The End of “Intervention”… Just When We Need It the Most

Hard to watch? Yes.

A still from “Intervention.” It may be over, but the problem isn’t.

It’s a sad day in TV land, at least for me. Today marks the first of the five final episodes of A&E’s reality show Intervention. Since the show debuted in 2005, I can honestly say I’ve seen every single one of the two hundred or so episodes, some more than once.

A&E made the announcement about a month ago that Intervention was coming to a close this summer, but didn’t give a reason. True, the show’s premise (in which a documentary crew follows an addict around for a few days to chronicle the horrifying extent of his or her illness, then rounds up friends and family to stage an intervention and hopefully sends them to rehab) is unrelenting in its depressing documentation of its participants’ downward spiral from week to week. So perhaps formula fatigue was setting in for the network and crew. Perhaps declining ratings were an issue as well.

But given skyrocketing rates of overdoses, drug-related crime, and the critical need for addiction treatment in the U.S., I think the show should be kept on as a public service (though of course, such a thing doesn’t exist in television, “The More You Know” nonwithstanding). As an MSW student in addictions and mental health, spreading awareness about the topic and reducing stigma is something I feel passionately about.

I was just reading today, in a recent South Bend Tribune series, that heroin and opiate prescription drug-related arrests increased by 600 percent between 2008 and 2010 in LaPorte County, Indiana.

Did you catch that? SIX HUNDRED PERCENT.

Here’s an excerpt from the series, which has appeared in various incarnations in just about every single regional newspaper in this country over the past few years. (Here’s a link to the Denver Post‘s amazing contribution, which recently earned an Edward R. Murrow award.)

Just a few years ago, perhaps one or two heroin addicts per year walked through the doors of Life Treatment Centers, 1402 S. Michigan St., looking for help, said Deborah Smith, vice president for clinical services. About five years ago, the visits by heroin addicts increased to one or two per week, she said.

“In the last couple years, at least the last year and a half, we’re seeing about one (heroin addict) a day,” Smith said. “We probably serve about 1,000 people a year. I believe the epidemic with heroin and opiates is really taking over.”

John Horsley, director of addiction services at Oaklawn, said heroin addicts were a rarity at Oaklawn’s South Bend location when he started with the organization in May 2011. So rare, in fact, that some staff members would become uncomfortable when they encountered a heroin user who took the drug intravenously using a syringe, Horsley said. But in the past two years, heroin users have become so common that they now account for about 25 percent of the clients enrolled in substance abuse programs at Oaklawn, he said.

Horsley said he has seen weeks in which as many as four clients died of heroin overdoses while enrolled in Oaklawn treatment programs.

One could also make the argument, as I did in this paper I wrote for a media ethics class back in 2009, that Intervention exploits the privacy of its participants, all of whom are undoubtedly in a compromised mental state at the height of their addiction. On the flip side, though, there’s an awful lot of good that comes from documenting successful interventions (and there are many!) as well.

On a related note, this New York Times profile from last Sunday about Dr. Drew and his well-intentioned but poorly executed attempts to bring addiction into the forefront, via reality television, is definitely worth a read.

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