A new feature-length documentary from Vice Studios tackles the opioid crisis and a strange psychology experiment from the 1970s to unpack the root causes of addiction, set for release on Bell-owned Canadian streamer Crave this November.
Rat Park is Vice Studios’ first feature-length documentary film in Canada. It explores how drug addiction and drug laws are less about the drugs themselves and more about the cages society creates for us, revisiting a largely forgotten psychology experiment from the 1970s involving rats and heroin.
In the study, psychologist Bruce Alexander of British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University found that caged rats deprived of social connections and community were more likely to ingest drugs to the point of death than their socialized counterparts.
The film is directed and produced by Shawney Cohen, who previously directed the “Dopesick” episode of Vice Essentials Canada, about the opioid crisis and the powerful and often deadly drug fentanyl in Alberta. In Rat Park, he travels from the Philippines to Florida to Portugal, looking at the effects of the War on Drugs and how they relate to the Rat Park experiment.
Rat Park is produced by Vice Studios, in association with Bell Media’s Crave and the participation of The Telus Fund. Cohen produces and directs, with Rachel Browne serving as co-producer. Naveen Prasad and Vanessa Case serve as executive producers, with Azadeh De Leon co-executive producing and Melanie Tanz associate producing.
“When I came across Bruce Alexander’s Rat Park experiments, everything about how I saw addiction changed,” said Cohen in a statement. “What if drugs aren’t really the problem? What if drugs are just a symptom of much bigger problems?
“The radical difference between these places and their drug policies shows how the Rat Park experiment plays out in real life. You can’t deal with drug crises independently of people’s environments and their socioeconomic situations.”
Rat Park will screen for one night at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. ET. It will have its broadcast premiere on Crave on Nov. 4.
Watch an exclusive clip of Rat Park below: