Jan Rader, a 2008 graduate of Ohio University Southern’s Associate Degree in Nursing Program, is among three Huntington, West Virginia women featured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Heroin(e).”

Jan Rader, a 2008 graduate of Ohio University Southern’s Associate Degree in Nursing Program, is among three Huntington, West Virginia women featured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Heroin(e).”

Photo courtesy of: Ohio University Southern

Jan Rader (left) and Necia Freeman respond to audience questions following the Nov. 28 viewing of the Netflix documentary “Heroin(e)” at Ohio University Southern.

Jan Rader (left) and Necia Freeman respond to audience questions following the Nov. 28 viewing of the Netflix documentary “Heroin(e)” at Ohio University Southern.

Photo courtesy of: Ohio University Southern

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Ohio University Southern alumna heading for the Academy Awards

Jan Rader among the stars in Oscar-nominated ‘Heroin(e)’

Ohio University Southern alumna Jan Rader has accumulated many titles and accolades over the course of her professional life. Graduate gemologist. Firefighter. Paramedic. Nurse. And, as of this past March, West Virginia’s first female professional fire chief.

But on Jan. 23 the chief of the Huntington, West Virginia Fire Department earned perhaps her most unlikely accolade yet: Starring in an Academy Award-nominated film.

Rader, a 2008 graduate of Ohio University Southern’s nursing program and recipient of the 2017 Ohio University Southern Alumni Leadership Award, is one of three women featured in “Heroin(e),” a Netflix documentary that is one of five films nominated for Best Short-Subject Documentary at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards. 

“Heroin(e)” follows Rader, Cabell County Family Court Judge Patricia Keller and Necia Freeman, a realtor by trade and a street missionary by calling, as they employ ways big and small to combat a problem plaguing communities throughout the United State: opioid addiction. The film documents the women’s efforts to break the cycle of addiction in Huntington, West Virginia, where Rader and her colleagues spend their working hours reviving those who have overdosed, Keller established and presides over a Drug Court designed to help participants overcome addiction and Freeman’s Brown Bag Ministry nourishes women whose drug use has led to prostitution. 

According to Rader, it all started in February 2016 with a phone call from the then-director of the Huntington Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, Jim Johnson, who requested that Rader meet with a young documentary filmmaker interested in learning more about what was occurring in that community. Rader spent about a week with the film’s director, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, and co-producer, Kerrin Sheldon, answering their questions, showing them around and introducing them to individuals instrumental in the community’s efforts to eradicate opioid addiction. Among those individuals were Keller and Freeman.

The Sheldons were in the process of filming another documentary and left Huntington to continue work on that project.

“They told us they didn’t know what they wanted to do, but they wanted to do something positive and they would get back in touch with us when they found some funding,” Rader said. 

Several months later the Sheldons returned to Huntington, pitching a short documentary featuring Rader, Keller and Freeman and focusing on what these women were doing to improve their community. 

“We really didn’t know what this film was going to look like or exactly what Elaine was going to do,” Rader said, but all three women agreed to be filmed. 

It wasn’t until after Netflix released “Heroin(e)” on Sept. 12, 2017, that the women saw the final product – Rader and Freeman both watching the documentary individually in their homes with Keller opting to view the film in her courtroom and alongside her Drug Court participants. 

“I was really blown away by how well it was put together,” Rader said of the film. “Elaine and Kerrin did an exceptional job, and I was very overwhelmed by the positive spin that they were able to weave into it. … We’ve had a lot of people come to town here and film because we are transparent about the heroin problem we have, but Elaine was really the first person to try to put a positive spin on it. It’s refreshing.”

The months that followed the film’s release have been a whirlwind for Rader who said she’s been amazed at how far-reaching the documentary has been. 

In addition to be contacted by individuals in an estimated 20 countries, Rader has been featured in numerous publications and on television, including on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” In the wake of the film’s release, she and her colleagues have also been investing a significant amount of time and effort on education and outreach, speaking at high schools and with community groups. In November, they participated in a screening of “Heroin(e)” and a panel discussion back in Rader’s hometown of Ironton at her alma mater, Ohio University Southern. (See related article.

And the efforts highlighted in the film are resulting in positive movement in terms of Huntington’s opioid situation. 

“We’re hoping 2017 was our plateau,” Rader said. “Overdoses are slowing down a little bit. We have a lot of grant funding now that we’ve been able to secure to start new programs, to enhance programs we already have and to help those suffering from substance use disorder.

“What has changed as the result of this film is the fact that people are willing to start needed conversations,” she added. “This epidemic did not come about overnight, and it certainly is not going to be solved overnight. It is truly in need of education and conversations, not just with those who are suffering but from ordinary citizens. As a society, we are really just now understanding what substance use disorder is and how difficult it is to combat and overcome. What we really love about this film is that there’s an educational component to it.”

For Rader, the film’s Oscar nomination has the potential to take “Heroin(e)’s” educational efforts to the next level.

“An Oscar win, I think, would bring even more attention to the issue at hand. A lot of people will watch documentaries once they are Oscar winners,” Rader said.

And when the winner of this year’s Best Short-Subject Documentary is announced on March 4 at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, Rader and her “Heroin(e)” co-stars Keller, who she calls her “best friend,” and Freeman, who she said is her “own personal hero,” will be there. 

“My hope for this film is that we can erase the stigma associated with substance use disorder and that people will just start being kinder to one another,” Rader said. “These are good people. They do achieve long-term recovery, and we don’t have the right to judge or to treat them like second-class citizens.”

For Rader, compassion is key in her professional life and in the efforts spotlighted in “Heroin(e).”

“I can honestly say that a lot of my compassion comes from being raised the way I was by my parents,” Rader said, noting the work her mother did with the American Cancer Society and the work her mother, father and brother did with Habitat for Humanity. “But on top of that, I had some of the best nursing instructors a person could have at Ohio University Southern and I think that’s because all of my instructors had years of real-life experience in the field as nurses. They instilled in me the fact that, as a nurse, I am a patient advocate. I’ll never forget those lessons, and I try to pass those lessons on to other first responders.”

As the nation continues to grapple with the opioid epidemic, Rader noted that everyone can play a role in addressing the issue in their own communities.

“There’s so many things that people can do,” she said. “There are a lot of people suffering and we can’t solve their problems for them, but we can be kind and we can listen. A lot of times, that’s all they need.”

"I want to personally commend Chief Jan Rader who fully embodies the five core values that we seek to instill in every Bobcat – community, character, civility, citizenship and commitment," said Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis. "She is a shining example of the difference one person can make in their community, in our nation and in our world, and I know Bobcat Nation will cheering her and her fellow heroines on at this year's Academy Awards."