New documentary from STAT highlights impact of opioid epidemic on Somerville circle of friends

“For those of us who had managed to avoid opioids, we would wonder who was next.”

Sean Curtis was “one of the wittiest kids around.”

Kevin Sullivan had “limitless potential” and the ability to pick up skills like carpentry and electrical work without being taught.

Alex Foster was the kind of person who made his mother drive an injured squirrel through rush hour to Boston’s animal hospital.

All three — part of the same circle of friends who grew up together in Somerville — died from overdoses.

Their struggles with opioid addiction and the impact of the epidemic are the focus of a new documentary, “Runnin’,” from STAT.

For Alex Hogan, the documentary’s director and a multimedia producer at the medical news site, the film’s subject was personal. He grew up in Somerville with Curtis, Sullivan, and Foster.

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“Losing Alex, Kevin, and Sean was devastating for me and my friends,” he says in the documentary. “But they were just three of many who passed. For those of us who had managed to avoid opioids, we would wonder who was next.”

Hogan told Boston.com that he’d previously worked on a couple projects for STAT covering different aspects of the epidemic.

“All the while, twice I had to take time off of work to go to other funerals for friends who continued to pass away,” he said.

Hogan began interviewing the friends and family members of his friends who had died, and in February 2017 started working on turning what he was gathering into a documentary. He also spoke with two other friends — one who is in his seventh year of sobriety and another who is still struggling with his addiction.

In the film, family members of Curtis, Sullivan, and Foster share how challenging and heartbreaking it can be to have a loved one struggling with opioid addiction. Hogan and his friends speak of the devastating feeling of going to wake after wake. 

“Somerville is not unique,” he told Boston.com. “This story has happened everywhere. So we kind of hoped that by examining what happened in one town we could shine light on how the same thing can, and does happen, all over the country. I think a lot of people in other places who see this will recognize some familiar beats.

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“There’s starting with OxyContin, taking it orally. Then people started snorting it and getting higher tolerances and switching to heroin, which is a lot more dangerous and deadly. And then just recently, the last few years, the synthetic opioids have just exploded. And it’s really just lead to overdoses skyrocketing. And that happened in Somerville, just like it happened everywhere else.”

The documentary also explores how the epidemic began, tracing the start back to the late 1990s when manufacturers of OxyContin “misled the public about how dangerous and addictive the drug was.”

More than 42,000 people were killed by opioids (including prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl) in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hogan said he hopes the film will help dispel some of the stigma that drug users face.  

“You meet these families and my friends and they’re just really normal families — normal kids, not bad people,” he said. “With our particular case, when a lot of these kids started using, they didn’t really know what they were getting into. They didn’t know that OxyContin was basically synthetic heroin. It was like kids experimenting with drugs in high school everywhere. This drug in particular just happened to be so addictive.”

The documentary will be released Thursday on STAT where it will cost $10 to view the film. Hogan said 25 percent of the proceeds will go towards the Alex Foster Foundation, a nonprofit formed in memory of his friend that advocates for better treatment and education related to opioid addiction.

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Editor’s note: STAT and Boston.com are owned by the same parent company, Boston Globe Media.