Theroux goes to Huntington, West Virginia, once a proud manufacturing hub in the Midwest. The city is now a rust belt town at the forefront of America’s opioid crisis. While there, he talks to a few of the many heroin addicts in the town, as they tell their confronting stories. Many of them started out on legal drugs, prescribed by doctors to combat chronic pain. However, once access to these drugs was curtailed, these new addicts shifted to a much cheaper and readily accessible alternative, heroin.
Louis also talks to emergency service personnel on the frontline, and former addicts who are now in recovery. Like all good Louis Theroux docos, what makes Heroin Town so compelling is the way his subjects open up about their lives. One example is Katillia, a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend/drug dealer. She tells Louis she wants to leave, but her boyfriend is her conduit to the heroin, and without him, she would most likely turn to prostitution in order to find the money.
This is a horrific story, and along with the other accounts in the film, make for pretty tough viewing. However, this is not a voyeuristic look at human suffering. Rather, the film argues that this is a tragedy that could have been avoided. For decades, pharmaceutical companies pushed doctors to over-prescribe these highly addictive drugs. The city of Huntington is now suing the companies as compensation for the damage done to the city and its residents.
The film was originally made as a one-hour BBC television film, and as such, had to be expanded to justify a cinema release in Australia. To do this, the first 30 minutes of the film is a wide-ranging interview with Louis Theroux himself. At first, this seems like a cheap way of padding out a tv documentary for cinema release, however, the end result is almost as interesting as the film it precedes. Theroux gives an in-depth look at his style, his history, background moments from some of his famous films, and explains what drew him towards the troubled city of Huntington.
For admirers of his work, it’s an opportunity to glimpse beneath the surface of his prolific career, and essentially get two films for the price of one.
However, the main attraction is Heroin Town. The film is a brutally honest look at the dark side of America, and maintains an insightful focus on the human consequences of the tragic drug epidemic sweeping the country.