Close to 200 people filed into the Falmouth High School auditorium Monday night for a community forum on opiate addiction. It was an emotional night in which victims of the opiate epidemic shared their grief and concerns and specialists in the field shared their knowledge.
“People believe that an addict is some urban poor person and that it is not your grandson, your son, your nephew, your child. The real face of addiction has changed,” said the mother of Cory D. Gilmartin to the full auditorium. Mr. Gilmartin died in February in Falmouth from a heroin overdose. His mother chose not to give her name when she addressed the audience.
“This is us. It is all of us. It is people who are young, people that are old, people of all persuasions and economic backgrounds,” she said.
The night began with brief statements from a panel of specialists including Raymond V. Tamasi, chief executive officer and president of Gosnold on Cape Cod; Kristoph H. Pydynkowski, supervisor of the recovery coaching program at Gosnold; Dr. Michael Bihari of the Falmouth Prevention Partnership; District Attorney Michael D. O’Keefe; Barnstable County Sheriff James M. Cummings; and Dr. Gary Simpson, coordinator of psychological services for Falmouth Public Schools before a question-and-answer period with the audience. Falmouth Police Chief Edward A. Dunne served as moderator.
Falmouth Prevention Partnership organized the forum in the aftermath of at least 12 overdoses in Falmouth in the last four months, two of which were fatal.
Ms. Gilmartin’s remarks came after the panel spoke. “This is a community problem that leads to increased crime in our town from thefts to break-ins, to the rise of hepatitis C rates on Cape Cod,” she said. “It leads to the complete cannibalism of our families because these addicts eat their families whole. This is a community problem.”
Ms. Gilmartin said that she left Falmouth to live in Truro after the death of her son and that Falmouth has turned into a place of pain for her.
Prevention Is Key To Stopping The Drug Epidemic
Others that spoke in the audience included high school students, pharmacists, mothers concerned for their children, and recovering heroin addicts, some hopeful of recovery and others distraught with the lack of headway made in the region.
Prevention and early intervention, Mr. Tamasi said, is key to ending the epidemic. “As long as the focus is on finding someone a bed, we will always be talking about emergency treatment for a chronic illness,” Mr. Tamasi said. “We need to intervene earlier on or the discussion will continue to be about finding beds. We need to develop and invest in programs that keep people from getting into conditions that require emergency care.”
He said that Gosnold officials have begun prevention and early intervention programs and have put councilors in schools across the Cape.
He also said that patients leaving detoxification centers and other programs need better out-patient care. Over 80 percent of patients in a detoxification program have been there before and 50 percent have been five times or more, he said.
He added there is very little funding for research and new approaches to care. “Research dollars for addiction are practically nil,” he said. “For a public health problem that effects 40 percent of the American population, this is unacceptable.” He urged the audience to keep the pressure on legislative officials and to keep the discussions like the one on Monday night going.
Mr. O’Keefe said that interdiction is one solution to the epidemic while the others are prevention, education and treatment. He said that there are still the same number of drug addicts since the beginning of the “War on Drugs.” “What does that tell you?” he asked the audience. “The war on drugs is a failure.”
He said that the amount of money spent on interdiction is more than the funds for prevention and treatment. “We need to change that,” he said. He added that after police arrest one dealer, another one will take their place.
Richard Tarter, a father of three and a recovering heroin addict, spoke from the audience about the need to teach children the truth about addiction. He has been clean from heroin for three years and now works at the Miller House in Woods Hole, an affiliate of Gosnold.
Since his time at the Miller House he said that he spoke with a 12-year-old heroin addict in New York. Mr. Tarter said that the child had lost both of his arms due to shooting heroin intravenously. The child told him that he was angry that his parents told him a lie. The bogeyman is real and his parents told him otherwise, Mr. Tarter said. The bogeyman was addiction, the child told him.
“Tell your kids the truth,” Mr. Tarter repeated the audience several times. “My kids don’t do drugs. I told them if they don’t start they won’t have to stop.” His own father, who struggled with addiction, told him to “just say no. That’s it,” Mr. Tartar said.
Milan Friedman, a sophomore at Mashpee High School, encouraged the community to teach youth through hands-on experience instead of just talking to them. She saw her classmates scoff when councilors talked about drug addiction. Last summer she visited a place of refuge for heroin and crack addicts. The experienced made a lasting impression on her, she said. “I think hands-on stuff like that is more powerful. Just talking to us, we don’t process it as much.”
Eileen Putnam, a Sandwich parent, said that she is concerned for her country, for the state, for the town and for her family in the face of addiction. She grew up with a family with alcoholics and she talked about the importance of talking to children. She said that she thought she was unpopular with her children’s friends because she often spoke out against drugs. She said that her children told her, “Mom, they think you are the bomb because you are real,” she said. “Lets start being real with our kids.”
She said that the opportunity to gather and talk about addiction was a rarity and encouraged the discussion to continue.
Chief Dunne said that this would not be the last such event and that there was already discussion for hosting a similar event in the fall.
Another former addict, a Mashpee resident who referred to herself as Alexandra, said that she was thankful for her time at Gosnold in Cataumet. She became an addict at 23 after she married and had kids. “I threw it all away for one pill,” she said. “I didn’t know any better.” She said that she wished more work could be done on prevention.