Jake Buchanan, 28, is a Dallas-based freelance filmmaker. He has written, produced or directed about 15 independent fictional short films, and he runs a film production company called Collaborative Impulse.
He is currently shooting a documentary about synthetic opioids called “Cause of Death.” Jake has grown familiar with the drugs during the last year.
On July 7, 2016, his younger brother Cal died after overdosing on parafluorofentanyl, a highly toxic analogue of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The tragedy caused heartbreak and confusion among Cal’s loved ones.
“I didn’t know anything about [parafluorofentanyl] when the autopsy report came out, and neither did anyone in my family,” Jake told DrugRehab.com.
Jake is determined to learn about the drug. In “Cause of Death,” he will explore synthetic opioids, including how they are made and where they can be found. He also wants to help people better understand the dangers associated with the class of drugs.
A Close-Knit Family
Jake grew up in Frisco, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. The town is known for its locally owned restaurants and year-round sporting events. In 2016, it was dubbed the fastest-growing city in the United States by the personal finance website WalletHub.
Growing up, Jake formed a strong bond with his four brothers. They constantly spent time together, grilling hamburgers in their backyard in the summer and attending Dallas Mavericks basketball games every fall and winter.
Jake was particularly fond of Cal, who was seven years his junior.
“Personality-wise, Cal was incredible,” Jake gushed. “He was loving, thoughtful, considerate and intelligent.”
At the time of his death, Cal was a 20-year-old college student. Jake described him as a jokester with a large personality, seldom seen without a smile on his face. He enjoyed researching political theory and human rights issues.
Cal, who had Asperger’s syndrome, was not a big talker. But he dreamed big. He always envisioned making a positive impact on the world.
“I believed him,” Jake said. “I truly believed he would have changed the world.”
Though Cal’s death was unexpected, Jake said he may know the series of events that led to his brother’s overdose.
Shortly before his death, Cal purchased parafluorofentanyl on the dark web, a hidden network of websites used to avoid law enforcement. Jake said a package containing the drug was delivered to their grandmother’s Denton, Texas, address. Jake believes that Cal thought he was purchasing heroin.
The morning after receiving the package, Cal felt ill. Jake said his family had no idea Cal was feeling the effects of a powerful synthetic opioid. In fact, the Buchanans thought he was hungover after drinking a few beers the night before.
Jake theorizes that Cal tried more of the substance to alleviate his symptoms. This may have slowed his respiration and caused his death.
“Cal was not a chronic opiate user,” Jake said. “Cal, in my opinion, literally tried it once, and it killed him.”
Searching for Answers
Jake said “Cause of Death” is being shot on a shoestring budget. He has raised $11,000 through an ongoing Kickstarter campaign, but hopes the campaign reaches $16,000. The money will cover the cost of the film, lodging, airfare and post-production fees.
He and his co-producer, Justin Benedict, intend to travel to areas most impacted by the opioid epidemic, such as West Virginia, New Hampshire and Ohio. They anticipate speaking with medical experts to get a better understanding of the class of drugs that killed Cal.
Jake also hopes to speak with Sam Quinones, a journalist and author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.”
“We hope to talk to experts in the field from all over the country who have watched this [epidemic] develop,” Jake said.
He and Benedict plan to speak with the medical examiner who conducted Cal’s autopsy. They are also going to search through Cal’s computer to learn more about the dark web and how he purchased the drug.
Accessing the dark web requires special tools. Through this space, internet users exchange sensitive information and make illegal business deals while attempting to avoid law enforcement intervention.
Jake wants to interview a computer hacker to learn the logistics of purchasing drugs through the dark web.
“He will walk me through exactly how this stuff is purchased online, how it’s untraceable, how to use dark web and what it looks like,” Jake said. “We’re going to look deeply at Cal’s specific situation so we can understand it better.”
He and Benedict began working on the documentary in January 2017 with intentions of completing the project in June. Jake hopes to release the film before the end of the year.
Synthetic Opioid Epidemic
Cal’s cause of death was a mystery to his family for three months. When the Buchanans learned that a powerful painkiller was responsible for his death, they were shocked. They had no idea what synthetic opioids were.
“I don’t think the general public knows a lot about synthetic opioids,” Jake said. “They are just now starting to come to the forefront.”
Synthetic opioids are drugs manufactured in laboratories that have a chemical composition similar to opioids naturally found in the opium plant. Synthetic opioids include fentanyl, methadone and tramadol.
Carfentanil, a type of synthetic opioid, is powerful enough to sedate elephants.
Street drugs, such as heroin, are often laced with synthetic opioids, magnifying their toxicity. In many instances, the individual is unaware of the potent mixture.
Synthetic opioids have ravaged the United States in recent years.
From 2014 to 2015, death rates involving synthetic opioids other than methadone increased by 72.2 percent in the United States, according to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sixteen states experienced increases in synthetic opioid death rates from 2014 to 2015, per the CDC report. New York, Connecticut and Illinois had the greatest percent increases in death rates.
A Societal Problem
Last December, the Buchanans experienced their first holiday season without Cal. During this time, Jake and his brothers attended their first Dallas Mavericks game without him.
Cal’s death has deeply affected his loved ones. Jake doesn’t want other families to endure such pain, though he knows Cal’s tragic experience isn’t uncommon. Drug overdose can happen to anybody, he says.
“The disconnect between our society and the illness of drug addiction is a problem right now,” Jake said. “It is so bad that people label someone as a junkie and say they got what they deserved. That is a problem, and that needs to be fixed.”
Jake wants to help fix the problem. With this documentary, he hopes to alter perceptions and raise awareness associated with drug addiction. He also aims to eliminate the stigma associated with synthetic opioid overdose.
Cal once envisioned changing the world. Jake hopes to do his part in doing just that.
Visit collaborativeimpulse.com to learn more about “Cause of Death.”