Communities Wellness

On A Personal Note: Adam Stewart

On A Personal Note: Adam Stewart

Adam Stewart. Photo courtesy of Asheville School

By Emma Castleberry

Adam Stewart was just ten years old when he first learned about opioids. “I heard my parents talking about my grandfather, one of the strongest people I ever knew, being addicted to opioids,” he says. After a hip replacement, Stewart’s grandfather was prescribed opioids, which he became addicted to within weeks. It was hard for Stewart to reconcile his grandfather—a strong and proud war veteran—with addiction. “I wondered how a man as tough as he was could succumb to the effects of such a small pill,” he says.

Stewart’s grandfather recovered from his addiction, but a seed had been planted for Stewart. “From then on, it seemed like I heard about opioids everywhere,” he says. “My home state of West Virginia has the highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in the nation.” The opioid problem became real for Stewart when he participated in a week-long mission trip to Huntington, WV, a community with a very high rate of overdose deaths. “Throughout the week, I came to understand that the structure I took for granted in my life was hard to find there,” says the Asheville School senior. “On the last day of our trip, a young man overdosed on the steps of a building not far from where we were working. I remember thinking that it could have been me or one of my friends. I decided I wanted to do something to highlight the opioid epidemic in West Virginia and help people avoid a path of addiction.”

This desire to educate and inform about the opioid epidemic coincided with Stewart’s Eagle Scout Project. In May of 2018, Stewart met with his scoutmaster, Cliff Baker, and developed the framework for his documentary film about opioid abuse: “One Decision.” In his long tenure as a scoutmaster, Baker has worked with more than 75 Eagle Scouts on their final projects. Of those, he says Stewart’s is the most unique. “Most projects do not involve a lot of creativity and very rarely depend on experts playing key roles,” Baker says. Baker was particularly impressed with Stewart’s ability to recruit and interview Dr. Rahul Gupta, the West Virginia State Health Commissioner.

“Adam is a self-starter, so once he began the project, he did everything on his own—solicited donations to cover the production costs, enlisted the help of a professional videographer, recruited a number of experts to be interviewed, scripted and carried out the interviews, and worked with the videographer to assemble the final film,” says Baker. To prepare, Stewart read extensively about opioid dependency, attended classes to learn about drugs and toured a facility that helps people struggling with dependency. By the time he finished the film in October of 2018, Stewart had logged more than 700 hours on the project. He estimates the collective time spent on the project by friends and colleagues is closer to double that.

“One Decision” is geared towards a teenage audience and focuses on “people, rather than facts and statistics,” Stewart says. He interviewed multiple doctors and other individuals battling the opioid crisis. “This film includes the voices of people who were either dependent on drugs or were close to someone who struggled with dependency,” he says. “Their resounding message was, ‘Educate yourself before you decide to make drugs a part of your life.’”

Stewart has grown up in a “small, safe, closely-knit town,” he says, and that led to an insulation from this epidemic that he hopes to counteract with his film. “We may not think opioids are a problem because we don’t see it every day,” he says. “My hope is that ‘One Decision’ will bring to light how opioid dependency can impact anyone, any age, anywhere. I also hope those watching the film will see there is hope with this epidemic and that they may want to join the effort to help make a difference.”

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