Frankie and Allie and a Dopesick Country
Frankie and Allie are the main subjects of “Dopesick Nation”, the new show from Vice about the addiction epidemic happening in Florida and around the country. The facility I write for is located in Panama City, Florida. “Dopesick Nation” was shot on location in South Florida, but many of the problems faced by addicts are the same regardless of where they live. All of Florida has been swept up in the opioid epidemic and the ensuing fentanyl boom that caused overdose deaths to skyrocket over the last 6 years. Just a few weeks ago information was released showing that over 100,000 people had died from overdoses in the previous 12 months. On this blog we previously reported that in 2019 over 93,000 people died from overdose. The pandemic has only worsened an already terrible problem, as the Covid-19 pandemic has brought depression, isolation, and other issues that exacerbate the problems faced by addicts. Vice has positioned this show as a depiction of the “billion dollar addiction treatment boom”, which seems like putting the cart before the horse. With 100,000 people dying from drug overdoses each year, and over 100,000 people a year dying from alcohol related causes, a “treatment boom” has been needed in the United States for decades. I won’t get caught up in semantics though, as “Dopesick Nation” offers viewers an opportunity to see more of the behind-the-scenes work that “Intervention”, a show on A&E, largely shied away from when it aired over a decade ago.
Viewers may remember that episodes of “Intervention” always, or nearly always, ended with the addicted person reaching a treatment center. Episodes often updated viewers on the progress of these people after they reached treatment in various upscale treatment centers around the country, which were surely paid for by the network. That filming process largely ignores some of the real-life issues around getting people into treatment, mainly the financial and insurance related issues. “Intervention” showed the process families go through in order to leverage their influence on an addicted family member and get that person to say “Yes” to treatment and leave right away. “Dopesick Nation” shows the process that patients, family members, and advocates go through in order to get treatment paid for if a person does not have the cash on hand to pay for medical services. These are problems that intake specialists and others at the best drug and alcohol treatment centers deal with every day. At Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center in Panama City, our intake counselors deal with new problems with each individual patient, as different insurance companies are in-network with different providers, different patients may or may not have insurance, and Medicaid and Medicare offer different payment rates than insurance companies and self-pay options for clients. Answering phone calls from patients in crisis is often the beginning of the journey at the best drug and alcohol rehabs in Florida, but Frankie and Allie from “Dopesick Nation” enter the process even earlier. They are advocates for patients while those patients are still addicted and often living on the street. One episode of “Dopesick Nation” shows a cast-member saving a client who has overdosed and must be given CPR and lifesaving medical attention on the side of a road. The show follows Frankie and Allie as they try to convince people that recovery and treatment at a rehab center and detox facility offers a better life, and they try to convince every client that they are worthy of that better life, whether they can see it yet, or not.
Addicts Helping Addicts
There is one more major difference between “Dopesick Nation” and other shows that have come before. Frankie and Allie are people living with substance use disorder. One of them appears to be struggling with their own recovery during the filming of the show. Although over 40% of people working in substance use disorder treatment are in recovery themselves, this is a side of the treatment world that television viewers have seldom seen. “Intervention” never hid the fact that the show’s interventionists were addicts and alcoholics themselves, but we always assumed they were long sober, and we never really saw the struggle that treatment providers can face with their own sobriety.
Are Frankie and Allie in a position to help other addicts and alcoholics? It doesn’t really matter. Our nation is in the grips of an unprecedented addiction epidemic that is happening during a global viral pandemic. Frankie and Allie are doing important work, and there are not long lines filled with people trying to take their places. They may struggle with their own sobriety, but that can make it easier for them to connect with other addicts and help more people reach treatment and a better life, and the principles of group therapy teach us that helping others can help Frankie and Allie stay sober themselves.
One of their early clients tears up at the thought of seeing his young son for the first time, now that he is sober. He is not even a month removed from injecting fentanyl, but that little bit of sober time is a ray of sunshine that gives him, and his estranged girlfriend, renewed hope that only treatment and sobriety can offer, and only other addicts, in this case Frankie and Allie, can fully understand.
By T.A. Cannon (Contact me at TACannonWriting@gmail.com)