Intervention: Philly

Junkies beware. A modern-day mercenary is on your tail.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 22 | Posted Nov. 3, 2009

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Photo by Jeff Fusco

Read Part 2 of this series here. Read Part 3 here.

Vincent Ceraso is standing in the living room of a posh house in the suburbs of Philly with a group of people he just met a few weeks earlier. The mood is somber as they quietly wait for the doorbell to ring. It’s a surprise party of sorts. Ceraso’s never met the guest of honor, but after weeks of investigating him, Ceraso feels like he knows him inside-out. “The only thing I don’t know at this point, is what [he] looks like,” says Ceraso, who’s likely been up the night before playing this scene out in his mind. It’s Ceraso’s job to get the target to surrender. So many things could go wrong. “They get extremely emotional, sometimes violent,” says Ceraso about the people he’s hired to confront. It’s not easy getting between an addict and his or her drug of choice. 

The bell rings and Ceraso instructs the guest of honor’s wife to answer it. From where Ceraso’s standing, he can see the woman at the door, but her husband is still obscured from everybody’s view. She takes a deep breath and opens the door. 

“He starts yelling at her, ‘Back up! Back up!’” remembers Ceraso, whose big blue eyes widen behind boxy dark-framed glasses (with mini skulls emblazoned on the sides) as he recalls the story. “So she’s like this, like it’s a stick-up,” he says, raising his hands up high in the air like in a Western. “All I see is her backing up … she looked like she saw a ghost.” In that moment Ceraso, a modern-day mercenary who travels all over the Northeast executing confrontations with addicts, envisioned a worst case scenario: the ghost holding a gun. “That was running through my mind because I didn’t know the guy, but … I knew he had some issues,” says 44-year-old Ceraso. “He just kept saying back up, back up, and then he walked her in.” With hand over heart, he says, “God as my witness, I swore I was going to see a homicide.” 

It turns out the guy was just flipping out, terrorizing his wife in typical abuser fashion. Thankfully, there wasn’t a gun, but there was indeed a showdown: a battle of wills between an addict, an interventionist and a shattered family who just couldn’t take it anymore.

The drama unfolds like an episode of Intervention, the popular television show on the A&E channel that follows addicts who supposedly believe they are participating in a documentary about addiction. Cameras tail the subjects as they cop in dubious scenarios, like the episode where a girl desperate for a fix steals morphine from her dying father’s stash. Then the addict gets high on camera and blows long streams of smoke up everyone’s ass about where he or she was all night. Meanwhile, family and friends of the afflicted have secretly hired an interventionist to help wrangle their loved one into treatment. The show rides on narrative arcs full of quick-hit exposition, montages of addicts freebasing and snorting lines and assorted can-you-believe-that-shit schaudenfraude, happy endings and big blowout fights—basically, all the spectacle that makes for addictive TV. 

Ten years ago, most Americans didn’t know what an intervention was or that there was a growing demand for the service. Popping pills on the regular has become so commonplace that the first pause brought on by an overdose isn’t surprise at drug use, but a question of whether or not the overdose was an accident. Death has become an acceptable casualty of roulette for the growing number of Americans who subscribe to the high life, as reflected in the pageant of accidental overdose celebrity deaths: Anna Nicole Smith, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger and most recently, DJ AM, aka Adam Goldstein from Philadelphia.

As the face of junkies continues to shift from unsavory characters scoring in the backrooms of shady countercultural hangouts and clubs to teens nicking OxyContin and Vicodin out of the medicine cabinet and Percocet-
popping moms, the role of the interventionist has hit pop culture full force. There’s Intervention of course, and now MTV’s Gone Too Far , filmed with DJ AM serving as the role of the interventionist before he OD’ed himself, and the inevitable Dr. Drew show. The idea’s even parodied on sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother.

Now, thanks to mainstream 
awareness—not to mention the ever-expanding supply of middle-class and upper middle-class clients—a previously niche corner of the recovery industry has become one of the most rapidly expanding careers in addiction services. 

The change in our drug habits has not only increased the demand for interventionists, it’s changed the game itself. For one thing, pills are a more expensive habit than alcohol and users have to be stealthier to cop. 

“A lot of people don’t have $500 a day. You wake up in the hole every day and you have to make that up as you go,” says Ceraso. “With that sort of behavior you really need to be able to manipulate these people.” 

So while politicians continue to throw endless rhetoric and money at the futile, decades-old war on drugs, there’s a growing list of guys like Ceraso who are pulling bodies out of the trenches with almost military conviction: You don’t leave one of your own behind. 

Ceraso’s endearingly South Philly. He’ll tell you he’s just a married man with kids who now lives in New Jersey. But it’s the tough street-smart South Philadelphian that surges to the surface as he passionately recaps intervention war stories over coffee.

“Somebody always holds the key,” he says, referring to intervention. “There’s always all the people [in the room], but there’s always the person that holds something extra that helps you.” 

Ceraso recalls an old man who held the key to the surrender of a 19-year-old star athlete who turned to drugs after he got benched with an injury. 

“He was a tough kid, by all standards a badass,” says Ceraso. “We went and did this intervention at the kid’s friends house.” Ceraso says when he walked in and saw the frail, elderly man, the kid’s grandfather, he was hesitant to let him participate. “I mean, he was 80, pulling an oxygen bottle. I told his son, the kid’s father, I recommend against it. The guy said, he’s a tough old man and he wants to be there.” Ceraso allowed it. 

The plan was to wake the kid up as he came off a crash on his buddy’s couch, but “he came out of his sleep and started to freak,” says Ceraso. “He got more and more violent and started taking runs at people. The kid was mostly swinging at his father, but the grandfather is the one who stopped him cold. 

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Comments 1 - 22 of 22
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1. mamabear1210 said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 09:54PM

“This article is on target and very thorough. I have watched many of the intervention shows on t.v. and if the family is not totally committed the addict will not accept rehab. We need more interventionists like Ceraso.”

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2. Sam said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 09:17AM

“Vinny, you are the best. I wish the gov would spend more money on treatment centers and less on jail time. Treatment cures, jail time doesn't”

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3. N. G. said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 10:10AM

“Vincent Ceraso is indeed an angel...I wasn't a down and out junkie, but he pulled me up from a very low trench and got me help 4 yrs ago after I developed an addiction to prescription pain meds. and I've been drug free since, this article is right on. My angel and my hero....Vincent Ceraso!”

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4. Janet L. said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 10:17AM

“I always knew you'd get it done, Vinny! Bless you for being there for those who can't advocate for themselves. xo Jan”

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5. Aaron said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 01:17PM

“Great article. Just one problem and that is the 12 step programs are not for everyone and it would be nice to have some alternative treatment methods out there. For a great analysis of the 12 step programs search "orange papers". This guy who goes by Agent Orange has done an extensive analysis that is very thought provoking.”

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6. Addiction In Print said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 05:30PM

“This is the first responsible approach to Addiction journalism I've seen the media take in quite some time...kudos to you Tara! Vinny and those like him are the only hope for the addicted and the families that love them. As long as the media follows the Philadelphia Weekly's approach and puts the spotlight on the problem solvers (Vinny), and not just harping on the problem, some lives may actually be saved...not just exploited for readers and ratings.”

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7. Helene Poffenberger said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 07:16PM

“What a fantastic article Vinnie. You are the best.”

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8. Jamie Alessandrine said... on Nov 6, 2009 at 11:15AM

“Vinnie your a great man and very good at what you do!! I am proud to work with you and to call you friend. Your the MAN!!!”

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9. Bill Ceraso (cousin) said... on Nov 6, 2009 at 12:06PM

“I knew you were doing God's work, but to see the details here is even more amazing. Thank you Vince for sharing this profound mission with us, and great job putting it together Tara. I look forward to reading more. I will spread the word. This article is sure to help a ton of people who just don't know what to do. Now there will be hope. Love Joy Peace, Cuzin' Bill”

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10. Kim Gugliotta said... on Nov 6, 2009 at 12:22PM

“Vinnie you are truly God's angel for the sick and suffering addict. Thanks for all you are! I am so proud to work with you.”

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11. Mark Fortune said... on Nov 6, 2009 at 05:06PM

“Vinny, you're definitely an angel in disguise, behind the South Philly & all that piss & vinegar there truly is an individual who cares and it shows through in the passion you display in your work. I'm glad to call you a friend and to be a part of the team at Treatment Solutiosn Network. God Bless.”

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12. C.M. said... on Nov 6, 2009 at 07:13PM

“What an informative and thought provoking article. So well put together and full of heart. Vinny, you truly are doing God's work for those who can't get through to their loved ones. Your having "been there and done that" is so valuable to those you seek to help. Addiction of any kind is devastating to those who live with it, and what you do helps ease the way to lasting recovery for these people. Keep up the great work!”

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13. Jim B said... on Nov 6, 2009 at 09:44PM

“Vinny I am glad you are a part of the Treatment Solutions Network team and beyond that a friend. Tara you did an excellent job and I totally agree with Addiction in print's comments. Also to Aaron I totally understand where you are coming from on the 12 step thing even though they work for me they are not for every one. We have several non traditional 12 step treatment alternatives as well as many centers who offfer optional 12 step involvement. Please contact me and I would love to discuss this more with you. In the meantime I will look up Agent Orange.”

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14. The Thrill said... on Nov 8, 2009 at 03:16PM

“This is really well done. I was particularly fascinated by the risks and reasons for not planning a last-minute intervention. Such a small window, y'know? And yet, I hadn't really considered what happens if the intervention doesn't have the desired impact. Nice job, Tara Murtha.

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15. Al-Anon Guy said... on Nov 9, 2009 at 02:57PM

“Great article. I'm looking forward to reading the next part in this series. I personally passed this well written article to all my friends, some of which are dealing with loved ones that are addicted to drugs. This article, and hopefully the ones that follow, give people information on where to turn. Intervention, in this day and age is a much needed service. It's great to know a guy like Mr. Ceraso is out there doing this work. He is a true hero in our community. In the next article I believe you should post Mr. Ceraso' contact information so people can speak to the expert directly. Thank you so much for putting a spotlight on this epidemic and for singing the praises of this "Modern Day Mercenary" (Vincent Ceraso). I'd love to read more about him.”

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16. Joey digi said... on Nov 9, 2009 at 07:47PM

“I am going to have this gentleman try and help my youngest son. I pray it works. I am at my wits end.I have no more hope, no more answers, no more strength please pray god gives him whatever it takes to help my boy”

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17. Cowboy said... on Nov 15, 2009 at 01:53AM

“Vinny is almost as reckless as Tara Murtha! I suffered from this disease, and there wasn't a soul on this earth who could save me, certainly not Vinny! I felt I had to read, to see just how we (addicts) are still viewed by society. I just wanted to thank everyone involved in bringing this article to the public for making us being addicts even harder than it already is. Vinny is one of those "good doers" that think that if they shine a light on the destruction that the person suffering from the disease of addiction ( the Center for Disease Control lists Substance Abuse as a disease ) has caused, that they will come to their senses and stop. HORSESHIT.
Speaking for myself, it wasn't until I was ready to surrender to the idea that I had a problem, was I able to receive the help I so desperately needed. It's a real disease, same as cancer! When society begins to treat it the same, maybe then we will stop dying, because that's what addicts who use do, they die.”

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18. jcassidy said... on Nov 16, 2009 at 11:06AM

“Hi vinnie, do you remember who took you to the palm beach institute? Guys with character like you always turn out to be winners.”

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19. Anonymous said... on Nov 18, 2009 at 08:24PM

“Right on, Cowboy. Sounds like Vinny has a lot of friends here, but I'm with you. I have the disease too, and no intervention pulled me out. You got to do it for yourself and there's nobody else in the world that can do that for you. I'm sure his heart's in the right place, but the strategy is all wrong.

Hey Tara, how come none of these guys talks about how many times they went in and out of rehab? You make it seem like this is some one-shot cure and that's BULL. Anyone who's been in the program can tell you: it's a 90% relapse rate and I bet your boy Vinny's batting 100.”

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20. S/T 1776 said... on Dec 11, 2009 at 01:26PM


I agree that rehab is bound to fail without the person going accepting they need to go. Are you really saying there’s only one way for an addict to reach that place? That we all need to just step back, do nothing and wait for each addict to find that place within themselves? Intervention merely increases that chance that an addict will face what his loved ones already know: he’s not fooling anyone with his lies, and we all know he’s an addict; we just want him to know it too…

Sorry if you feel “good doers” are making an addicts life harder. Addicts make life harder for all those that care for them. Some may be willing to watch their addicted love one spiral down, but most like the idea of trying to prevent it.

Vinny & I have often discussed if addiction is a disease like cancer, (which I know something about). We don’t see it quite the same, but I’ll say this: darn few cancer victims need interventions to admit they have cancer.

If interventions get only 10% moving towards the help they need, that beats the hell out of zero %.

Keep up the good work Vinny.

S/T 1776

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21. Joey B said... on Jun 13, 2012 at 12:44PM

“Glad to see Vinnie doing some good. A long way from busting up fellow Union Reps while he was a paid union thug at the airport.”

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22. Bill W. said... on Mar 29, 2013 at 08:54AM

“Now, ask Treatment Solutions how much money they make off of Ceraso's interventions, and whose pockets the profits go into. Better to use one of the many nonprofit agencies available in Jersey and PA that do the same work.”


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