‘Unprescribed’ Is a Hard-Hitting Documentary About Veteran Suicide

A still from documentary 'Unprescribed'. A man sits on the edge of a bed in a room drowned in shadow. He has his hand to his face covering it in a sense of frustration or shame. He is heavily tattooed on his arms and wears a black wedding band on his left hand. His hair is dark and his t-shirt is black.
Allegiance Films

Why are we sending men to risk their lives for their country only to ignore them when they need our help? Why does our country hold a deep-seated bias against the use of natural remedies such as cannabis? What steps can we take to prevent the rampant suicides in the veteran community? These are some of the hard questions that Steve Ellmore’s passionate documentary asks. Unprescribed explores the overwhelming epidemic of veteran suicides and its link to the over-prescription of opioids to treat PTSD and other mental illnesses. Ellmore is a tough filmmaker with a solid message to get across, making the case for medical marijuana as a whole. 

Unprescribed is mostly a series of talking heads from veterans, doctors, counsellors, and family members. With a firm bluntness, these interviewees provide an extremely convincing argument about the regulated use of medical marijuana, using either their professional expertise or personal experiences. Ellmore casts a wide net, also exploring how marijuana is perceived as a whole in political and popular culture.. He uses humorous clips from outdated public service announcements, educational videos, Reefer Madness clips, and a Knight Rider commercial to illuminate the absurdity of our prejudice. 

The heart of the film is the interviews with the veterans. Ellmore juxtaposes graphic footage of the hell they went through during the war with tranquil, intimate shots of their home life. With a resilient, brusque demeanor, these brave men reveal how the VA made their homecoming just as difficult as their time overseas. The deluge of narcotics they were prescribed ended up causing more problems than relieving them. In story after story, It is infuriating to hear that these mind-altering medications transformed them into lazy, fat zombies. Ellmore arranges the interviews  in such a way that they pack a strong punch. 

One of the veterans observes that modern warfare is not equipped to handle the mass amount of mental trauma that soldiers are experiencing. Pumping them full of drugs seemed to be the only solution. When the veterans discovered medical marijuana, it brought them back to life; they could play with their children, kiss and laugh with their wives, and feel joy again. Cannabis allowed them to finally feel like themselves again. 

The most moving interview is with Janine Lutz. Her son Janos, was wounded in Afghanistan and became addicted to opioids after he was prescribed Klonopin. After Jonas finally became sober, the VA gave him another prescription for opioids when he asked for help. This led to his suicide. Lutz’s other son eventually committed suicide as well. Her story is brutal and utterly heartbreaking. Lutz’s art project, a collage of the hundreds of veterans who have killed themselves, hammers the film’s purpose home: changes need to be made for our veterans and medical marijuana can be the answer. Our country’s massive failure becomes even more clear with the frightening statistic that around 20 veterans commit suicide every day. Ellmore’s well-rounded documentary is both emotional and informative, giving a wide-range of perspectives. Unprescribed has a tenacious vision that inspires us to take action.

Unprescribed is available now on DVD from www.allegiancefilm.com. The film is also available at UrbanflixTV

by Caroline Madden

Caroline is the author of Springsteen as Soundtrack. Her favourite films include Dog Day AfternoonBaby It’s YouInside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She is the Editor in Chief of Video Librarian. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss. 

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