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Perspectives and solutions in upcoming TV special on the opioid crisis

Soledad O’Brien hosts the primetime special.
Soledad O’Brien hosts the primetime special.

A primetime special to be broadcast live next week on Channel 5 and several other New England stations aims to shine a light on the opioid crisis with the hope of guiding victims toward getting the help they need and addressing policies that may lead to solutions.

The special will combine personal stories of addiction with new information to give victims and their loved ones a sense of hope. Host Soledad O’Brien says that while it’s important to cover individual cases of addiction in the news to convey the scope of the problem and to make people aware that it’s happening all around them, it’s critical for the media to provide information that may lead to solutions. The program should resonate in this region: In June, a Drug Enforcement Administration official described the Northeast — citing New Hampshire in particular — as “ground zero” for the crisis; in Massachusetts, the opioid-related death rate has surpassed the national average.


“We’re trying to hone in on the things that have the potential to work in communities that might not know about them,” O’Brien says. “That could be the media’s contribution.”

Thirty Hearst stations nationwide will cut into network programming and air “Matter of Fact: State of Addiction” at 10 p.m. on Sept. 13. In addition to WCVB, the special can be seen in New England on WMUR in Manchester, N.H.; WMTW in Portland, Maine; and WPTZ/WNNE in Burlington, Vt. O’Brien will host the show from the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

The special, which is part of Hearst’s yearlong series examining the epidemic, will feature interviews with addiction experts and law enforcement officials, live inserts from local stations, and ways for viewers to engage with the issue on social media.

“So far we’ve seen pockets of coverage on this crisis,” says O’Brien, who anchors the syndicated political magazine show “Matter of Fact.” “But it’s not a problem that’s abating. Doing this special allows us to think really creatively about how to open up this conversation to a really wide network.”


O’Brien, who began her TV career at WXKS-FM in Boston as a medical reporter before eventually moving on to NBC and CNN, says that providing quality coverage on the opioid crisis is challenging because the stigma is so great. Victims of the crisis include many people from the middle class who have access to prescription drugs.

“It’s a complete and utter disaster for health care,” O’Brien says. “No one in the medical profession is saying that we’re heading in the right direction.”

Barbara Maushard, the senior vice president of news at Hearst, said the network is committed to providing consistent coverage of the epidemic. “As local broadcasters, we have a relationship with our communities,” Maushard says. “We experience the things they experience, and we have a responsibility to provide context and tools as they struggle with difficult issues.”

Maushard said that even though producing the special was challenging and complicated, initiating a dialogue and “speaking loudly” are critical.

“If we can get people to understand that this epidemic doesn’t discriminate, we can help get drugs out of people’s medicine cabinets and motivate lawmakers to look at policies and identify options for treatment,” she says. “We just want to point people in the right direction. Anything we can do to make people more aware will help.”


Matter of Fact: State of Addiction

Hosted by Soledad O’Brien

On WCVB, WMUR, WMTW, and WPTZ/WNNE, Sept. 13 at 10 p.m.

Bethany Ao can be reached at bethany.ao@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @bethanyao.