Now, at 33, Mazziotti has been off heroin for three years. She says she’s on Suboxone, a form of medication-assisted treatment, and plans to taper down until she is off that too.
Even after filming stopped, her time on the show left an impact. Mazziotti says she felt her family deceived her; the experience strained her relationship with them and her friends, some of whom were “standoffish” because of how much attention her appearance might bring them by association. While she’s repaired the relationship with her family and concedes she can now understand why they would jump at the chance to get her free treatment, she says she could never imagine doing something like that to her daughter.
Moreover, Mazziotti says the show inaccurately portrayed her family dynamic. So does another woman V.F. spoke to whose sister was profiled in an episode of Intervention, but died years later after a continued battle with addiction. The woman says their episode was edited to make her parents look like “the bad guys.” Lowe also says that the show made her family seem falsely dysfunctional.
Intervention is, of course, a TV show; narrative arcs and drama are integral to it. Confrontations involving heroes and villains lend themselves to compelling TV in a way that more mundane visits to a counselor or medication-assisted treatment facility wouldn’t. But Wilkens scoffs at how the series presents interventionists as omniscient: “So not only do you have the villain—the substance user—but you’ve got the savior interventionist.”
Real life also has “bad guys,” but the lines are blurrier. Last month, one of the show’s star interventionists, Ken Seeley, was repeatedly referenced in a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission against a company that purported to match individuals seeking rehabilitation with custom-selected treatment centers. Per the complaint, which did not name Seeley as a defendant, the company did no custom matching and, in advertising such a service, violated the FTC Act and the Opioid Addiction Recovery Fraud Prevention Act of 2018.
According to the complaint, Seeley was featured in advertisements for the company, telling viewers that while there are “bad guys” in the rehab space, “we hand-selected the good ones and we know who they are.” Neither A&E nor Seeley responded to requests for comment on Seeley’s mention in the suit, which resulted in a court judgment that ordered the defendant company and its owner to pay a $3.8 million civil penalty.
“The deceit goes against the principles of behavioral health care,” says Terplan of the show’s premise. “Behavioral health rests upon establishing and maintaining a therapeutic alliance with somebody. The responsibility for that is on the providers.”
Intervention’s approach is particularly frustrating to Mazziotti, she says, because she believes it would be more beneficial for the show to feature people who make the choice to get help for themselves. Marino agrees: “Maybe there are some success stories to talk about. But if even one person is now going to hide their use even further, is not going to want to seek friends and family, not going to want to seek medical care because of an intervention, that coercion that they experienced, that really creates problems.”
Experts consulted by Vanity Fair agreed there is a need for accurate, responsible programming around the escalating overdose crisis. Intervention or another show like it could provide valuable information, though sources had different ideas of how an effective series might look. Some, like Tracy Masters—whose daughter Elann Masters was profiled on the Canadian version of the show but ultimately died of a purposeful overdose—are grateful Intervention exists at all. Though the outcome wasn’t what she’d hoped for her daughter, the show’s paid rehab trip “helped her for a while,” she says.
Others say that any show attempting to operate in this space must do more. Mazziotti and Lowe would both love to see the program updated to show more of a person’s recovery journey. (Currently, episodes usually end with a glimpse of the subject after some time in rehab. Sometimes, their families are there as well, but both women say the families are often expected to cover their own expenses for visits.) Lauren Hoffman, PhD, of the Recovery Research Institute, agrees: “Ongoing supports are a critical component on the continuum of care, so it’s important to show pathways to recovery that are more than a single treatment episode,” she writes in an email. She also points to “newer models of care” like certified recovery coaches and specialists, collegiate recovery programs or recovery high schools, recovery housing, and recovery community centers as some that could also be highlighted. Rowe suggests spotlighting a harm-reduction model, an approach to treatment that provides resources for safer drug consumption while still making space for a drug user to pursue other paths to recovery.
The Minnesota recovery model employed in many traditional rehab centers, and the interventions geared toward getting people there, are distinctly abstinence-only; they leave little room to embrace harm reduction, medication-assisted treatment, or less drastic (and less TV-friendly) models.
While a representative for A&E did not respond to detailed questions about what those consulted for this piece said, he provided a statement that read, in part: “Since 2005, the goal of Intervention has been to raise awareness of the impact of addiction and the possibility of recovery. Hundreds of families have turned to Intervention as a last-ditch attempt to help a family member in the throes of addiction when all other methods have been futile. A large majority of addicts do not have the funds necessary to pay for treatment and have little to no coverage from their insurance carrier.”
He added that A&E is “proud of the series and its small but lasting positive impact on one of the biggest health crises facing our nation today.”