Tag Archives: Addiction

My Turn: A successful journey through the minefield of addiction

Screen shot 2014-10-15 at 6.59.06 AMMy son, at 23, is lucky to be alive.

Statistically, he is a member of a generation decimated by an opiate drug epidemic so far-reaching that in 2010 – the year he graduated high school – New Hampshire reported having a higher percentage of people abusing pain medication than any other state, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The largest demographic was young people age 17-25.

And it continues even now, an epidemic that has led directly to the resurgence of heroin, a drug that is a much cheaper and far more deadly alternative to painkillers.

I guess it should be a given at this phase of my life, but I am frankly overjoyed that my son is a senior at UNH, and that he’s managing his life, his money, his studies and his future so deftly. I slip him gas money when he visits and he takes it, reluctantly. He is acutely aware that his childhood is defunct, and that standing on his own two feet is the only way to move forward in this life.

I say he is lucky because, in the same way I’ve heard veterans of war wrestle with survivor’s guilt, I can’t quite understand how my son found his way out of enemy territory, mostly unscathed.

As a mother, I’ve been over it a hundred times or more, and still, there are no good or logical answers.

I only know that five years ago, I didn’t see much hope in his heart for the future. He was trapped in a high school where his big brain was overshadowed by his apathy for the rat race. He underachieved because he was mostly invisible to the educators who were there to help him find himself, obscured by his long hair and the space between academia and its relevance to his world.

Looking back now, I realize there was a sub-narrative to the plot I couldn’t see because it was written in the secret language of teenagers. Now I understand that my son’s apathetic Wonder Years coincided with the pharmaceutical phenomenon we are now recognizing as the pathway to opiate addiction.

Many of his peers – smart kids, dumb kids, athletic kids, kids from good families and fractured ones – dabbled with pot and alcohol, moving on to illicit encounters with cough syrup, LSD and the premier ADHD drug Adderall – which they learned quickly would help anyone focus enough to cram for a test and excel. It was easy enough to score from someone whose brother was diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder.

Better living through chemistry led many of these kids to discover oxycodone, another easily acquired pill dished out like candy to anyone with pain. Like Adderall, it was a magic pill that quickly boosted their adolescent spirits, or dulled the pain of their perceived losses – dads that were MIA., parents who didn’t engage, romances that didn’t materialize or economic realities that didn’t support brand-name fashions or top-of-the-line technology.

My son is one of the lucky ones because some primal lobe in his big brain lit up enough to guide the rest of him out of the darkness of dabbling that has swallowed too many of his peers whole.

If you’re reading this and judging these kids, or these families, who struggle every day with opiate addiction, you don’t know the half of it. You don’t know how many of your neighbors and co-workers continue to dance this exhausting tango with a diabolical partner that won’t let go, spiraling into the twirling, clutching drain of fatal desperation that robs them of their finances, their hopes and dreams, and, sometimes, their children.

New Hampshire lags far behind in addiction treatment. Ask anyone involved in the bureaucracy. They will confirm that it’s a problem we can’t solve through law enforcement. If you’re lucky enough to find your way to a treatment bed, five days of detox and 12 steps at a time for 28 days is a futile dance that does not add up to long-term recovery.

It only leads back to a revolving door of the most powerfully relentless addictive substance on earth, which is claiming those who otherwise may not have been prone to the disease of addiction.

Join the HOPE for Recovery Rally at NH Statehouse, Oct. 18, 2014, 11a.m. -2 p.m.

According to the state medical examiner’s office, although prescription drug-related deaths dropped between 2012 and 2013, from 88 to 72, heroin-related deaths have nearly doubled, from 37 in 2012 to 70 – and that’s just as of June.

This is more than unacceptable and should be at the top of our to-fix list, just as it was for Pete Shumlin, governor of Vermont, who scrapped the PowerPoint version of his 2014 State of the State speech to focus on just one topic: how to mount a counter-attack on the heroin and opiate addiction threatening his state.

My son and I don’t talk much about those we know who are still prisoners of this particular drug war, or those who died on the battlefield. He and his own two feet have moved on.

He has the right to judge them, I suppose. He has the right to despise the human weakness that prevails when someone gives up and gives in to an enemy that takes them over and delivers them into the belly of the beast.

I was happy to hear he was planning to stop by with his girlfriend after a birthday dinner for two out on the town. I decided to bake cupcakes, the chocolate-peanut butter ones I used to send to school with him for classroom celebrations of his youth – and not because I thought it would remind him that childhood is only lost to us if we choose to forget the dreams we dream and lessons we learn while we dwell there.

But because his life is my gift, his experience has been my teacher, his losses have left permanent scars on my heart – the heart of a mother who celebrates another year of hopes and dreams for a son who, for no reason I can put my finger on, didn’t get caught in the vice-grip death trap that is our opiate drug addiction epidemic.

And because I get to celebrate another year with my amazing son and light a birthday candle for all those mothers who can’t, and who never will again.

As published in the Concord Monitor, Oct. 10, 2014

(Carol Robidoux is a freelance writer who lives in Manchester.)

NH Top Cops: ‘We Can’t Arrest Our Way Out’ of Oxy, Heroin Epidemic


Four dozen of New Hampshire’s top law officers, health officials and addiction experts came together to share their first-hand frustrations and observations about the fallout from the current drug epidemic responsible for unprecedented accidental deaths, spiking crime rates and a revolving door of addiction here, and across the country.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, organized the two-hour listening session on April 23, a group which included: NH Attorney General Joseph Foster; police chiefs from more than a dozen cities and towns, including Manchester Chief David Mara and Nashua Chief John Seusing; Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Andrew; Dr. Cheryl Wilkie, of Easter Seals/Farnum Center; and others.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, listens to discussion by top NH officials on heroin/oxy addiction.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, listens to discussion by top NH officials on heroin/oxy addiction.

The only thing missing from the gathering was the kind of politicized posturing one might expect from a meeting of the minds involving state officials and federal officials.

Instead, the panelists spoke with a genuine sense of urgency about the alarming prevalence of heroin and opiate use, which has rapidly become an epic public health problem here.

NH top law and health officials talk about the current drug crisis in New Hampshire.

Jails are jammed, with no in-house rehabilitation; state-funded beds  at treatment centers have wait lists at least two months out. Crime victims have no assurance that their communities are safe from drug-driven criminals. Families are desperate for answers.

The result is a revolving door of addicts who can’t get the treatment they need to recover, which leads to relapse and recidivism. Unintended consequences include over-burdened police drug units and a staggering spike in death rates, 96 percent of them deemed “accidental.”

From left, NH Attorney General Joseph Foster, Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso Jr., Michael Forti of NH Drug Task Force and Jay Fallon of New EnglandHigh Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
From left, NH Attorney General Joseph Foster, Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso Jr., Michael Forti of NH Drug Task Force and Jay Fallon of New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

The following is a recap  of the highlights from each of the seven resulting video clips, filmed at Manchester NH Police headquarters:

You can watch all seven parts of the Heroin/Opioid Roundtable below. Just click play.

 Part 1

Manchester Police Chief David Mara talks about the progression of heroin addiction for the typical user –  often escalating from oxycodone use. But with a street cost of $30 for a 30 milligram pill,  multiplied by a several pill-a-day habit, addicts turn to crime to support their addiction.

Mara said over the past four years, Manchester’s drug unit has confiscated  an increasing amount of heroin:

2010 – 45.25 grams

2011 – 186.8 grams

2012 – 406.2 grams

2013 – 664.6 grams

In the first quarter of 2014: 600 grams of heroin were confiscated so far, on track to quadruple what was confiscated in 2013.

Part 2 

New Hampshire Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Andrew said annual drug deaths have increased from about 50 to nearly 200 in the past decade.

Of the 193 drug-related deaths in 2013, all but two were ruled accidental, pointing out an unintended consequence of drug addiction.

“If we saw a 400 percent increase in asthma or traffic deaths or homicides, that would get a lot of attention,” Andrew said.  But we’ve seen a 400 percent increase in drug deaths, and the deaths are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Purity and price are the driving factors pushing heroin to the top of the chart of most-deadly drug.

Part 3 

NH Attorney General Joseph Foster said heroin and prescription drugs are a problem in every jurisdiction across the state.

“It has no boundaries. When I meet with Attorneys General from around the country, I hear the same thing,” Foster said.

He relayed getting a prescription for 30 pain killers after minor knee surgery.

“I probably only needed six or seven of them, but it led me to think about what would have happened if I were prone to addiction?” Foster said.  “I don’t believe we can arrest or prosecute our way out of this.”

He has asked the NH legislature to add another drug prosecutor to his team, and will press for more treatment options.

He said he’s also working to put more Narcan, an opiate blocker, into the hands of police and medical personnel.

Dr. Cheryl Wilkie, Senior Vice President of Substance Abuse Services for the Farnum Center in Manchester, said  New Hampshire is heading “in the right direction.” Wilkie would like to see jails and prisons include treatment for addicts, once incarcerated.

“They are a captive audience, and we’re already paying $30,000 for them to be there,” Wilkie said.

Part 4

Kensington Police Chief Michael Sielicki said police see no short- or long-term solution.

“There’s nothing we can do but arrest them and hope they sober up and stop breaking into houses,” Sielicki said.

He is calling for a top-down approach to solving this problem.

“There has to be a more comprehensive approach. There has to be leadership from the top to focus all our efforts in fighting this,” Sielicki said.

Enfield NH Police Chief Richard Crate  said it’s time to call on the medical community to stop over-prescribing oxy medications.

“Even officers in our ranks have been affected by this, and we’re going to see more of it – and these numbers are going to continue to increase. When you talk about 20 year olds fighting heroin addiction, they will be fighting it for the rest of their lives, and will probably be  in treatment centers for the rest of their lives. This doesn’t go away.”

Medical Examiner, Dr. Thomas Andrew, said for every death from drugs in New Hampshire there are 26 people seeking treatment; over 100 habitual users; and 675 who are at some point in the pipeline to addiction.

“The death piece is the tip of the iceberg. The bang for the buck is in treatment, not on my side,” Andrew said.

Andrew also talked about the call to boycott Zohydro, a controversial new time-release opiate that has recently received FDA approval, and which some experts say will only increase the problem of opiate addiction.

Part 5

Nashua NH Police Chief John Seusing said “the majority of crimes investigated” by police across New Hampshire are either directly or indirectly related to this drug.

Over the past four years the number of heroin-related arrests in Nashua have increased six fold, and the number of overdoses are on track to triple this year over 2013 overdose statistics.

Seusing said his primary focus is to get drug dealers off the street. But it’s equally important to focus on treatment, otherwise addicts and dealers end up right back on the street.

Based on the need in Nashua, Seusing is preparing to request an increase in funding from the Board of Aldermen to hire more police officers.

“My drug unit has told me there is too much work on the street for them to handle,” Seusing said.

Part 6

Portsmouth NH Police Chief Stephen Dubois said based on what he’s heard from his peers, things worked better when there were more federal funding sources available to fight the crack problem of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, said there are things that can be done from a federal level to help state and local law enforcement.

“I know there are always challenging budget times – but I think this is a priority for people. What I’m hearing from my colleagues, is that this isn’t a  Republican or Democrat issue; this is just basic for everyone, in terms of public safety and quality of life,” Ayotte said.

Hampton NH Police Chief Jamie Sullivan said he’d like to hear more about holding drug companies accountable.

“What can we do to address the extreme profit motive these pharmaceuticals have to put these pills out there?” Sullivan asked. He said he’d like to engage drug companies in providing more education and treatment.

Enfield NH Police Chief Richard Crate said federal programs like Operation Streetsweeper may have been effective for the crack epidemic, but in small towns, treatment options are what’s needed most.

“I have housewives and moms burglarizing other homes for pills … I don’t need more officers, I need more help with treatment centers available to rural communities, so when we arrest them we have a place to send them so it stops,” Crate said.

Dr. Cheryl Wilkie said the heroin epidemic is different from other drug problems.

“I don’t think we’re going to see this changing back to cocaine or any other drug. The way heroin hits the system, the addiction is so powerful, and coming off of it is so different from coming off cocaine. With heroin, you are so sick you will do whatever it takes to get the drug, which is why we’re seeing housewives, and all the different people , who will do anything. It’s the only thing that stops them from being sick.  That addiction doesn’t just disappear. This is going to be the drug of choice, and once they try this they will not spend another dime on alcohol or cocaine or anything else,” Wilkie said.

Part 7

Derry NH Police Chief Ed Garone said he was frustrated, and sensed frustration of others in the room.

“Law enforcement has to do something about the symbiotic relationship between supply and demand, and law enforcement has the ability to affect one side of it – and that’s the supply side, and we do that by arresting,” Garone said.

“Once arrested, they have to be incarcerated and when they are incarcerated they need treatment. It’s the perfect opportunity to provide treatment. I’ve been told you can spend however long in prison as an addict, and when you come out, you’re still an addict and that is a problem,” he said.

Garone also said there are too many victims.

“This is an ugly octopus, this goes way out into the community,” and fighting it is a “three-pronged stool – education, treatment and enforcement.”

“We can’t arrest our way out of it, but we have to stop saying it costs too much to incarcerate.  We can’t wait to educate 7th or 8th graders so by time they’re 17 or 18 or 19 they are not breaking into homes; we have to do something now,” Garone said.

Manchester Public Health Director Tim Soucy  said he was heartened to hear so many law enforcement officials talk about treatment.

Getting to kids earlier will help. But for now, quality of life issues persist.

“Not a day goes by where my office doesn’t get called to go pick up used needles in the city.  We’re  finding them everywhere –  street corners, people’s driveways, alleys, woods – and I’m concerned with the long-range implication of this continued needle use that we’ll  see more Hep C and HIV,” Soucy said.

These drugs are coming primarily from South America and Afghanistan. Dr. Thomas Andrew made the point that someone needs to cultivate better collaboration across state borders to stop the drugs from coming in.

“The corridors from which these [drugs] are distributed are 91 and 95. If we look at a Zip Code analysis, there’s a wide swath between Keene and the Seacoast; the Lakes Region and North Country; and the border and south. Is it a federal responsibility to enhance interdiction efforts and distribution? We’re not even hassling the end users, at the distribution level, and I think this is  federal responsibility,” Andrew said.


Fighting Addiction: Content + Action = Community Engagement

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 9.08.24 AM
A simple February 14, 2014 Facebook post resulted in a community gathering. Behold the power of social media and engagement.

There is power in words. I know this from many years in the field as a journalist.

I also know that with a boost from social media, word power morphs and magnifies, and extends to places we can’t predict.

Today, allow me  to testify about how one person can make a difference simply by putting thought into words and words into action, through social media, powered by a strong sense that others want and need to connect to make the world a better place.

Here’s how it happened to me:

On February 14, 2014  I read an article on my hometown newspaper’s website about a community screening in Pennsylvania of a documentary about addiction, and hope in long-term recovery.

I immediately shared a link to the movie, “The Anonymous People,” on my Facebook page and wished someone would bring the movie to New Hampshire.

Wish granted.

One influential friend and 10 days later, a date was set for a public screening in New Hampshire.

On April 2, 2014 I was seated among 100+ movie-goers at the Dana Center on the Saint Anselm College campus for a free public screening of the movie, followed by a panel discussion.recovery1

Among those in attendance: Students, physicians, policy makers, professors, priests, community organizers, recovering addicts and alcoholics, family members with loved ones currently battling addiction and in desperate need of meaningful treatment options –which are few and far between in New Hampshire.

That was at the heart of bringing this movie to New Hampshire, the need for change.

There is a national drug addiction phenomenon  featuring  heroin and oxycodone currently driving a human  health crisis of epidemic proportions. This is not an exaggeration. From our state health officials here in New Hampshire to the U.S. Attorney General, the cost to society in human suffering, crime, law enforcement and incarceration, is exploding.

Missing from the equation: Effective resources focused on recovery from addiction. New Hampshire ranks 49th of the 50 states in recovery programs. The only place harder to find treatment is Texas, according to Cheryl Wilkie, Senior Vice President of the Farnum Center and Webster Place Recovery.

I guess even the drug problems are bigger in Texas.

Some take aways for me from “The Anonymous People:”

  • Public perception drives policy: Headlines about the daily horrors of addiction and celebrities stuck in or lost to addiction drive our sense of hopelessness.
  • “This is our black plague” – a quote from actress Kristen Johnston, a recovering addict who is one of the many celebrities telling their success stories. Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 9.38.03 AM
  • Lack of systemic support: Those in recovery from cancer are immersed in free post-treatment services “as part of their recovery.” Addicts get five days of detox or 28 days in a rehab bed, if they are among the lucky ones who have insurance or have good timing. After that, they are on their own.
  • 12-Step recovery peer-based programs work: Because they offer immediate support with a proven track record – there are some 23 million people currently living in long-term recovery through participation in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs.
  • War on Drugs: A reversal of progress: There was a dedicated push toward recovery during the 1960s and ’70s, “Operation Understanding,” championed by high-profile politicians and actors in recovery, to raise awareness and remove stigma. That momentum was buried  under the weight of the orchestrated U.S. “War on Drugs,” chronicled here via “Frontline.”
  • Mental Health Parity Act of 2008 excludes addiction: We continue to view addiction as a shame-based disease. U.S. insurance companies provide a fraction of resources for what is a paralyzing and pervasive human health crises in America.
  • Community is the backbone of recovery: For an addict, recovery is initiated in treatment centers. But they recover in our communities – provided there are resources available to support them in their sobriety.
  • Silence = Death: Borrowed from the early AIDS political advocacy movement and Act Up, actress Kristen Johnston cites “Silence = Death” as the best slogan to describe the urgency of addressing this public health crisis here and now.

So, What now?Screen shot 2014-04-02 at 10.58.16 PM

I went back to Facebook after the screening and created a community page: Empowering Addiction Recovery in NH. Please join.

It was my initial reaction to keep the momentum going and give people a place to discuss how to move forward, again harnessing the power of social media.

I have heard there were some in attendance interested in bringing a public screening of “The Anonymous People” to their city or town. Anyone can do that. Here is a link for more information at ManyFaces1Voice.org.

Contact your mayor, board of aldermen, town councilors, town administrators, public health officials, state reps, senators and congressmen. Demand that they address the need for treatment and recovery programs and funding. Ask how you can help.

Beyond that, you can reach out to the panelists and experts who supported the April 2 Saint Anselm event, and find out how you can join the conversation and make a difference here in New Hampshire.

Tym Rourke, NH Charitable Foundation (tr@nhcf.org)

Cheryl Wilkie, VP Farnum Center/Webster Place Recovery (cwilkie@eastersealsnh.org)

Lee O’Connor, Narcotics Anonymous Granite State area (loconnor621@gmail.com)

Jerry Hevern MD, family physician Suncook Family Health Center (ghevern@comcast.net)

Megan Shea, Family Willows Manger and Therapist (MShea@fitnh.org)

Eric Spofford, Founder, The Granite House Sober Living (ericspofford@granitehousesl.com)

View this VIDEO: Excerpt from “The Anonymous People” April 2 screening and panel discussion at Saint Anselm, via YouTube.recovery2