TV Review – Going Cold Turkey

Going Cold Turkey
Channel 4
21 to 26 February


Going Cold Turkey was a week of Channel 4 programmes following the progress of three heroin users undergoing a detoxification regime at Detox 5 in Harrogate, writes Harry Shapiro.

The programme was trailed in the press as a heroin withdrawal reality show, and Channel 4 did receive several complaints. It is true that the patients were shown undergoing some of the discomfort of withdrawal and perhaps there was one vomit stream too many, but it didn’t feel particularly exploitative. In fact, it was quite boring in parts despite the best attempts of the presenters to ramp up what an awful time the patients were having.

And here lies one key problem with the programme. Because of the nature of this treatment regime, the patients were actually sedated for most of the time.

So there was an element of unreality about this reality show. For many heroin users, withdrawal, while not lifethreatening, is a full-on experience – and the reason why many choose not to come off.

Moreover, this treatment is not available on the NHS and costs around £3,000. At no point was this made clear, although it can be found buried in the Channel 4 website where it says that some patients are lucky enough to have local authority funding. But for any desperate family wanting the treatment, finding out the cost could be a bitter blow. DrugScope did raise this with Channel 4, but nothing was done about it on air.

Nonetheless, was it worth doing? As part of its schools programming, it may be that Channel 4 was simply trying to show young people the horrors of heroin use. But so bad is heroin’s reputation anyway that very few teenagers try heroin even once, let alone become addicted. Would it have helped people come forward for treatment? Possibly. But therein lies the rub. As the programme was at pains to point out, detox is just the start of the journey, not the end. Just how well will these three people fare? You’ll have to tune in next month to find out.

Harry Shapiro is head of publications for the charity Drugscope

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