‘Love in the Time of Fentanyl’ Review: Heartbreak, Death and Hope in Vancouver
To combat the overdose crisis, a group that includes former and current users open a safe consumption site where shooting up does not have to mean death.
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By Concepción de León
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In 2016, in response to record high overdose deaths in Vancouver, a group of artists, activists, and current and former drug users in the Downtown Eastside neighborhood came together to form the Overdose Prevention Society, a renegade safe consumption site where drug users could safely consume drugs. The O.P.S. staff tests the drugs for fentanyl, provides clean needles and has Narcan on hand in case of an overdose. “Love in the Time of Fentanyl,” directed by Colin Askey, tenderly documents this community’s lifesaving efforts.
The film follows Ronnie, a frontline worker struggling with burnout; Sarah, an activist who opened the site and works to raise awareness about the crisis; Trey, a graffiti artist who memorializes lost community members on the center’s surrounding walls; Norma, an Indigenous elder and former drug user who cooks meals for the staff; and Dana, who is struggling with active addiction while working at the center.
Despite the harrowing overdose scenes, Askey manages to infuse “Love in the Time of Fentanyl” with scenes of joy, creativity and friendship — whether it’s staff members dancing after hours, a guitarist singing an original song about O.P.S. (“O.D., O.D., O.D., Overdose Prevention Society”) or drug users chatting as they prepare their injections. A veteran talks about the trauma he endured during deployment. Another man says that he began using drugs after his girlfriend was killed by a drunken driver. All speak plainly about the challenges of quitting and the dangers of stigmatization. Though at times the film’s narrative momentum and focus on its subjects is lacking, it shows that drug users, to whom the drug crisis is more than an abstract idea, are perhaps the most capable of creating solutions to the overdose epidemic.
Love in the Time of Fentanyl
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. In theaters now and airing on PBS Independent Lens Feb. 13.
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