Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Going Cold Turkey - why bother?

Channel 4's grim new experiment in the name of - who knows what? Science? Education? Entertainment? - well, whatever, sees 3 heroin addicts go from being regular drug users, as they have been, for the last x years of their life (in all cases, more than 10), to cold turkey straight away: no comedown, no rehab, just straight into a clinic and no drugs. It's barely educational. It's too grim for entertainment. How might science benefit? At best, it might be reality TV - the problem is certainly real enough, dealing as it does with the reality of the destroyed bodies of heroin which, if the project is successful, may raise the self-esteem of those trying to kick drugs and maybe raise the awareness of the drug problem in many cities nationwide.

The show pits a bizarre mix of Big Brother-esque live footage from creative camera angles and serious comment together, fronted by Channel 4 News' respectable Krishnan Guru-Murthy. The background 'story' footage contained needles being inserted into legs, heroin being smoked and captured the eyes of one user who's dull eyes before her fix seemed ready to pop out afterwards. 'Live' footage sees 26 year old Darren throwing up the contents of his stomach over his bed, his face and his clothes before trying to go back to sleep (I think they had all been heavily sedated going into the Big Brother house, I mean clinic).

While the images may be hard-hitting, it is hard to feel too much sympathy for the addicts as, after their last 'fix' before the detox, they talk confidently and easily about getting off the drug that they have been dependent on every fucking day for more than 10 years. For instance, the arrogance of Alison, "my last fix before I'm clean" she laughs, as though she's about to go on a diet to lose a few pounds.

What's worse is that clearly these people and their families have been through the turmoil for many years, without any sign of breaking the problem as the users carry on injecitng. Yet, confront the addicts with a Channel 4 camera and suddenly on cue "there's tears coming out from everywhere" (1) as the mum of two sits in her bathroom waiting for the heroin fumes to disperse so her daughter can use the toilet, and the parents talk to the interviewer about how they are/aren't coping with an addicted child. Then there's the sudden revelation to the mother that her duaghter's been popping about 30 pills a day, and Channel 4 is there to capture the moment when she receives this news which her daughter had kept secret for 6 years until blurting it out on live television. You can almost imagine:

Dr: How many pills do you take?
Patient: About 30 a days.
Dr: Jesus Christ. Hey Krishnan, get the parents in here and film me asking these questions again. This is astonishing.

So call me a heartless bastard, but on tonight's first episode, you'd have to ask, first, why bother making this programme? It's implied that heroin is overpowering for all those addicted to it, yet there are just three people here being helped. None of the patients endear themselves to the viewer, none of the stories are heart-breaking, or if they are, it's only because ANY heroin addict's story would be heart-breaking. He wanted to be an RAF pilot but heroin has blown his chances of any decent career? How sad. I hope he gets cleaned up in this special clinic funded by advertisers' money. But where, then, is the television piece on the homeless heroin addict who's dying from AIDS contracted from sharing a needle?

Secondly, you'd ask: why bother helping these people at all? Clearly, they've never bothered to help themselves before now, and only one of the three contestansts/patients has expressed what appeared to be a genuine desire to get off the drugs before they were picked for this programme.

Whatever Going Cold Turkey is supposedly in the name of, it seems that all the programme will do is highlight the reality of being addicted to heroin, bringing it into the public eye for a week or so like Comic Relief does with Africa, before the real reality; the scope of the problem, crushes belief and interest and people return to their normal lives, glad it isn't them. Channel 4's hopeless mix of emotive documentary and reality tv serves only to blur the problem further still.

(1) The Libertines; What A Waster. (Up the Bracket, 2002)

What a waster, what a fucking waster
you've pissed it all up the wall, round the corner where they chased her
there's tears coming out from everywhere, the city's hard, the city's fair,
get back inside, you've got nothing on, no
you mind your bleedin' own, you two bob cunt.

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