CBS Series 'In the Shadow of Death' Strives To Put a Human Face To Heroin Addiction

By Paul Gaita 05/19/16

The multi-part series follows Jason Amaral, a 30-year-old heroin addict, as he journeys toward sobriety in Massachusetts.

CBS Series 'In the Shadow of Death' Strives To Put a Human Face To Heroin Addiction
Jason Amaral, the focus of "In The Shadow of Death: Jason's Journey" Photo via CBS Evening News/YouTube

CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley is airing a new series on the opioid addiction crisis as part of its nightly network broadcast, also available on its website. The multi-part series “In the Shadow of Death: Jason’s Journey,” which debuted Monday, focuses on 30-year-old Massachusetts native Jason Amaral, a heroin addict who has struggled with sobriety for more than a decade. In the first episode, CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan follows Amaral as he traverses the city of Boston in search of drugs for one final binge before entering a rehabilitation clinic the following day.

Though brief in running time—the first two episodes are less than five minutes long—“In the Shadow of Death” details Amaral’s tumultuous upbringing—a happy childhood with his younger brother Andrew derailed at age 11 by his mother’s death from cancer, which led both siblings to experiment with prescription drugs while in high school and eventual addiction to heroin for both siblings—and daily drug intake, which, over the course of the first episode, begins with Klonopin and concludes with a mix of heroin and fentanyl. In the midst of this, Amaral also has to beg his brother to remain in a detox center, and offers his own commitment as incentive.

The second episode, which aired Tuesday, finds Amaral entering Recovery Centers of America in New Jersey with the help of his friend, Mike Duggan, himself a recovering addict. The emotional and physical wear and tear on Amaral is evident: Morgan notes that he looks visibly uncomfortable while turning over prescription meds to a staffer, and breaks down during an interview segment. But through a regimen of therapy and exercise, Amaral appears ready to make a change in his life. “There’s always going to be a part of me that wants to get high,” he said. “[But] I don’t want my legacy to be, this kid overdosed, you know?”

Field producer Jonathan Blakely said the goal of “In the Shadow of Death” is to show that there is a human face behind the vast numbers of heroin addicts. “There’s this image of what an addict looks like, but what you will see from Jason is that he could be your next door neighbor, your classmate, your co-worker,” said Blakely. “Jason challenges our notions of what it means to be an addict.”

Check out Jason's emotional trip to rehab below:

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.