Mindy McCready died on February 17th, 2013 from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Another grave statistic reveals that Ms. McCready is the 5th cast member from Dr. Drew Pinsky’s Celebrity Rehab TV show to die within past 2 years. While none of the deaths have happened while these individuals were on the show and none were directly related to a drug overdose, many are beginning to question the connection between the two.
First, is the show to blame for the deaths of these individuals? Unlikely.
Any patient that participated in the show could have likely benefitted from their time and experienced significant gains in their recovery. Recovery from addiction and the myriad of other significant mental health issues faced by the show’s participants can create a long and challenging road including relapse. The level of severity for many of the participants was likely complicated by their life position as a “celebrity” including notoriety, access to money/drugs, and all the other trappings of celebrity lifestyles. I would venture to state that many addiction treatment programs may reflect similar stats regarding unsuccessfully treated addiction and even death.
Second, Is a televised reality show an appropriate place to receive treatment? Doubtful.
While many of the interventions made by Dr. Drew and his staff weren’t harmful in themselves, the environment constructed by the tv show likely made treatment very difficult. In order for any kind of treatment to be successful it often requires processing of pain…healing of past wounds…building on mistakes. Ultimately it takes an empathic listener and a genuine participant. I’m sure celebrities have a hard enough time as it is to develop an authentic and genuine relationship. To know that millions are watching their every vulnerable word from the comfort of their couch disrupts their honesty and healing. While the show has served some part of the national discourse regarding addiction and perhaps opened some eyes to the challenges of recovery, it has likely been a significant disservice to the participants.
Other note: I’m not sure about the legality of the “treatment” offered by the celebrity rehab tv show regarding informed consent and other kinds of disclosures, but I’m almost certain that producers on the show go out of their way to inform participants that what they are agreeing to is not “ethical”, evidence-based addiction treatment. By changing this definition and having the participants consent to this change, Dr. Drew is protecting himself legally and ethically.