OGDEN — A year ago on Aug. 29, Cindy Bray’s 25-year-old son died of a drug overdose. She still has to take life one day at a time since Alex Bray’s opiate addiction stole his life away.

“I don’t know where he got the first pain pill, but he tried it and loved it,” Cindy Bray, who’s from Ogden, said. And when the pills ran out, Alex Bray ultimately turned to heroin.

The 25-year-old’s keen intelligence proved no match for a drug so potent that overdoses have reached epidemic proportions nationwide. “Most things he could out-think,” Cindy Bray said. “But this disease, no.”

Even with a supportive and understanding family, it still wasn’t enough to get the beast to back off.

“We were very open about his addiction, and it was a family project,” Cindy Bray said. “I know cognitively that we did everything within our ability for him — but you still think at night, ‘What if I’d done this.’ I’m sure I’ll be doing that the rest of my life.”

The Bray family isn’t alone in their loss. Hundreds of families in Utah and across the country have lost loved ones to opiate overdoses — and one Utah filmmaker is working to raise awareness through their stories.

GUILT, SHAME FEED THE ADDICTION

Award-winning filmmaker Jenny Mackenzie recently released her new documentary, “Dying in Vein: The Opiate Generation.” Her aim is to bring attention to the issue and spur open, honest dialogue about the disease of addiction. 

In the making for three years, “Dying in Vein” focuses on one family’s loss, along with the struggles of others to get clean, stay clean and move forward in recovery.

“When my brother Chase (Saxton) died in 2014, Jenny called and asked if she could film the funeral. He had just turned 22,” Jorden Saxton Hackney said by phone Monday. 

Hackney and her parents and sister are featured throughout the hour-long film. 

“Our film recognizes the shame and blame we associate with addiction and how limiting that is for those who need help. This challenges us to look at it differently,” Hackney said.

She described her brother as someone who “got lost in learning how to deal with his sensitivity.”

“One of my favorite parts of the film — we found a bunch of his personal journals he kept while he was using. Jenny did an amazing job giving voice to those journals,” Hackney said.

The Saxton siblings grew up in Rose Park and North Salt Lake, and were schooled at Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City.

“It’s an elite private school where you think you’ll be safe from drugs like heroin, that junkies are dirty and live under overpasses. But it’s not like that,” Hackney said. “They are beautiful, intelligent people who we let down, and they get lost. But it starts with the prescription opiates that are so easy to get.”

The film also focuses on Madeline "Maddy" Cardon, who got her first taste of Oxycontin at a high school party and quickly moved on to smoking heroin and shooting up by age 18. Her story, intertwined with that of another young woman named Page, details several detox efforts interspersed with relapses.

According to the film’s website, Cardon now works in recovery services and has been drug-free for almost two years.

“When I go to (the film’s) screenings, it gives me a big sense of hope that we can do something different and change what’s going on. That we can fight back,” Hackney said. “It personally helps me feel Chase didn’t die in vain.”

WHERE TO WATCH THE FILM

So far, the film has been shown at locations across the country, including screenings in Connecticut, Washington D.C. and Ohio. There have also been screenings at hospitals and schools in Utah.

Upcoming showings in Utah include:

  • Sept. 6 and 8 in St. George at the DOCUTAH International Film Festival
  • Sept. 26, 7 p.m., at the Salt Lake City Library (Utah Film Center)
  • Oct. 3 in Moab at Utah Public Radio’s community event "A State of Addiction: Utah's Opiod Epidemic." 
  • Oct. 4 in Price at Utah Public Radio’s community event "A State of Addiction: Utah's Opiod Epidemic." 
  • Oct. 5 in Vernal at Utah Pulbic Radio’s "A State of Addiction: Utah's Opiod Epidemic." 
  • Oct. 6 and 7 at Logan’s Block Film & Art Festival
  • Oct. 18 at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden (Utah Film Center)
  • Oct. 24 at Utah Foster Care in Salt Lake City

The film is also available for purchase on iTunes, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon and Google Play.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opiate overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, killing 91 Americans every day in 2015.  

Utah Department of Health data from 2014 revealed that roughly one-third of Utahns age 18 and up had been prescribed an opiate to relieve pain. That year, 300 people died from prescription opioid overdoses in Utah — outpacing the state’s deaths due to firearms, falls and car crashes.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.    

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