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'The Trade' examines the heroin epidemic from the inside out

A scene from the Showtime documentary series,
A scene from the Showtime documentary series, "The Trade."

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Access is everything to Matt Heineman. The filmmaker and his crew spent months weaving themselves into the daily lives of drug addicts, their families, police officers and cartel members to make "The Trade." The five-part docuseries provides an intimate look at both the micro and macro devastation of the heroin epidemic.

It shows addicts shooting up, lying to their families and suffering the brutal pangs of withdrawal as their loved ones try desperately to help them. "The Trade" also deconstructs the shadow economy of drug trafficking from poppy growers in Guerrero, Mexico to dealers in Columbus, Ohio.

Developing rapport and trust was vital for Heineman, who made his name with "Cartel Land," a 2015 documentary about Mexico's drug war. He didn't simply want to tell this story. He wanted to make a difference.

"The Trade" airs Friday nights on Showtime.

Matthew Heineman, filmmaker of Showtime's
Matthew Heineman, filmmaker of Showtime's "The Trade."

Interview Highlights

How Heineman was able to convince addicts to appear on camera:

I think people want to be understood. People want to be heard. Especially people that are marginalized or under stress. They want people to understand what they're going through. And I think in these discussions with folks like John, who are addicted to heroin, part of that discussion is that by taking part in this show, hopefully their story can help thousands and thousands of others that are trapped in this cycle. 

On how he cultivates trust with his subjects:

I didn't want to make this show with professors in a university talking about this issue from the outside. I really wanted to get dirty, get right in there up close and personal. That happens by spending weeks or months with characters and developing a deep, deep rapport. And often becoming a part of the fabric of their daily lives so they don't really worry about you being there or care that you're there. You're just part of their daily existence. It's really, really important when you're dealing with people in such difficult situations to be empathetic. And to be honest with you're intentions.

On whether there's something in the American psyche that makes us inclined toward addiction:

The drug is much more valuable in the U.S. than it is in Mexico, so the cartels try to get it out of Mexico as fast as possible. They would much rather sell the drug to an addict in Atlanta than they would to an addict in Guerrero. In certain places there's sort of an unspoken rule that you don't sell within your community. There's a huge culprit here, and that's the pharmaceutical industry. So often we see with these addicts, that they start with a knee injury, arm injury or dental surgery. It starts with basic opiates that they're supposed to be on for a couple of days, and then that turns into an addiction. 

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