The message remains: 'Heroin Still Kills,' an update to the 1998 educational film, premieres in Carroll

Two decades ago, a young man overdosed on heroin in Westminster and his death upended his family.

“It was a horrific discovery, very raw. We were not expecting anything, just found him in the morning,” said Mike O’Hara, about his son Liam’s death in 1998. “Immediately everything changed. The early years were really tough.”


But Liam O’Hara’s death also brought his community together to produce “Heroin Kills,” a prevention video that would go on to be shown all across the county, and the world.

“I think it really was the whole rallying of the community,” Mike O’Hara said. “It was an incredible journey and very humbling, to be come the face of that problem, and to become a part of something that would touch the world.”

On Tuesday, O’Hara was in attendance at the premiere of “Heroin Still Kills,” an update to the original film created in partnership between the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Carroll County Health Department. It was a project proposed in 2017 by the Health Department’s Linda Auerback, a substance use prevention supervisor and producer of the original “Heroin Kills.”

“About a year and half ago, Linda and I had a conversation down at a school, Oklahoma Road Middle School, about trying to redo the ‘Heroin Kills,’ ” State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo told the more than 50 cast, crew and officials gathered at Carroll Community College prior to the release. “It’s now 20 years since that video, and while times have changed, the message hasn’t.”

DeLeonardo’s office provided funding for the film project.

“I feel really lucky to be in the community of Carroll County, where whenever there is a need, everybody steps up,” Auerback said of the partnership. She said the original “Heroin Kills” made a huge impact, and she hopes the new production will go just as international.

“It was shown for 20 years in schools. Shoemaker [Recovery Center] showed it today,” Auerback said. “I’ve already had calls from other counties requesting it, and it’s going to go out to all 24 health departments in the state.”

The new video features a female lead, Heather, a dancer whose journey of addiction begins when her mother offers her an opioid medication to help the pain from an injury.

Heather was played by Cheyenna Puga, an actor from Wilmington, North Carolina, who grew up in Westminster and well remembers the first “Heroin Kills” video.

“It was in middle school. It was hard to watch. I was really young, and I didn’t quite grasp the severity of it. But now that I am older, I can appreciate the seriousness of it,” she said. “I’ve had loved ones that have dealt with this issue, so I kind of took inspiration from that.”

Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees also remembers the original video — he was a performer.

“I participated in the original ‘Heroin Kills’ 20 years ago when I was a state trooper. This is an unfortunate privilege to be a part of it 20 years later,” he said. “What’s unfortunate is that we still need to do it 20 years later. It hasn’t gone away.”

But things never really go away, they just evolve, Auerback said. And prevention efforts must evolve with them.

“The message has changed over the years, because now we have fentanyl and we have prescription drugs,” she said. “We have to educate the young people so they know what’s out there before they pick it up.”


By 7 p.m., hundreds of people began filtering into the community college’s Scott Center theater, and filling three overflow rooms with people who had braved the cold to see the film at its premier. Trish Carroll, a college spokeswoman, estimated attendance at 600 people.

“And that’s what we want. We want to raise the awareness,” DeLeonardo had told the crowd before they moved to the theater. “I expect that this is something that years down the road — 20 years down the road — people will say, ‘Hey, remember that ‘Heroin Still Kills’ video we saw in school?’ ”