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This film shows what happens to the loved ones left behind after opioid overdoses

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Our next story may be disturbing to some listeners. It begins with graphic details of a drug overdose. In 2014, Linda Lajterman faced a parent's worst nightmare.

LINDA LAJTERMAN: I felt for a pulse, and I knew right away he wasn't breathing. He was gone. He was blue. And...

CHANG: Her 19-year-old son, Danny, had overdosed on heroin in his room. She said that there were no red flags to make her worry that Danny was even using drugs.

LAJTERMAN: Danny was just a typical teen. There was nothing that you would say, oh, look at that kid. He looks like he's using drugs.

CHANG: Linda pieced together that Danny was a fairly new user, but the heroin Danny was using was laced with fentanyl, an opioid over 80 times stronger than morphine. A new study found a fiftyfold increase in the amount of fentanyl pills seized by law enforcement over the last four years. And many experts blame fentanyl as a major reason why annual drug overdose deaths in the U.S. topped 100,000 for the first time last year. Linda says the trauma that she and her family suffered after losing Danny was simply unimaginable.

LAJTERMAN: It took me a very long time and a lot of therapy to get the vision of how I found him out of my head. Every time I thought of my son, I didn't think of the happy, smiling Danny. The dead Danny came in my head.

LAJTERMAN: In the aftermath of her family's loss, Linda shared her story in a book called "Life After You." It warns people about the dangers of drug abuse and also the toll it takes on their loved ones when the worst possible thing happens. That story has now been adapted into a film starring Florencia Lozano as Linda.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIFE AFTER YOU")

FLORENCIA LOZANO: (As Linda) I want Danny's death to mean something.

DOMENICA FERAUD: (As Andrea) What happened to us is private. It is nobody's business but ours.

LOZANO: (As Linda) This is happening everywhere - constantly. I need to say something.

CHANG: Sarah Schwab is director and co-writer of the film "Life After You." She says this movie, it's different from most other movies about drug abuse.

SARAH SCHWAB: A lot of films that deal with addiction, I think they follow the path of the actual addict. In this story specifically, we didn't want to show any drug use. What we really wanted to show was the path of a grieving family and the way that they all deal with all of the raw emotions that come after losing somebody that you love.

CHANG: It's a narrative film, not a documentary. But Schwab says she hopes it will help people understand just how pervasive the opioid epidemic is. And she hopes it will generate candid conversations about drug addiction.

SCHWAB: One of the biggest goals with the film is that we start to have dialogues, honest dialogues, about addiction in general and to talk. Like, this is a real problem. You know, it's not just young adults. It's happening to people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, even up into their 70s.

LAJTERMAN: It's not just our story. It's every parent who lost a child or a loved one from drugs. This is all our story, and it needed to be told.

CHANG: Schwab worked closely with the Lajterman family in developing this film. Linda Lajterman says that was difficult, but she hopes it will inspire young people to make better choices.

LAJTERMAN: I hoped to reach one - that's all I wanted - one kid that maybe would make a better choice than my son did.

CHANG: "Life After You" has been screening in cities across the country and is now available on various streaming platforms. And if you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration at 1-800-662-4357. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.