The last time “06880” checked in with Ian Manheimer, he was channeling Robert F. Kennedy.
Manheimer — a 2001 Staples grad, communications and English major at Tulane who works at Charity Buzz, raising funds for dozens of non-profits — has long been committed to social justice.
He founded RFK Young Leaders, a program that inspires young people to work on issues like farm workers’ rights.
Recently, Manheimer turned his focus to the opioid epidemic. He calls it “some of the most important work I’ve ever done.”
Through relatives in Florida, the activist learned of the $1 billion “drug rehabilitation industry.” Centered in Palm Beach County, it seems to involve “just about everyone,” Manheimer says.
For example, dentists own and run rehabilitation clinics. But, Manheimer explains, that’s a euphemism for a “fraudulent funnel that cycles addicts in and out.” The goal is to keep patients addicted, so clinic owners can “bilk the insurance industry.”
These are “serial scammers, following a long South Florida tradition. The industry is filled with gangsters. There’s a real criminal element there.”
Manheimer showed up at one rehabilitation center with a camera. The manager pulled out a gun, and chased him off the property.
Manheimer’s brother Jaime worked in unscripted TV. One of his high school classmates explained more about the industry to them.
“Junkie hunters” — also known as “body brokers” — form the marketing arm. They look for “down and out people,” Manheimer says. The hunters offer Xboxes and other goods, to get drug users to enroll in a rehab program.
“They actually auction these guys off to the highest bidder,” Manheimer notes.
Manheimer and his brother developed a television show, exploring and explaining what was happening. They optioned it to a production company.
News media began focusing on the drug rehabilitation industry. Florida officials clamped down a bit.
So Manheimer shifted focus. His new show — “Dope Sick Nation” — looked at how recovering addicts could receive quality care.
Viceland — Vice’s cable network — bought 10 episodes. They air Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Rather than serving an expose, the show is human interest.
Each episode features 2 people — without insurance — in crisis. As they seek quality care, “Dopesick Nation” tells their stories.
Manheimer is passionate about the opioid crisis. The mortality rate is far higher than AIDS or breast cancer, he says. It’s bankrupting communities.
And — with the rising popularity of synthetic drugs like fentanyl — it’s getting worse.
“It’s the biggest public health crisis since the Spanish flu” exactly 100 years ago, he notes.
Like his hero RFK, Manheimer is drawn to big questions about humanity.
“This is a spiritual issue,” he says of the opioid epidemic.
“Why is it happening here? Why now? Why are millions of people attracted to a drug with such a high risk of overdosing and dying? Why are users clustered, and why are they predominantly where they are?”
He does not know the answer.
No one does.
But thanks to Ian Manheimer’s “Dopesick Nation,” viewers around the country are now motivated to think about them.
(Click here for all Viceland episodes.)