The first thing to be said about the latest season of A&E’s docuseries “Intervention,” which follows the drug-addled lives of Cobb County addicts and their families, is that drug use is not glamorized.
The users highlighted in the first three of the eight-episode “The Heroin Triangle” series, have lost custody of their children, lost jobs, live in their car and prostitute themselves. The message is clear: Drug addiction robs you of everything. That’s important given how Hollywood and the music industry have portrayed drugs as fun and hip over the decades. This is not the beautiful people gliding across the dance floor of Studio 54. These are people who have hit bottom and are an eyelash away from the morgue.
The series begins with a message: “On Oct. 26, 2017, the level of opioid and heroin abuse in America had risen to such high levels that it was declared a national public health emergency. An estimated 2.1 million Americans are addicted to heroin or prescription pain killers.”
While many scenes make the show’s nationwide audience wince, the depictions are especially painful for local residents as they follow the travails of the addicts in Marietta, Powder Springs and Atlanta.
Recovery specialists are filmed brainstorming on Marietta Square before fanning out to help the addicts and their desperate families. Featured in the series is Missy Owen, founder of the Davis Direction Foundation, a local nonprofit promoting awareness and recovery for opioid addiction. Owen says producers opted to film here because of the so-called “Heroin Triangle,” an area just north of Atlanta that includes Marietta. Yet she calls that name a farce, believing it sends the false and dangerous message that if you live outside the triangle’s geography, you’re safe from the drug blight. Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn believes whoever coined the phrase was watching too much Hollywood, calling it “a made up term that has no data-driven basis.”
“The fact is the opioid crisis is a major problem and a tragedy everywhere; suburbia just like the inner city, but Marietta and Cobb County are no worse per capita than comparable places,” Flynn said, citing data from the Cobb Medical Examiner’s Office on drug overdose death from all drugs, not just heroin:
In 2016, the chief said there were 140 overdose deaths in Cobb County. Of those, 17 (12 percent) occurred in Marietta.
In 2017, there were 165 overdose deaths in Cobb. Of those, 30 (18 percent) occurred in Marietta.
In 2016, there were more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Owen believes the A&E show is opening the eyes of residents who didn’t know what was happening in their backyard. She connected the program’s producers with the leaders in the community who, like herself, are active in the opioid abuse fight, and they are present in the series from Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds to Marietta Police Sgt. Josh Liedke.
The addicts receiving much of the air time to date are Tiffany and Billy, a Marietta couple who are both 27. They lost custody of their 9-month-old son and live out of Tiffany’s battered car. Every waking moment is spent thinking about how to get drugs, as they park in gas stations and parks where Billy injects himself with heroin and Tiffany snorts methamphetamine.
“I hate my life,” she says at one point, unable to stop using.
Sgt. Liedke comes across as one of the good guys; he interacts with local addicts, at one point giving a young woman the option of going to a recovery facility launched by Owen instead of jail. Owen says a future episode will focus on that facility, The Zone, which sees over 2,000 visits a month from people coming for meetings, recovery resources, fellowship, exercise and anything else they may need to stay in recovery.
The opioid epidemic began to heighten, Reynolds believes, after lawmakers cracked down on the pill mills that handed out prescription drugs like candy. Once the pill mills dried up, addicts looked elsewhere for their fix, turning to heroin since it was cheaper and readily available. Trouble is, distributors and traffickers are mixing heroin with other drugs such as fentanyl which can have a deadly toxicity. This is why Reynolds believes the opioid epidemic is different from those in the past, such as the crack epidemic of the 1990s.
Although he’s a prosecutor, Reynolds believes this is not a situation that can be solved by arresting every addict who’s out there. If you’re an addict who’s sent to jail, you’re likely going to be an addict upon release. And this is why the accountability courts Cobb offers to nonviolent offenders in place of jail are so important. They give the addict the ability to become sober and remain that way while learning life skills to re-enter society. Such services are not offered to the dealer and trafficker, who are sent to prison, as they should be.
Reynolds has partnered with Owen by providing The Zone with seized asset forfeiture monies to help operate the recovery facility, such is his belief in its effectiveness.
Owen says reaction to the A&E series has varied. She knows many in the community who find it too painful to watch since they have had children in recovery. Ultimately, though, she finds the show is a wakeup call to those who weren’t aware or didn’t want to be aware of the drug problem.
“You cannot address a problem you don’t know you have,” she said.
This is not an academic exercise for Owen. In 2014, her 20-year-old son, Davis, who was senior class president at Kennesaw Mountain High School, died from a heroin overdose. Were he alive, she said, Davis would be glad to know people are getting help.
“He’s glad somebody is finally making people aware enough so that people are beginning to understand what these children are going through,” she said.
Editor’s Note: New episodes air 9 p.m. Tuesdays. Previous episodes can be viewed at www.aetv.com/shows/intervention/.