Film Documents the Tragedy of Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

Jeff Shimkus, a Fire Department Captain in Anaheim, California, recently sat down with filmmakers to discuss his 19-year-old son Sam.  A college student, athlete and Special Education Instructional Aide, Sam died in January of 2010 from a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol.  The coroner ruled that his accidental overdose death was caused by mixing booze and Opana (a painkiller), Soma (a muscle relaxant) and Xanax (an anti-anxiety drug).  Although Jeff Shimkus had responded to many emergency calls related to drug overdoses while on the job, he was unable to save his son from suffering the same fate.

Behind the Orange Curtain Trailer:

The story of Sam Shimkus, described by his father as a good kid who made a bad choice, will be part of a feature-length documentary entitled “Behind the Orange Curtain.”  The purpose of the film, which is scheduled for completion in March, is to raise public awareness about the prescription drug epidemic in Orange County and across the nation.  According to the Orange County Register, more than 240 Orange County teens and young adults died in 2010 as the result of prescription drug abuse.

The film was inspired by the tragic death of Mark Melkonian, a 17-year-old Dana Hills High School student who also died from a prescription drug overdose in 2010.  Natalie Costa, who attended the funeral with her daughter Brianne, decided to do something about the rising number of overdoses among teenagers.  Costa is the owner of The Performers Academy, a private school for the performing arts in Laguna Hills.  She enlisted two award-winning filmmakers, Brent Huff and Zac Titus, to create a documentary that will educate both parents and youth about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Costa funded the filmmakers with an initial $15,000 in seed money.  An additional $43,500 was raised on Kickstarter, a website that allows filmmakers, artists and entrepreneurs to solicit public funding.  The overall goal of the film project is to raise public awareness about prescription drug abuse, a problem that exists in every community in America.  Costa hopes that the film will be shown on theater screens and on PBS stations across the nation.

Filmmaker Bret Huff, who lives in Los Angeles, told the Register that he was surprised to hear about the drug problem in Orange County.  Before working on the film, he had the impression that teenagers in the area lived in affluent neighborhoods and stayed out of trouble.  After conducting interviews for the documentary, he has found that prescription drug abuse among Orange County teens is a complex problem with several contributing factors, including having extra money to spend, a lack of drug-related education in schools, and parents who are often absent or inattentive.  The prevalence of prescription drugs in family medicine cabinets is another contributing factor to the epidemic of prescription drug abuse in Orange County.

Several parents who have lost children to prescription drug overdose tell their stories in “Behind the Orange Curtain.”  These parents hope to spare other families the unspeakable grief that prescription drugs have brought into their lives.

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