Crisis conversation: Opiate use rips apart seams of society, family

 

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

RAYMOND — Having already taken his last breath, the young man laid face down on a Portland sidewalk with a heroin needle still stuck in his arm.

This young man had three years of staying clean under his belt, and a bright future on the horizon. Excelling in baseball, he had just received a sports scholarship to the University of Southern Maine.

Heroin had stolen the life of another Mainer, leaving behind another set of parents to bury a child.

Cumberland County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Schnupp conveyed that gut-wrenching story from the chapter of a drug addiction crisis that has been hitting too close to home. Often the heroin causing the overdose deaths is mixed with fentanyl, making it 30 to 50 times more potent.

Parishioners at Lake Region Baptist Church hosted an opioid crisis conversation, inviting Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce and some of his staff to join the discussion in the church basement on Wednesday evening.

It seems no one is immune to the impacts of heroin addiction, Joyce said.

That truth became evident when a woman attending the talk said her son was a heroin addict who had been living at home. She had not heard from him for two weeks; he was homeless and possibly using, she said.

“There are people in our community who are affected by drug addiction,” Joyce said.

“Even police officers have children on heroin. We have had to revive police officers’ children who have overdosed.”

For some people, the addiction begins at the doctor’s office with a prescription to opiate-based pain killers. For others, it is peer pressure or the pursuit of a better high that leads them to the needle.

“Once they use, it rewires the brain,” Joyce said, referring to the addiction as a drug-use disease.

While legislation is one method to fight the war against the heroin epidemic, changing the public’s mindset about the people who are heroin addicts might be a tougher battle, Joyce said.

The general public is more likely to address the problem of the mosquito borne Zika virus than the problem of heroin robbing the life – or the quality of life – of human beings in their communities, he said.

“There are people who have the mindset of ‘You made your bed, lay in it,’ ” he said.

One of the problems for Mainers trying to get clean is that statewide there are not enough beds available at detox centers.

This year, Joyce has spent time with Augusta lawmakers in an attempt to pass meaningful legislation. Most of the money was funneled toward more law enforcement, which is important, but more needs to be done for recovering addicts, too.

“A lot of people are locked up because of drug use. Eighty percent, or about 500, of the people in the Cumberland County Jail have drug-use disorders and mental illness issues,” he said.

In fact, at any given time, there are at least 30 individuals going through detox behind bars. Those are the people who deserve compassion, he said.

It is the dealers who warrant jail time, he said.

“The people poisoning our communities are selling drugs. They poison our neighborhoods. The dealers — those I have beds for at the Cumberland County Jail. But, the users — we have got to change that,” Joyce said.

“A doctor said if we set up a place for drug users, it would cost $50 a day to get them clean. It costs $100 a day to keep them in jail,” he said.

Recently, a Portland-based TV news crew did a story on inmates and drug use. Joyce was present while inmates were being interviewed.

Joyce conveyed the story of one young man who had been using opiates for 10 years. The love of this man’s life was heroin. At first, the drug made him feel like a hero. At the time of the interview, the man said he finally felt safe in the confines of jail.

“That is how parents feel: Safe when their kid is in jail because they are not using,” a woman said.

It is a sad state of affairs when someone has to go to jail to feel safe, Joyce said.

For many addicts, especially those without health insurance, the recovery services are slim.

One of the questions the people at Lake Region Baptist Church was: How can community members help?

Joyce advised people to write letters or e-mails or talk to local representatives in Augusta about earmarking more money for recovery. Working with the medical community and getting doctors to rethink pain pill prescriptions was another piece of advice.

Another recommendation was to attend al-anon or narcotics anonymous meetings, or to start a new chapter in the church.

“Once the circles join, people get stronger,” Deputy Schnupp said.

One resource is www.teenchallengeusa.com. This organization helps both adults and teens with addiction issues. The phone number is 855-END-ADDICTION.

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