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Friends' OD Deaths Spur Closter Native To Show Heroin's True Side In Film

Brad Rosenberg (inset: Michael Sorvino).
Brad Rosenberg (inset: Michael Sorvino). Photo Credit: COURTESY: Brad Rosenberg

CLOSTER, N.J. -- Closter native Brad Rosenberg was like most people in Bergen County when it came to heroin -- he didn't know much about it.

Then several 20-something friends he grew up with in the Northern Valley began dying of overdoses -- four, five in less than three years.

Rosenberg felt helpless, as many do, until a friend approached him at one of their funerals.

"You're a film major, right?" the friend asked. "You could do something about this."

A benefit is scheduled Monday at the Barn in Closter to help Rosenberg and filmmaker Michael Sorvino fund the rewriting and development of a script that Rosenberg penned about his deceased friends.

"I grew up skateboarding with some of these kids," said Rosenberg, 24, who is working toward a graduate degree in media studies. "We'd meet up at the movie theater and skate around."

Time passed and he reconnected with some of them.

One had dropped out of NYU because of a cocaine habit. Another followed.

"Both were from very good homes," Rosenberg said.

"I was very naive. I didn't know what the drug world consisted of," he said.

"One day a friend asked me to drive him to Paterson in exchange for cigarettes and gas money," Rosenberg recalled. "I said, 'Give me a cigarette and 20 dollars and we're good.'

"At first my friends were very discreet about it. Then I realized what was happening.

"I heard stories about guys squatting in vacant houses after their parents caught them," Rosenberg said. "I heard other stories about parents insisting that their kids didn't do drugs.

"That's Bergen County," he said. "It's such a beautiful suburban area, and people don't want to admit this kind of thing is going on. There's a lot of denial."

The tipping point came when a friend from Demarest told Rosenberg "the craziest story about how this guy turned her into a drug slave.

"It was a Sid and Nancy kind of deal," he said. "She started out stealing prescription drugs from her parents' medicine cabinet for the guy. They begged and beat people for money. They sold drugs at the Starbucks.

"It's a fine line between romance and dependency."

Rosenberg got a recorder and interviewed the woman, then got to work.

"I went to my friend's frat house in Suffern. He lives in the attic," he said. "I sat there for a week straight and wrote the screenplay about this girl and guy. I added in stories about my other friends who passed away and changed all the names."

Rosenberg then focused on getting his draft to someone who could do something with it. His mother spoke with others at the Northern Valley Coalition, which quickly became one of the project's primary supporters.

Soon, a connection was made with Michael Sorvino of Tenafly, whose father, Paul, and sister, Mira, are well-known actors.

In early October, Michael called.

"This has movie merit," he told Rosenberg.

In a tragic twist of timing, yet another close 20-something friend of Rosenberg's from the Valley died of an overdose this past Sunday. It's given his project even more urgency.

"I hope I can turn heads and make parents realize this isn't fun and games -- this is life and death," he said. "Word needs to get out there that this goes on. We can't make believe that it doesn't."

More than $10,000 had been raised as of Friday toward a goal of at least $50,000 for the script rewrite and development costs. Overall, the film is expected to cost $1.5 million to $2 million to produce.

Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco and state Assemblyman Joseph A. Lagana are tentatively scheduled to speak at Monday's invitation-only "Meet, Greet and $upport" event to "help get the ball rolling on a highly insightful and timely feature film project," according to the Northern Valley Coalition.

Appetizers and refreshments will be served.

It begins at 7 p.m. at the Barn in the Closter Commons off Piermont Road.

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