Coming Clean movie review & film summary (2021)

We also see a young Colorado state legislator named Brittany Pettersen at a hearing on opioids. But we do not find out until further into the film that there is a connection between these two women. The addict is the legislator’s mother. This example hits home, literally. Even with all of her contacts as a politician, Pettersen found that only ten percent of those seeing help for addiction have access to the programs they need. So Pettersen helped to make Colorado the first state to adopt a group of major legislative initiatives to address addiction. She and her warm-hearted and supportive husband, Ian Silveri, are among the movie’s highlights.

Admiral James Winnefeld, Jr., who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, tells us about his son Jonathan, who died from an overdose at age 19 in his first week of college. The admiral and his wife have started a non-profit called The SAFE Project that works with educators, health care professionals, legislators, along with school, workplace, and veterans’ groups to address opioid addiction. 

One of the documentary’s most compelling figures is Salt Lake City Mayor (later Congressman) Ben McAdams, who helped set up Operation Rio Grande, a diversion program that helps addicts detox and develop life skills. The program’s first graduates include a woman named Destiny Garcia. To demonstrate that being a part of the community and having a job is the best way to keep people from returning to drugs, the mayor hired her to work in his office, where she was happy, responsible, and so good at handling stressed out constituents she was promoted.

“Coming Clean” is about how we got here. It is also about why our response has been so counter-productive, in part because we blame addicts for a failure of will or morality, in part because the people who are profiting from opioids have been very effective at thwarting government oversight. It is also about people who are trying to do better, like the Swiss program of providing heroin AND support services to addicts, which has eliminated overdose deaths for 15 years. We see politicians, lawyers, and doctors trying to find a better way, and we see those struggling with recovery. But it is not just the addicts who need to come clean; it is those profiting from the current system. The most deadly addiction is not drugs; it is money.

Now playing in virtual cinemas.

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