FHS Graduate Hopes To Put Focus On Addiction

Sam Tarplin on the set for a scene in a documentary he has begun to film, which he hopes will become a full-length feature film about addiction on Cape Cod and the recovery process.
SAM HOUGHTON/ENTERPRISE - Sam Tarplin on the set for a scene in a documentary he has begun to film, which he hopes will become a full-length feature film about addiction on Cape Cod and the recovery process.

A Falmouth High School graduate has set out to make a documentary studying addiction on Cape Cod in an effort to bring awareness to a regional problem, offer hope to those in recovery, and to do something over the winter.

Samuel Tarplin, 24, a graduate of the Class of 2007, is in the beginning stages of filming “What Happened Here: The Untold Story of Addiction on the Cape.” He hopes it will be a full-length film to be finished for the late fall or early winter of this year.

Mr. Tarplin, along with help from volunteers, has scheduled interviews with addicts and those in recovery as well as police officers, first responders, clinicians, journalists, members of the former Falmouth Prevention Center, community leaders, politicians including state Representative Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich), religious chaplains, and others.

So far, he has planned over 60 hours of raw footage to be cut down to 90 minutes. 

This is his first attempt at a film as a producer and director. It is a story, he said, that needs to be told. New England, and particularly Cape Cod, he said, have statistics to show that heroin is a problem. Falmouth will be a large focus of the film.   

“I’m just trying to get a dialogue going,” Mr. Tarplin said. “The more people we have making movies about it, the more mainstream politicians are willing to out themselves, like Marty Walsh; the more famous people who are putting this in a positive light, the more it does for everyone else in recovery.”

On a crowdsourcing website for independent films, indiegogo, Mr. Tarplin raised over $1,000 to cover basic editing equipment, legal consultation, professional editing and other expenses. While the crowdsourcing site ended last week, he is still open to donations.

Mr. Tarplin is himself in recovery from past heroin use.

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He has been clean for close to a year, with one relapse over the summer seven months ago. And while he knows he hurt people, he said that he has changed. “I was sick but people do get better. I put people in danger and I’m ashamed of that but I served my punishment,” he said, citing those ordered by the state. “Not only am I over it, but I’m using it as a learning experience and I’m adjusting my life accordingly.”

Through the interviews he has conducted for the film, listening to former users has already helped Mr. Tarplin in his own recovery. “The best way to solve any problem is to listen to one another,” he said. “It’s the same with anything in life; the more opinions you hear, the more views you get on something, the better you understand it,” he said. The film, he hopes, will help others recovering in a similar vein.

The initial step for the film took form as a Facebook page. He recalls thinking that if the page did not receive any interest, he could take it down the next day and forget about the project. He invited 50 friends to the page and within weeks, there were close to 2,000 people showing support for the film.

With outside interest, Mr. Tarplin decided he could raise enough funds. The film, he said, would be low-cost as it would be mostly interviews and landscape shots.

The final push to begin the project, Mr. Tarplin said, was when Jonathan F. Nunez, whom Mr. Tarplin grew up with, was arrested for robbing Kenyon’s Market at the end of November. After the incident, Mr. Nunez was the recipient of ridicule over the Internet. Mr. Tarplin was offended. Mr. Nunez, he said, was an addict. He was stealing to feed his addiction.

“I was thinking this could just as easily be you or your kids in the future. He did something very wrong, he committed a very dangerous crime and he should be punished, but at the same time he is sick. He needs help.”

“Hopefully, he’ll go to jail and get better. That’s our hope collectively as a society, but often it is not what happens,” he continued. “Oftentimes they get worse. He’ll be back on the street in a few years and probably worse off than before he was arrested.” 

Tabloid newspapers blasting meltdowns from actors like Lindsey Lohan only add fuel to the shrinking confidence of addicts, he said, as well as television shows like A&E’s “Intervention.”

“Those seem to be pure exploitation of a person. I’m trying to find the silver lining here.” There is hope, he said. Given the right help, Mr. Tarplin said, former addicts can succeed and become productive citizens in a community. In his film, he hopes to highlight the potential for this recovery.

He said that one meaningful moment for him in recovery was when a girlfriend at the time took him to a support group for family and friends affected by addicts.

“It was really eye-opening for me. It was the first time I could really identify that the problem was affecting more than just me,” Mr. Tarplin said. Through seeing older people who had seen their spouses drink their lives away for many years, Mr. Tarplin said he was able to see that he was not just hurting himself.

Two-fifths of the film he projects will be about addiction, while the rest will show the power of recovery and the different techniques—some that work and some that do not—people use.

He has scheduled to interview 15 past users in recovery around the Cape, as well as two who are active addicts. He said that he plans to interview Patricia J. Mitrokostas, the former Falmouth Prevention Partnership program director, Lieutenant Jeffrey P. Smith of the Falmouth Police Department, and Troy Clarkson, a Falmouth columnist who will discuss socio-economic factors on the Cape, and others.

As to why Cape Cod: because it is his home, but also because of statistics. “Cape Cod seems to have worse rates than other parts of the country. We seem to stick out,” he said. “I’ve heard everything from people flock to Gosnold and once they get out, stay here. I’ve heard everything from the rich kids that come around in the summer. I’ve heard it’s because we are a seasonal community. I’ve heard lots of things. I’ve heard kids don’t have a lot to do here on the weekends in the winter,” he said. “We’re trying to explore some of these environmental factors. We’re researching.”

So far, Mr. Tarplin has interviewed two former addicts, as well as Rabbi Elias J. Lieberman of the Falmouth Jewish Congregation. Mr. Tarplin interviewed Rabbi Lieberman to have the perspective of a community leader, someone whom children and young adults look up to.

“One bias I had coming into the film is that if you weren’t an addict yourself, you were ignorant of our struggles,” Mr. Tarplin said. “[Rabbi Lieberman] taught me that that wasn’t true at all.”

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Of the two recovering addicts he has interviewed so far, one is an employee at Gosnold on Cape Cod, a former heroin user. “He didn’t get political but he gave his opinions about pharmaceuticals and doctors pushing medication on people who didn’t need them,” Mr. Tarplin said. “He was mad at the doctors and was looking to get his voice heard.”

The other former user retold his experiences with heroin addiction. He came to the Cape for treatment and was able to start a new life here and has been clean for nearly five years, Mr. Tarplin said. “He showed that he could be anybody and that anyone can get addicted but that anyone can also get clean.”

“I have stories of people who are in recovery now that six years ago were robbing their parents for the next hit. Now they can be lawyers or doctors, or working at Gosnold. I want to show that people do get better and do live productive lives,” Mr. Tarplin said.

Mr. Tarplin said that his own experiences with addiction started in high school, recalling being suspended from school for having prescription drugs. After high school, he joined the Israeli Military for what he called a geographical cure, but when he came back, in 2010, his addiction only worsened. “When I came back from the Army, I suffered from PTSD.” Most of the country by then, he said, had made a movement to take prescription pills off the streets. “You couldn’t find it at all or they were well overpriced,” he said. “Heroin was cheaper and easier to get. I came back and all of my prescription dealers were heroin dealers. Once I started using a needle, I don’t even want to say it, it was a spiral downhill, it was a straight shot down. Within months, I was a criminal,” he said.

Of what finally helped him get sober, education, he said, was most important. “It’s the same with anything in life; the more opinions you hear, the more views you get on something, the better you understand it.”

Currently, Mr. Tarplin works at a golf course during the summer and has free time over the winter to film. “I’m living with my parents now, getting back on my feet a little more. It’s not ideal,” he said, but it allows him to carry out the filming. He has used space in their home for a production area.

The film, he said, has been an enjoyable experience so far, and if all goes well, he hopes to screen it around the Cape as well as in Boston-area theaters. With success, he said it could lead to a new career.

“I’ve heard a lot of addicts say that ‘I’m just a bad person.’ I don’t think that’s the issue,” Mr. Tarplin said. “Addicts aren’t raised wrong. It’s not that they have no confidence. It’s really a brain disorder, just like any other disorder. It’s not a choice. If I could change some people’s minds with this film… that would be the greatest thing I could get out of it.”

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