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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“Without prep work, you’re nothing,” says Ceraso. “Your chances of success are slim.”

Interventions are not cookie-
cutter affairs; the interactions need to be tailored. If you’re dealing with a meth addict, for example, the intervention should be scheduled for the early morning because the last thing you want to do is get into a person’s face who needs to cop their first fix of the day. 

“I also want to know what are the good qualities about this person? I think of it as a before and after,” says Ceraso.

Ceraso spends most of the time building up to the confrontation part of the intervention in clandestine phone calls and meetings, interviewing every participant to find out all he needs to know about the addict. He has to figure out how to unlock what he calls “the authentic self,” program-speak for the essence of a person before they became addicted. 

The education goes both ways during this phase. While he learns everything he can about the target, he schools the family in everything they never wanted to know about addiction.

For starters, Ceraso breaks it to the families that they’re not dealing with their loved one anymore. That may look like your sweet grandson, but it’s the addiction inside that you’re battling, the chemical deficit he wakes up to each day that programs him to get high again. By the time a family reaches the stage of intervention, they’ve endured months, maybe years of agony watching as loved ones slide into the gutter parade of the hopeless undead, transforming into strangers who lie, cheat and steal like common junkies. So Ceraso’s first order of business is to take control. He becomes a drill sergeant with the family. 

“It’s my show,” he says. “My rules.” 

First rule: There’s no time for pussyfooting.

“I tell people up front. Your family member might die,” he says. “So cut the shit with me. You call me up to tell me something you just thought of because you didn’t feel like telling me last week, I’m going to be pissed. If [the family] wants this to work, I need to know everything I possibly can about this person.” 

When he says everything, he means everything. 

“What used to make this person tick?” asks Ceraso. “Was she a good mother? A great wife? Was there sexual trauma?” 

This information is mandatory in order to prepare for the confrontation, but it also helps Ceraso to select the right rehab. Part of the job of a good interventionist is to maintain a database of treatment centers and know which ones specialize in “secondary issues” a person may have going on. He says placing people in the closest or cheapest center without considering secondary issues is one of the reasons for a high relapse rate. (The national relapse rate is somewhere between 40 and 60 percent; Ceraso, who says he monitors cases for a year, claims a relapse rate of “just over nine percent.”)

Second rule: You can’t rush an intervention. Families in crisis often call Ceraso in a panic, desperate to arrange an intervention for the next day, that moment even. 

“They’re like, ‘You don’t understand, he’s going to kill himself. It’s Friday, let’s do this tomorrow morning!’” he says, shaking his head. “You could offer me all the money in the world and I would never do an intervention the next day.” 

You can’t rush it because you only get one shot to get it right. Pros are asked all the time to try to fix botched and makeshift interventions. It’s dangerous business. When an intervention backfires, the addict can run away, or go underground, amp up their defenses and become even harder to reach.

The one-shot principle leads to the most important rule of all: Once the mechanics of the confrontation are in gear, there’s no going back. 

“The addict has a way of convincing you that you’re nuts,” warns Ceraso. “I tell the family, ‘Unless you’re willing to do something now, be prepared to live with this until the day you die.’ You say no, and your loved one OD’s three days later, you’ll never be able to forgive yourself.’”

That’s the guiding light of such work: loved ones intervening on the situation, creating a custom rock bottom of sorts before the addict actually hits the rock bottom that they’re spiraling toward. 

For Ceraso, tough love means no bullshit. “I’m relentless,” he says. “I know what it’s like to go through withdrawal, I know what it’s like to sit in the Roundhouse at Eighth and Race sts. I’ve literally walked in their shoes.” 

Though overcoming personal addiction issues isn’t a prerequisite to becoming an interventionist, old-school types like Ceraso tend to come up through the underground networks of AA and NA, building networks of referrals and rolodexes and honing their chops one job at a time. Despite the insane schedule and grueling nature of the work, interventionists are springing up everywhere since Intervention became popular.

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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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