Exclusive Interview with David Muir on ABC's "Breaking Point: Heroin in America"

By William Georgiades 03/10/16

The World News Tonight and 20/20 anchor reports from the front lines to bring us "an unvarnished, powerful look at the state of heroin addiction today...This is a very unsettling story with some very raw moments."


This Friday, a special episode of 20/20Breaking Point: Heroin in America—will air on ABC at 10 p.m. EST.

Journalist and anchor David Muir, of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir and 20/20, visits with several families struggling with heroin addiction, documenting the toll addiction has taken, the too-few triumphs of recovery, and the sometimes lethal delays and frustrations in finding real help.

Speaking exclusively to The Fix earlier this week, Muir told us that the genesis of this special report began over a year ago. “I said to our team that we needed to do something on this last year, and over the course of the past 12 months, we could never have predicted how much bigger it would become,” he recalled.

In recent months, both HBO and PBS have aired similar specials on the opioid epidemic. While Muir said that he looks forward to seeing those reports, he hasn't yet—in part because he didn’t want his own reporting to be affected. What he does promise is “an unvarnished, powerful look at the state of heroin addiction today. This is a very unsettling story with some very raw moments.”

Since taking over as the anchor for World News Tonight in September 2014, Muir has had exclusive interviews with the Pope, Apple CEO Tim Cook, President Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. He has reported from Syrian refugee camps and from the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, then in San Bernardino.

With more than 20 years as a reporter and anchor, Muir was particularly moved by this story.

He is quick to point out the statistics. “The rate of opioid overdoses has tripled since 2000 and more than 100 Americans die every day from drug overdoses—more people than gun shot wounds or car accidents.”

In story after story in this special report, Muir focuses on variations on an all too familiar scene—the rise of new mothers and their babies both addicted to heroin, couples attempting to get clean together, mothers hoping their losses will effect change.

Muir presents several unique perspectives, having moderated two presidential debates, one Democrat and one Republican. The Fix has reported on the candidates’ responses to drug treatment—at the beginning of the campaign season, it seemed that not a single candidate expressed an opinion. And then, suddenly, every one of them had talking points on the subject. Having met with these families and moderated the debates, did Muir know why the candidates suddenly alighted on the issue of addiction?

He brings up New Hampshire, a state that has one of the highest rates of overdose deaths and yet ranks 49th among all states for access to treatment. "We all witnessed the same thing. You cannot walk into town halls in New Hampshire or anywhere in New England and not have to answer questions about the heroin epidemic. It would be hard to escape the question even if you wanted to. I’ve witnessed an appreciation for these families on the part of politicians, what they go through."

"When you hear a woman say at a town hall, 'I know that right now in New Hampshire another family is going through this...'" Muir trails off.

Though the statistics illustrate the epidemic nature of the drug problem, there is still strong resistance to offering help. Despite the positive results of the Angel Program in Gloucester, Mass., a bill inspired this week by that program was turned down by most of the police chiefs in the state—including all of the chiefs on Cape Cod, one of the worst hit regions in the country. Does Muir see the resistance rising even as the problem becomes so acute?

"Yes," he says. "The resistance is very strong. I’ve seen a mother who almost lost her son attempt to advocate for change, to take it upon herself to fight for change, and she would stand up at these town halls and at these meetings and see other people say no to taking measures. She would see half the people disagree with her. People are not willing to adopt change."

And yet Muir was able to come away from this year-long report with some hope, after witnessing the bittersweet resilience and dignity of family members left behind. “There are a couple of triumphs where we see people determined not to allow their loved ones to have died in vain,” Muir says.

“And then there is the great hope,” he continues, “to get addicts into rehab, to get them into therapy, and to get these people the medications they need to wean themselves off heroin and opioids. But it is such a hurdle getting that help. The wait times can be weeks, and even months. And we all know that getting help quickly, even immediately, is crucial for recovery.”

Breaking Point: Heroin in America is about the people behind the statistics. "There are the statistics and there are the stories," says Muir. "But it is important to put faces to those stories and statistics. To continue the conversation. And that doesn’t happen immediately. But it has to happen."

"Breaking Point: Heroin in America" airs this Friday, March 11 at 10 p.m. EST on ABC.

Watch below as sixth graders in New Hampshire learn how to use naloxone to reverse a heroin overdose.

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William Georgiades is a former editor at EsquireBlack Book, the New York Post and the Grapevine and has written for several publications including New York MagazineVanity Fair, the London Times and GQ. He has been the features editor at The Fix since 2013. You can find him on Linkedin.