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Raw Opium Nominated for Canadian Screen Award for Research

Researcher, Scott Calbeck, has been nominated by the Canadian Screen Awards (formerly the Gemini Awards) for Research done on the documentary film Raw Opium: Pain, Pleasure, Profits.

In response to the nomination, Scott remarked, “You've heard people say "it's an honour just to be nominated…"; it turns out they're right.”

Scott says, “being nominated means your work is recognized and your efforts are acknowledged.” His time spent researching prior to visiting the various sites covered in Raw Opium was fruitful but his first hand experiences “will always be one of the highlights.”

In 2008 Scott went on a research trip to Turkey and Afghanistan. “Until you're on the ground in a place like Afyon, Turkey or Kabul, Afghanistan you can't begin to appreciate what life is like for the people who live there.”

Although he was exploring grave circumstances around the drug and the serious, usually detrimental, impacts it has on the lives of people, Scott gained insight into the complexities of human nature. “The part of my work I most enjoy is meeting someone who is willing to share their unique experiences … [You] realize that by our standards these people have absolutely nothing - yet their willingness to make you feel welcome is overwhelming…” explained Scott.

Stay tuned to rawopium.com; where we will announce the results of the award in this category in March, 2013.

Researcher, Scott Calbeck, has been nominated by the Canadian Screen Awards (formerly the Gemini Awards) for Research done on the documentary film Raw Opium: Pain, Pleasure, Profits.

In response to the nomination, Scott remarked, “You've heard people say "it's an honour just to be nominated…"; it turns out they're right.”

Read more.



Canada, 2011, 84 minutes

Raw Opium is a feature length documentary (and two-part TV series) about a commodity that has tremendous power – both to ease pain and to destroy lives. The opium poppy is the raw material for heroin, fueling a vast criminal trade larger than the economies of many countries.

Raw Opium is a journey around the world and through time, where conflicting forces do battle over the narcotic sap of the opium poppy. From an opium master in southeast Asia to a UN drug enforcement officer on the border of Afghanistan hunting down the smugglers of central Asia; from a former Indian government Drug Czar and opium farmer to a crusading Vancouver doctor and Portuguese street worker who daily confront the realities of drug addiction.

We see how this flower has played, and continues to play, a pivotal role – not just in the lives of people who grow, manufacture and use it – but also in the increasingly tense sphere of international relations. In the process, our assumptions about addiction and the War on Drugs are challenged.

Raw Opium: Pain, Pleasure, Profits



Peresia and Danglesia Kathak
Opium farmers, Arunachal Pradesh, India

The Kathak family are members of the Mishmi tribe living in Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India, on the border of Mayanmar, Bhutan, and China. For hundreds of years opium cultivation has been essential, in a place where modern medicines are rare, and opium is used as a remedy for dysentery, sleeplessness, or pain from childbirth. It’s also smoked socially.

Peresia and Danglesia Kathak say that opium production is the lifeline of the community’s survival. Farmers growing opium can earn 20 to 30 times more than they can from alternative crops.

The Kathak family cultivates opium from the fields as their people in the region have for hundreds of years, but now global demand for heroin is turning a local tradition into a thriving business, with opium cultivation increasing.

Romesh Bhattacharji
Former Narcotics Commissioner, India

From 1996-2001, Mr. Bhattacharji was Narcotics Commissioner of India, where he was responsible for the detection of heroin labs and other illegal facilities, destruction of illicit opium poppy cultivation and designing and implementing alternative development projects in such areas that grow opium illegally.

Today, as a specialist in trans-border trafficking and narcotics, Mr. Bhattacharji writes numerous articles on security, insurgency, narcotics and tourism. After helping with Raw Opium in 2009 some of his former Narco colleagues and he surveyed the extent of opium cultivation in that same area in March 2010, for a report to the Government of Arunachal Pradesh.

Today Romesh consults with agencies working on drug policy, such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. He has conducted extensive field research on devising an efficient system for intelligence sharing between Iran and Afghanistan.

Read Romesh's Blog


Rui Reis
Outreach worker, Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, Lisbon, Portugal

Rui Reis is a street outreach worker in an innovative program operated through Portugal’s national Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction. Rui grew up in Boston, but was deported back to Portugal in 2000 for drug-related offenses. He entered rehabilitation in Portugal and gave up drugs at age 32.

A decade ago, the Portuguese government took the advice of health care specialists to decriminalize all drugs and removed the threat of jail time for drug use. At the time that Raw Opium was produced, there were 74 government-run treatment centers for a user population estimated at 38,000. Although it is a controversial public health program, they have impressive results. Within 4 years of decriminalization the number of people in treatment shot up from 6000 to 15,000, and drug-related deaths and drug use among teens both decreased across the country.


Christer Brannerud
Project lead, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Tajikistan

Christer Brannerud is the man in charge of helping the Tajiks to plug the opium pipeline that flows from Afghanistan, through Tajikistan, and into Russia and the rest of Europe.

In an atmosphere ripe with corruption, Christer is the lead for the UNODC, and supports
border officials to monitor thousands of miles of border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Established in 1997, through a merger of former UN departments, the UNODC is a global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime, operating through a global network of field offices.

The UNODC works at stabilizing regions grappling with the smuggling of illicit drugs, weapons and natural resources. UNODC also launches campaigns to deter youth from using illicit drugs, supports drug-dependent people to seek treatment, and advises governments to see drug use as a health problem.

Go to the UNODC website


Darwin Fisher
Intake manager, Insite, Vancouver, Canada

Darwin Fisher is the Intake Manager at Insite, North America’s first legal supervised injection site. As Intake Manager, Darwin works with a marginalized population, which has a high rate of HIV and lives with the constant risk of overdose.

A Fine Arts graduate from Saskatchewan, Darwin has been working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for the past 10 years.

Since opening its doors in 2003, Insite has been a place where people inject drugs and connect to healthcare services – to treat disease and infection, access addiction counselling and treatment, and connect with housing and community supports. With funding through The BC Ministry of Health Services and Vancouver Coastal Health, Insite employs a harm-reduction approach, which aims to decrease the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use without requiring abstinence from drug use.

Visit Insite's website


Derek Thomas
Client at Insite, Vancouver, Canada

Derek Thomas lives in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and does peer counselling with users. He was one of the hundreds of clients who walked through Insite’s doors on a daily basis in 2009, to access medical care, counselling and community support.

At the time of producing Raw Opium, Derek had been using opiates for the last 3 and a half years, after his wife died in a vehicle accident. He ended up in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside because he could find drugs there, and from that point on he said he started using heroin as form of self-medication.

Since opening its doors in 2003, Insite has been a place where people inject drugs and connect to healthcare services. With funding through The BC Ministry of Health Services and Vancouver Coastal Health, Insite employs a harm-reduction approach, in order to decrease the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use without requiring abstinence from drug use.

Visit Insite's website


Dr. Gabor Maté
Physician, Author, Public Speaker, Vancouver, Canada

Dr. Gabor Maté worked with with drug users, the mentally ill, and HIV positive patients in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

Common to all of Dr. Maté’s work is a focus on understanding the social and psychological context in which human illnesses arise. Rather than offering one-dimensional solutions to complex issues, Dr. Maté brings together scientific research, case studies and his own experience to provide broad and empowering knowledge.

His latest book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction (2009), garnered praise from some influential personalities: Ed Burns, co-creator,
HBO’s The Corner and The Wire; Jamie Lee Curtis,
‘Author, Actress, Activist, Alcoholic’; and Naomi Klein, Author, The Shock Doctrine.

Visit Gabor Maté's website


Eugene Oscapella
Barrister and Solicitor, Ottawa, Canada

As an advisor on Canadian legislative and policy developments since 1985, Eugene Oscapella specializes in drug policy, medical-legal subjects, defence, intelligence, national security and criminal justice matters.

For almost a quarter century he has served both the public and private sectors through timely, readable research and clear policy advice. With his company, Oscapella and Associates, he also provides writing services for numerous bodies, from commissions of inquiry to government departments and agencies. Since 2000, he has taught drug policy in the department of criminology at the University of Ottawa.

In April 2011, Eugene Oscapella received the Kaiser Foundation National Award for Excellence in Public Policy.

Visit Eugene Oscapella's website


Peter Dale Scott
Author and Commentator, Berkeley, USA

Peter Dale Scott is a former Canadian diplomat and English Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He was a prominent anti-war speaker during the Vietnam and Gulf Wars and he co-founded the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at UC Berkeley, and of the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA).

Today he is a well-known poet, writer, and researcher. As a published author since the 1970’s, his most recent prose books include Drugs Oil and War (2003), The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (2007), The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War (2008), Mosaic Orpheus (2009), and American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA's Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan (2010).

Visit Peter Dale Scott's website


Larry Mendosa
Special Agent, Drug Enforcement Administration, USA

As a Special Agent at the DEA, Lawrence Mendosa serves the mission of this governmental body. The DEA's responsibilities include the management of a national drug intelligence program to disseminate strategic drug intelligence information; seizure of assets intended to be used for illicit drug trafficking; and coordination at all government levels in programs designed to reduce the availability of illicit drugs in the United States.

The DEA also liaises with the United Nations regarding their international drug control programs. The DEA employs methods such as crop eradication, crop substitution, and the training of foreign officials.

Visit the DEA's website


Gwynne Dyer
Author, Historian, Journalist, London, UK

For over 20 years, Gwynne Dyer has worked as a freelance journalist, columnist, broadcaster and lecturer. He has a twice-weekly column on international affairs, which is published by over 175 papers in some 45 countries. His most recent television work, the series ‘The Human Race’, and ‘Protection Force’, both won Gemini awards.

Dyer’s book War, was revised and re-published in 2004 and in the last decade he also published several other books: Ignorant Armies (2003), Future: Tense (2004), and The Mess They Made (2006).

His most recent book and TV series is called Climate Wars, and deals with the geopolitics of climate change.

Visit Gwynee Dyer's website


Misha Glenny
Journalist, Author, UK

Misha Glenny is a British journalist who specializes in global organized crime. He is the author of McMafia (2008), in which he wrote that international organised crime could account for 20 per cent of the world's GDP. To write the book, he spent several years investigating organized crime networks worldwide, which have grown to an estimated 15% of the global economy. His sources include not just intelligence and law enforcement officials but criminal insiders: Russian mafia and giant drug cartels.

He contributes regularly to the Guardian, Observer, The New York Times and New York Review of Books and is a regular broadcaster on radio and television. He is also a regular keynote speaker at conferences on organized crime, globalization, south-eastern Europe and US–Europe relations.

Find Misha Glenny on twitter


Pam Squire, MD.
Doctor, Pain Management Specialist, Vancouver, Canada

Dr. Pam Squire specializes in complex pain. A Clinical Assistant Professor at UBC’s School of Medicine. Dr. Squire speaks and teaches locally, nationally and internationally, and is an advocate for the multidisciplinary treatment of chronic pain.


Daniel Reid
Author and Historian, Australia

Daniel Reid is a best-selling author and a leading expert on eastern philosophy and medicine. He has written numerous books and magazine articles on various aspects of Asian self-health and self-healing practices, and has established an international reputation for the practical efficacy of his traditional approach to modern health problems. Today he lives in the Byron Bay region of Australia.

Visit Daniel Reid's website

Meet some of the people who we interviewed from six countries around the world.






Associate Producer / Researcher: SCOTT CALBECK




Production Manager: DAVID METH

Original Music: JOHN FINDLAY



Editorial Consultant: JOHN KRAMER

Head of Development: DAVID OPPENHEIM

Produced by KENSINGTON COMMUNICATIONS in association with TVO, CANAL D (owned by Astral Media), SCN, CTV Two, ZDF-ARTE, and SBS-TV AUSTRALIA.Produced with the participation of the ONTARIO MEDIA DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, and ROGERS DOCUMENTARY FUND.Produced with the financial participation of CANADIAN TELEVISION FUND, and with the assistance of the CANWEST-HOT DOCS COMPLETION FUND.


© 2011 Kensington Communications Inc.

Find out who created the documentary.

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March 10, 2014

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January 6, 2014

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Insite's Story: Vancouver

August 19, 2011

Romesh's Story: India

August 18, 2011
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