NeXt Correspondents Caroline Brancatella, Raina Lipsitz, Shawn Orrange and Matthew Smith previewed the upcoming PBS Series "Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home" in the WNED studios and wrote this report. The five-part series will air at 9 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday on Channel 17 and will be repeated during the day Monday through Wednesday.
It is the No. 1 preventable cause of health problems and death in the United States. It accounts for over half a million deaths each year, and it causes up to 40 percent of all hospitalizations. It is addiction, and with knowledge and determination, it can be beaten.
"Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home" is more than your average health documentary. It focuses on families who have suffered substance abuse. It stresses that addiction is a disease and has to be treated like one.
Bill Moyers, who has gone from a career as President Lyndon Johnson's press secretary to one as a respected documentarian, chose addiction as his topic because of his experience. His son suffered from addiction to drugs and alcohol.
The program is divided into five segments focusing on specific parts of addiction. "Portrait of Addiction" proves that we cannot put a single face on addition. There is no specific group that alone is vulnerable to addiction, except one: humans.
"The Hijacked Brain" explains the effects of addiction on the brain, and how the brain responds to chemicals, from alcohol and cigarettes to crack and heroin. Scientists explain how the brain becomes dependent on drugs and explores the possibility of a genetic link to addiction.
"Changing Lives" dispels the myth that the sufferer is alone with his addiction. "The Next Generation," the story of a young boy who rescues his father after a heroin overdose, drives home the point that these are real people.
"The Politics of Addiction" argues that a hypocrisy exists between our socially accepted drugs and illegal drugs.
While the series does have some of the trite messages that teens have come to resent, it also offers fresh information. The interviews with teens candidly talking about weekend binges and the frustrations of high school are not the stuff of After School Specials. They are honest, to the point and in language teens will understand. Teens listen when the message comes from someone their own age, and not when it comes from an authority figure. Drug use is not a black-and-white issue, and it should not be oversimplified in singsong messages.
The series is not a typical lecture program. Its fresh ideas and true-to-life stories enforce its message: Addiction is a growing concern in America and must be addressed. The series is enlightening and worthwhile for families and young adults. The 9 p.m. time slot, however, puts the series up against stiff competition, and chances are that few teens will be watching. Parts of it could be of greatest benefit if shown in schools. "Hijacking the Brain" would be an excellent addition to a biology or chemistry class, while the segment on drug policies of presidents from Nixon to Clinton would be of interest to American history classes.
The telecast will coincide with a local effort, with the assistance of several area agencies, to increase awareness of addiction and get new information to the public. Phone banks of treatment professionals will be available during the broadcast to answer questions and provide referrals. In addition, dozens of local clinics will open their doors and conduct free consultations and screenings April 1 to 10 for those struggling with addiction. And the effort will extend to schools where students will watch segments of the program and will be involved in prevention workshops headed by trained professionals.
The show's producers hope that the groundbreaking series, coupled with the local effort, will give many people the hope and courage they need to seek help for this growing problem.
Watch it. You might learn something ... about yourself.
Caroline Brancantella is a senior at Nardin Academy; Raina Lipsitz is a sophomore at City Honors; Shawn Orrange is a juior at Leonardo DaVinci High School, and Matthew Smith is a senior at Orchard Park High School.