“The major media outlets have long been chastised for the content and style of their coverage of alcohol- and drug-related problems. Such criticisms include the glamorization of drug use, the demonization of drug users, and charges that the media is complicit in ineffective drug policies. Few have raised parallel concerns that popular media coverage of addiction recovery is rare, often poorly selected, and told through a lens that does little to welcome the estranged person back into the heart of community life,” wrote addiction expert William L. White wrote in 2014. “Media coverage of active addiction fuels social stigma and contributes to the discrimination that many people in recovery face as they enter the recovery process.”
A new MTV series about teens struggling with addiction wants to be different. The docuseries “16 and Recovering” follows students at Northshore Recovery High School in Beverly, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb hit hard by the opioid epidemic. “It aims to showcase the realities of addiction, but also the hope of recovery, by focusing on the students and the principal, Michelle Lipinski, and their stories,” Jessica Gold wrote on Forbes. The series also tries to educate viewers. “A companion website for the series was developed in parallel with the National Institute on Drug Abuse to provide resources for those who may be struggling with substance use and their loved ones watching at home.”
After more than 20 years of addressing mental health in its programming with varying degrees of success, MTV wanted to “take a step back and say, ‘How do we think about this differently?,’” Chris McCarthy, the president of entertainment and youth brands for ViacomCBS told the Washington Post, “And how do we use our power as storytellers to help demystify [and] destigmatize it?”
Some experts are impressed with the series’ message. “I was blown away,” Anna Lembke, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and addiction medicine at Stanford University told Forbes. “I’ve seen so many shows about addiction that don’t get it right. This was probably among the most thoughtful, accurate, heart-wrenching depictions of addiction I’ve seen in film or print.”
You can watch full episodes at MTV.com.