’s gonna take an army of soldiers to make a dent in this very, very big problem,” said Wahlberg. Wahlberg then had those cast in the movie stand up to be acknowledged.
“I want to mention my producing partner on this project, Marc Ginsburg, he’s a local guy,” said Wahlberg, of the local real estate developer, adding, “When I brought this project to him he couldn’t act fast enough to want to help.”
Ginsburg, who is the owner of the Tewksbury Country Club and a developer in the town, could not be reached for comment.
“I thank the school, the Town, and the superintendent. You guys went above and beyond. We were very fortunate. We showed the movie twice today to 1200 students. You could hear a pin drop in here, it was amazing. This town helped us tell our story. Thank you all for turning out and all your support,” said Wahlberg.
“My job here is very simple,” said Wahlberg. “When you do a small movie one huge problem is the funds. We found a partner in Millenium Health. There is an epidemic in this country. Were all going have to do our part or we’re going to lose a generation,” said Wahlberg.
Panel member and Nikhil Nayak, Chief Marketing Officer for Millenium Health, spoke about the importance of providing clinically secure information to solve one thing: abuse, and overuse of prescription medications. “Unless we eradicate the problem, it’s never going to be solved,” said Nayak.
Panelist Louise Griffin, who lost her then 21 year old son, Zachary Gys to an overdose in July of 2013, spoke of Wahlberg as her “new best friend,” and said of the group, “There are 400 courageous people who have had the ultimate loss. We’re so glad to have you as a friend,” adding, “And we are making a difference everybody.”
Panelist Dr. Steven Passik of Millenium Health spoke to the group. “We started out with poorly treated pain, and it has become a public health problem,” said Passik.
Director and co-writer Michael Yebba was also on the panel. “Definitely the most difficult scene of the film was the funeral scene,” said Yebba, adding, “We didn’t have half those systems then but now we need to put them in place to avoid these tragedies.”
The film is affiliated with several awareness organizations, including dropthemoff.com, a program that uses a curriculum designed to educate youth about the dangers of misusing and abusing prescription medications, and to build confidence and prevent risk-taking behaviors, as well as responsible disposal of prescription drugs, the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, Millenium Health, and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, and The Medicine Abuse Project.
Originally posted on Tewskbury Town Crier by Lisa Kennedy-Cox, 6/6/15