New 'Intervention' season hones in on Marietta, Cobb County Jan. 2

Posted Thursday, December 28, 2017 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Over 12 years and 230 episodes, the Emmy-winning docu-series "Intervention" has focused on the broken lives of individuals addicted to drugs and alcohol, concluding with family members trying to convince him or her to seek treatment.

Over nine episodes starting January 2, the producers will use the same formula but instead of profiling addicts from around the country, they hone in on a dozen men and women in one geographic area: Cobb County, with a specific emphasis on Marietta.

And the spotlight will be on the growing opioid and heroin epidemic, which is killing about 100 people a day. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, ahead of guns and automobiles.

"We've been known to do stand-alone episodes with the voice of the addict first," said executive producer Tom Greenhut. "But we felt compelled to do more. We know we have an incredibly compelling show with a pretty rabid fan base. We've seen this epidemic grow. It's truly a national emergency. We want to affect change and bring a higher level of understanding of what's going on by taking different vantage points.

The producers became aware of the Atlanta's heroin issues from a WXIA-TV investigative series. So over three months earlier in 2017, they immersed themselves in an area dubbed "The Heroin Triangle," a phrase that loosely describes the wealthier suburbs in Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties where opioid and heroin overdoses have spiked since 2013.

The first two episodes profile five addicts. The most screen time is dedicated to a Marietta couple Billy and Tiffany, who have lived in their car for six months, having lost custody of their nine-month child due to their heroin addiction. She is manic when off drugs. He's catatonic when he's on them. Both possess the droopy eyelids, empty gazes and ragged thinking of many heroin addicts.

They receive a big tax refund and begin spending it on drugs immediately. The scenes are brutally sad, epitomized by the pain written on Tiffany's mom's face when she watches her ailing daughter play with her child during a supervised visit.

Several veteran interventionists who have appeared in past episodes spend time in the area, along with a new intervention specialist from Atlanta Heather Hayes. She appreciates how the show over the years has enabled viewers to better understand the process of intervention.

"I really look at it from a family systemic perspective," said Hayes, who found sobriety from drugs and alcohol herself in 1982 and did her first professional intervention in 1986. "If the family system is healthier, chances are better for the addict to have a sustainable recovery."

Ken Seeley, a veteran interventionist on the show, said he even helped a Marietta police officer's friend addicted to drugs. "Even though he goes out and arrests people every day for breaking the law with drugs," Seeley said, "he didn't know how to help and intervene on a friend."

Greenhut, the executive producer, wanted to provide a broader picture of the impact drug addiction has across a community, through the eyes of the judges, the EMTs, the hospital workers and the cops.

Participants in this season of "Intervention" include Sgt. Josh Leidke of the Marietta Police Department; retired Cobb County Juvenile Court Judge Juanita Stedman ; Jason Saliba , deputy chief assistant attorney of Cobb County and Cobb County district attorney Vic Reynolds .

"It's like something this community has never seen and we're terrified," Stedman said in the opening minutes of the first episode. She later added that residents feel a sense of shame and denial: "There's a resistance that this isn't going to happen to me."

"We cannot arrest our way out of this heroin epidemic," Reynolds said. "It cannot be done." But "being an affluent, conservative area, people have been reluctant to discuss this problem."

When producers approached the Marietta police department, they liked the concept. "We are proud of the innovative ways we approach this complex epidemic and appreciate the work A&E has put into raising awareness of this ongoing crisis," the department said in a statement.

"Intervention" will also address solutions in future episodes with help from Marietta resident Missy Owen, who runs a local non-profit Davis Direction Foundation. Owen, whose son Davis died in 2014 of a heroin overdose, runs the Zone, a center that focuses on after care for addicts with meetings, jam sessions, arts and crafts, a coffee bar and a thrift store. She said most addicts relapse because they are drawn back to the world of dealers and fellow drug users. The Zone is a safe place, a support system for them to learn how live life in sobriety.

"I know it sounds pie in the sky," Owen said in an interview, "but I hope the show inspires people all over the country to start establishing their own foundations to put up Zones in their area." She is holding a national recovery conference in Cobb County in 2018 in hopes of teaching best practices to others interested in replicating her model.

RELATED: The AJC investigation on doctors and the over-prescription of opioids by my colleague Carrie Teegardin


"Intervention," 9 p.m. Tuesdays, A&E, starting January 2, 2018 with back-to-back debut episodes

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