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Louis Theroux: Heroin Town

Kate Kingsmill

The first of his Dark States series is Heroin Town, in which Louis visits Huntington, West Virginia, a place where statistics state one in four people are addicted to opiates.
Louis Theroux: Heroin Town

 Image: Louis Theroux: Heroin Town.

Is there a soul on this planet who isn’t charmed by Louis Theroux? To know him is to love him, and to love him is to be willing follow his avenues of intrigue, no matter how bleak the topic, because we know we will always come to an interesting place. Louis is now based in LA, the perfect place to explore his perverse fascination with curious and extreme human crises and subcultures, finding unlikely virtue in the darkest parts of human experience. His new series is called Dark States, and he may have chosen some dark topics, but take Louis anywhere and he will always be looking for the human connection. 


The first of his Dark States series is Heroin Town, in which Louis visits Huntington, West Virginia, a place where statistics state one in four people are addicted to opiates, and one in ten babies is born dependent. We meet one of those babies, Alisha’s son Archer, whose mother says opiates destroyed her life, but she looks like the girl next door, not a junkie at all. She and her partner weaned themselves off heroin when she found out she was pregnant, and the baby, born during the making of the film and hospitalised for 10 days to detox, causes Louis to smile for the first time during the entire documentary.  'I’m getting good vibes,' he says. It’s a rare crack of light in this bleak terrain of addiction. 

As Louis uncovers, most of the people who become addicted to heroin here began as addicts to prescription painkillers. When their supply to these strong opiates gets cut off by their doctors, they turn to heroin just to feel normal. The documentary doesn't go into the social aspect of how a non-heroin user finds the drug to get into it, but the vibe is that it’s pretty easy to find in this town. The heroin problem here is so direct and so dire that the City of Huntington is attempting to sue the distributors of these drugs.

Among the cast of characters he meets is Nate, who lives in a tent by the river and got into heroin after he was hit by a car. Nate says he loves being an addict and has no interest in going to rehab, but he does miss his 12-year-old son. Katillia is kept ‘as basically a pet’ by her boyfriend, a dealer, who she can’t see a way of escaping. 

In just one hour, Louis can’t go too deep, but he does touch on the struggle experienced by emergency services and he brings his trademark buckets of charm and self-described 'speckish, bookish beanpole quality' to even the darkest of subject matter.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Louis Theroux: Heroin Town

Louis Theroux 
BBC Knowledge
Sharmill Films
Classification E
Classification: Genre Documentary
Release Date Friday, 17 November 2017
Running Time 101 Mins

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Kate is an illustrator, radio broadcaster and arts and music writer, with a big love of red wine and music bios.