In November 2005, the heroin overdose death of a teenage girl in the quiet suburban town of Cedarburg, Wis., stunned the entire community. No one ever imagined kids in Cedarburg were doing heroin.
Her death was followed by others, in Cedarburg and in other suburban towns. However, the overdoses, the deaths, the funerals and the arrests were spread over many months and often tucked away on back pages and in 20-second voice-overs.
Anchor/reporter Brad Hicks said he noticed that trend, and he knew “there were stories to tell — stories that would not only bring the problem to light, but shake suburban parents who were in denial into seeing just how real and close this problem is.”
The challenge was finding suburban parents willing to open up about private family tragedies. It took four months of phone calls, private meetings and patient understanding to finally convince the families in the series to come forward. It took another four months to shoot the series.
Hicks noted the goal was three-fold: 1) Scare teens away from trying heroin; 2) Compel current addicts to get help and connect them to that help; 3) Open the eyes of parents and school leaders who were in dangerous denial about the drug.
“We wanted to make sure the series provided a public service,” Hick said. “We coordinated with the substance abuse counselors in each of the viewing area’s nine counties to have staff on duty after hours the night the series aired. They reported back a flood of calls.
“One counselor said she received a call from a young heroin addict who was so distraught about her addiction she was planning to commit suicide that night — until she saw the series and instead decided to seek help.
“The counselors received so many calls, a week later we re-ran the series in an expanded format with live counselors manning a phone bank in our studio. For 90 minutes the phones rang non-stop.”