On Saturday, March 5 residents, recovering addicts, those who have suffered loss of a family member due to an addiction, community activists and law-enforcement officers gathered at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School to discuss the problems surrounding substance abuse and including the on-going opioid crisis in the state and country.
State Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, was scheduled to speak but could not be present due to a family matter, according to forum organizers. His Legislative Aide Rick Branca spoke briefly on his behalf regarding the representative’s efforts in the legislature to tackle the issue, including advocating for a law tightening rules on opiate prescriptions, with versions passed by both the House and the Senate and currently in a conference committee for reconciliation.
Branca also spoke of graduating from Whitman-Hanson Regional High School not very long ago, and witnessing too many fellow classmates pass away from substance abuse disorders.
Following Branca, Brendon Curran, a former drug abuser in recovery told his story. Currently 39, he said that it took him 12 years of attempts to finally “get clean.”
Curran said that his problem began when he began smoking marijuana around the age of 13, and that despite not liking the high, marijuana eliminated negative thoughts he was having. But this quickly led him to other drugs.
“Less than a year later, I had a needle in my arm,” he said. By 14, Curran was using heroin and other I.V. drugs. He was also smoking crack. This led him to a string of serious life problems, including stints in jail.
Today Curran is sober, and putting his life back together. “Addiction doesn’t discriminate; it can happen to anybody,” he said.
He went on to describe his thoughts on solving addiction issues.
“Punitive measures don’t work,” Curran said. He believes that more vocational programs to teach useful skills to those in recovery would be helpful.
Another recovering substance abuser, 36-year-old Sean Merrill, who works as the Executive Assistance/Community Relations Liaison for Teen Challenge in Brockton, a faith-based recovery program for adults, described his story of addiction and recovery.
Merrill became an electrician at age 22, and was doing well in life, he said, including buying a house, getting married and having a daughter.
But by the age of 25, he and his younger brother began experimenting with opioid painkillers, which he stated led to him becoming “hooked, and losing everything, including his house, his wife, his electrical license and visitation rights to see his daughter.
In February 2011, Merrill’s younger brother died due to his addiction. This tragic event in Merrill’s life prompted him to get sober. After getting sober through a Christian recovery program, which he now works for, he and his wife got back together, and they now have two children.
“My son has his father back, my daughter has her father back, my wife has her husband back, and my mother has her son back,” he said.
Foundation in faith
Rich Barnes, 48, of Bridgewater spoke next. Also a former substance abuser in recovery, he said he started drinking at age 10.
He continued drinking until 17, when he progressed on to other drugs, such as cocaine, and by 22, he was smoking crack. “I loved it…[it] buried pain and negative thoughts.”
He married in 2000, but said that he was soon spending $10,000 a month on crack and cocaine. “My life was a negative vortex,” he said.
But as life continued with a new daughter, and he continued to struggle, he decided finally that enough was enough after a suicide attempt. “I missed the first 2 and a half years of my baby’s life due to addiction,” he said.
Now sober for 10 years, Barnes is writing a book with the working title of, “From Stealing to Healing,” and is an inspirational speaker and author of the website richfulthinking.com.
“Never, ever think that it’s not going to be your kid,” he said. “You don’t know what an addict looks like…addiction affects everyone.”
Mary Peckham, of Halifax, addressed her son’s death from addiction, in September 2012 at the age of 27. Matthew Peckham was a “normal kid from a normal family,” said his mother.
Peckham became involved in drugs in high school, and in a now all-too-familiar scenario, it involved other students trading, buying and selling pain medication prescribed for minor sports injuries or pulled wisdom teeth. Mary Peckham never noticed anything amiss.
The secrets began to come out, however, in April 2011, when Matthew Peckham was found overdosing on heroin on his bedroom floor. His drug dealer had sold him heroin that was cut — diluted to increase its weight and volume — with cement. He was brought back to life by first responders with the medicine Naloxone, commonly known by its brand name Narcan, which reverses the effects of an acute opioid overdose.
Peckham denied the drug use, even when in the hospital confronted with positive blood tests for heroin, due to embarrassment. Mary Peckham lost her son the next year.
Peckham strongly stated her belief that her son’s death could have been prevented. She had harsh words with regards to doctors who overprescribe pain medication, calling pain killers “heroin in pill form.”
As for pharmaceutical companies, she had this to add: “They are making money off the backs of our children.” She also faults expensive recovery programs and complex insurance issues that she feels contributed to the death of her son.
Peckham recently started a support group, Matthew’s Candle, for those who have lost a loved one due to an overdose, stating that she has experienced stigma in other grief or loss-support groups because of the cause of her son’s death. Matthew’s Candle meets in Hanson, and the group can be reached at email@example.com for more information.
Finally, Susan Silva, an East Bridgewater mother of a son in recovery, described the work she is doing with other local activists and local law-enforcement. She was inspired to take action spreading awareness because of the stigma her family went through on her son’s years-long path to sobriety
She described extended family turning against her family, her church turning against them, even neighbors wanting them, “removed from the neighborhood.”
“I know what it is like to feel stigma.”
She eventually teamed up with the East Bridgewater police, and led a coalition of local stake-holders with the goal of creating a model for law-enforcement and the community to help those suffering from addiction rather than send them to jail or prison.
The fruition of their efforts is the EB HOPE Outreach Center, a twice-monthly drop-in center open on the first and third Thursday of each month from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Community Covenant Church, 400 Pleasant Street, East Bridgewater. The center is open to the community at large, not exclusively residents of East Bridgewater.
The EB Hope Center can provide information about and access to a variety of services, including inpatient and outpatient detoxification programs, addiction recovery services, resources for family members (including training to administer Naloxone/Narcan and information on how to obtain the medication), and on-site mental health triage.
Although East Bridgewater police personnel are present as partners of the Center and as a resource, according to Police Chief John Cowan the presence is not intended to intimidate anyone or keep anyone needing help away. He stated the purpose of the program is to help substance abusers and their families, not arrest them.
East Bridgewater Detective Sgt. Scott Allen, a career drug-crimes detective himself involved with the center, summed it up this way: “I think we’ve realized that we can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”
The EB Hope Center can be reached at (504)-800-0942 or at www.ebhopes.net.
Nearly every speaker continuously made the point that addiction can affect anyone, anyone’s family, anyone’s child, anyone’s neighbor, anyone’s friend. Addiction does not discriminate, and the public needs to educate themselves on the issue of substance abuse, as addiction is often “hidden in plain sight,” according to those who have lived it.