On Aug. 6, A&E Network will premiere a special new season of the Emmy Award-winning series, “Intervention,” this time set in in the greater Philadelphia area, with a special focus on Kensington – a series that maybe the show’s most intense yet.
“It’s very intense,” said show runner and producer Tom Greenhut in an interview with Philadelphia Weekly. “They’re all intense, but I think this [series] is a rare experience that I think our audience will have.”
The series, to be aired in six consecutive episodes, will show interventionists working with nine individuals and families and those on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic, including police, EMTs, missionaries, and outreach workers, among others in the Greater Philadelphia Region.
The show modeled the Philadelphia series after a special season of "Intervention" in which A&E filmed in an affluent trio of suburbs north of Atlanta, that aired in 2018.
When asked why it took so long for “Intervention” to come to Philadelphia, and specifically Kensington, one of if not the largest open-air drug market on the East Coast, Greenhut said the show has been around the country a couple of times, but that this series, filmed last summer and fall, provided a unique opportunity for viewers to see the full ramifications of the opioid epidemic.
A recent study released by the Commonwealth Fund, a private healthcare research foundation, found that Pennsylvania has the third-highest rate of overdose deaths in the country and that the opioid crisis is so severe here that it is bringing down the life expectancy in the state.
Ohio and West Virginia were the only states to have higher overdose rates than Pennsylvania in 2017, according to the study. The number of deaths from drug poisonings in the state were 5,546 in 2017, with 1,217 of those in Philadelphia alone.
Although the number of people who died of drug overdoses declined in 2018, the state is still losing 12 people a day to deaths from drug poisonings, according to new data released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We all know that Philadelphia has [one of] the highest incidences of overdose deaths around the country,” Greenhut said. “It was an opportunity for us to say let’s take another look at this.”
The drug scene in Kensington has been dire for decades, but with the onset of the opioid crisis has become even more severe, as depicted in this documentary short, co-produced by Courtenay Harris Bond and Jeffrey Stockbridge and edited by Hunter Siede.
This is the territory into which the new “Intervention” series treads.
“What’s different about this special series is that it’s serialized,” Greenhut added. “There’s an arcing nature to it. It’s such a unique opportunity not to do just a stand-alone episode focusing on one specific family.”
He said the transient nature of users moving in and out of hospitals and jails made filming here particularly challenging.
“It was a challenge of how to work in this different kind of environment,” Greenhut said. “We had to get more creative to dance around that. It was uniquely challenging.”
Another thing that made Philadelphia different in terms of filming and storytelling was the El and the ease of public transportation around the city.
“Speaking with local police, we learned a lot more about how far people come there” to cop drugs, Greenhut said. “That’s compelling to us. It helps us to get a bird’s-eye view of how the epidemic” is affecting not just Kensington or the city at large, but also the surrounding areas, such as Delaware County, where the A&E crew also did some filming.
“Admittedly seeing people on the streets in Kensington – it was dire,” Greenhut said. “We don’t take it lightly when we see zombies on the streets. We’re not being derogatory. We’re not being incorrect. When you see someone so locked into heroin addiction, this is what it looks like.”
The documentary TV series believes in “honesty,” Greenhut added. “I don’t believe we’re sensationalizing it. This is what drug addiction is.”He said watching the show, many family members have “something of an ‘aha!’ moment when they see the depth that their loved one has sunken into.
“We come bringing hope and help. Our goal is to help people understand what addiction is and what it isn’t. Empathy is what we hope to create.”
The special season of Intervention will air August 6 at 9 p.m. on A&E Network.