Heroin use has been called an epidemic on Cape Cod and the rest of New England. There have been reports of increases in overdoses, reports that younger adults are using heroin and that the powerful drug has become easier to find and is cheaper than other opiates.
Police have reported nine overdoses in Falmouth, including one death, since the beginning of the year. In Massachusetts, 185 people have died due to heroin overdoses in the last four months, reported by The Boston Globe this week, and that did not include the cities of Boston, Worcester or Springfield.
But not all is hopeless. There are possibilities for full recovery and a return to normal life for former users.
That is a message from the corporate offices of Gosnold on Cape Cod.
“For every 185 people that overdose, I know 185 people that are 185 days clean, that have 185 reasons to stay clean,” Kristoph H. Pydynkowski, supervisor of the recovery coaching program at Gosnold said. “I know a lot of people who are young, 22 to 25, who are going back to college, who are good fathers, who are carrying 4.0 grade averages, who are going to law school. Recovery is there.”
Mr. Pydynkowski is a face of that hope. He has worked at Gosnold since 2007 and is himself a former user of heroin. He is in recovery.
“Nine overdoses in two months is unprecedented,” Raymond V. Tamasi, the chief executive officer and president of Gosnold, said. “I don’t remember anything like that.”Mr. Pydynkowski made his comments during an interview at a Gosnold office near Falmouth Hospital in which executives from the regional clinic shed light on the recent increase in overdoses and the public awareness of heroin use.
Besides this increase in overdoses, employees at Gosnold are seeing younger adults use heroin with needles before using anything else, “a demystification of the needle,” as Mr. Tamasi said. Heroin with a needle has a more profound and deadly effect compared to sniffing or than prescription pills that many users begin with.
Heroin: The Drug of Choice
“Kids come here for detox and they say they’ve been using heroin, but using nothing beforehand,” Gosnold’s director of nursing, Margaret Shapiro, said. “The saddest thing, I see kids in their early 20s that already have hepatitis C. We’ve always had people that just went straight to heroin, but they have gotten younger. They look like kids.” They have seen 18- and 19-year-olds.
Another change is that heroin is used across all socio-economic spectrums, Mr. Tamasi said. And with that comes an increase in awareness, he said. “We have a different segment of the population that is crying out and it might be a segment that has more of a voice, that has begun to stir the pot. You are seeing some political will coming out.”
“This recent attention,” Mr. Tamasi said, “scares people to make them think that there is nothing they can do... But there are people that are in recovery, there are people that get better, and there are ways to deal with this.”
Mr. Pydynkowski is a face of that hope. He has worked at Gosnold since 2007 and is himself a former user of heroin. He is in recovery. He said that he had been to 40 to 45 different detox centers before getting help from Gosnold.
“I remember coming to this facility. I had a shoe lace for a belt. I had marks up and down my arms and I looked like Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away’,” Mr. Pydynkowski said. “Everything I held dear went to the wayside. I suffered for a long time, I thought I had a moral deficiency, I failed out of colleges, I disconnected from my family. But I remember sitting in the Gosnold admissions office and a guy came out in a suit and shook my hand and slapped me on the shoulder and he said ‘you are going to be all right.’ I couldn’t believe he shook my hand. It really saved my life.”
That acknowledgment of respect, Mr. Tamasi said, is one focus of the Gosnold treatment.
“The self-loathing a patient has when they get here is pretty severe. They’ve adopted almost all of society’s beliefs for who they are as a spineless, lifeless, no good junkie,” Mr. Tamasi said. “The person who has the illness believes that. One thing we do, and it’s very important, is everything we can do to dispel that self image. Sometimes it isn’t advanced therapy. Sometimes it can be the housekeepers coming in and changing their bed.”
As an example of this practice, Mr. Tamasi told how he and others took patients from the Emerson House and the Miller House, two sober houses that are part of Gosnold, to a symphony. All of them dressed up for the occasion in formal attire and sat with the rest of the audience. “One of the most telling parts of the night was that one lady from the Emerson House said, ‘Do you believe this? I’m a drug addict and I’m with all these people’.”
Stigma and Self-Loathing
On top of the stigma society puts on drug addiction, the addiction itself and the power of the drug can cause self-loathing.
Mr. Pydynkowski said that he watched his mother and father work two jobs. He said he started to steal from them to support the craving of his addiction. “I felt like I was dying,” he said, unless he could get a fix. “There’s a lot that contributes to guilt and shame,” he said, and hurting his family like that added to society’s stigma.
Mr. Pydynkowski grew up in an adopted family. His biological mother died of a heroin overdose. He has what he called a “genetic pre-disposition to substance abuse.”
“I had a caring, adopted family growing up. I was a real adjusted kid. I was an all-American athlete,” he said. “When I did drugs it was more to fit in, but once the train leaves the station there is no going back and that was my experience.” He said that society reaffirmed and made him feel like something was wrong with him. “I felt like people would say, ‘look at this junky’.”
At Gosnold, he said, while spending time in detox and the Miller House, he remembers housekeepers helping him out of bed, and dietitians asking him if he needed more food. “Every person here helped out.”
Mr. Pydynkowski now works in a new outpatient program.
“We were seeing people who did real well in an inpatient setting, but when they left they had a hard time,” he said. The new program helps them stay clean and to readjust to life. “You’re asking this young person to make a comprehensive change in 30 days,” a recovery from “the most powerful drug.” With the new program, Mr. Pydynkowski does activities with patients who have recently left the inpatient program, playing basketball or fishing and other activities.
“Reading these articles lately,” such as the 185 deaths reported in the Globe, “I wish they would tell more of the positive side,” he said. “I know tons of young people who are getting healthy, reuniting with their families and going back to college and being the kids they were before they started shooting heroin or popping pills.”