A&E’s Intervention – Joey, the middle class, heroin addiction, and hepatitis C

A&E’s Intervention built quite an initial popular following for itself by choosing subjects with disarmingly unique stories and addictions. However, as the show has progressed, it has found strength in an ability to show America the true face of addiction: the so-called normal, everyday people battling their demons in private.

Heroin addiction doesn’t understand “class”

Joey, a 25-year old father from Pennsylvania, stands as a prime example, a young male who grew up with a supportive family in a comfortable suburb and nevertheless found himself in the grip of heroin addiction. By his own account on Intervention, Joey began experimenting with drugs at the age of 13, and by 15 was regularly smoking marijuana. By 17, he was using ecstasy, LSD and had developed a heroin addiction, which several trips through a 12-step rehab program did little to slow. As his tolerance for heroin built, Joey found himself shooting heroin at the rate of up to 7 bags a day to maintain his high. Despite steady work as a tattoo artist, his money was increasingly feeding his heroin addiction, preventing him from even making his child support payments. Sharing dirty needles had also most likely been the cause of his recent contraction of Hepatitis C, an infection that now shows up in a staggering 80% of all regular injection drug users.

A&E’s intervention – A glimpse into the face of addiction

As per the show’s format, this episode revolved around a forthcoming intervention planned by Joey’s family, who were growing more and more desperate as his heroin addiction continued to eat away at his life. In accordance with the Johnson Model, the classic standard of addiction intervention, the family resolved to present Joey with an ultimatum- either he could voluntarily enter rehab treatment, or he faced losing contact with all of his family members, losing any rights to his young daughter, and could even face jail time for violation of his probation.

Even with the gravity of the consequences facing him, Joey’s heroin addiction was such that he still could not come to terms with his situation. Anticipating the intervention, he ran, going into hiding for two days while his family camped outside of his home, his job, and the homes of his friends, waiting for the chance to confront him with reality. Ultimately, they spread the word that they were prepared to have him arrested. With nowhere left to turn, Joey finally resolved himself to rehab, though not without one final fix.

Difficult recovery and relapse

Though the treatment originally seemed to take well, giving Joey 9 months of sobriety, he was depicted on the program suffering a late relapse. This time, he willingly returned to treatment. According to A&E’s Intervention, he has now been sober since April 25, 2010.

Joey’s story resonates because of how tragically common his themes are: the complete loss of personal wealth, the hardship that the addict’s behavior has on family and friends, and the willingness to put oneself in extremely dangerous situations for the chance to use just one more time. Time and again, Joey demonstrated an extreme lack of caution as he shot up heroin with dirty needles, putting himself at risk for Hepatitis, HIV, and any other number of serious diseases. This brings up the issue of so-called “harm reduction” programs designed not to prevent injection drug users from using, but rather to provide them with clean needles and education in order to minimize the threat to public health and guide, not force, the addict towards potential treatment. The long-standing counterargument to such programs has been that they implicitly condone drug abuse, but research has shown that needle exchange programs do not increase drug abuse but merely decrease disease and dirty needle use. In this way, it is increasingly becoming regarded as analogous to sex education and the distribution of birth control, another common-sense public service that has too often fallen victim to the agendas of culture warriors.

Though for some a lurid escape, it has become increasingly clear to us at A3 that A&E’s Intervention, by presenting a straightforward view of the true complexity of modern drug use and addiction, has become an invaluable tool for those attempting to understand the face of this issue. As is usually the case with television content though, it pays to go a little deeper, and hopefully the show motivates people do just that.