Massachusetts author and activist Maureen Cavanagh sent the Enterprise a letter this week titled “An Open Letter To The Mother Of A Child Addicted To Heroin.” She timed the letter to coincide with the 28-page special supplement we are publishing this week on addiction: Portrait of Recovery.
The founder of the Magnolia New Beginnings nonprofit that assists families dealing with addiction, Ms. Cavanagh is well known for her book chronicling her daughter’s crippling heroin addiction, and nascent recovery, “If You Love Me: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Opioid Addiction.”
Her book, like her letter, is a poignant reminder that there is no “us” and “them” when it comes to addiction to alcohol or drugs. Addiction can—and does—strike any of us. The healthiest as well as the sick. The wealthy as well as the poor. The famous and the unknown. From the most highly educated to the illiterate. No one is too strong. No family is “too good” or too rich or too well heeled, too well educated or too … anything.
Addicts are sometimes people with troubled pasts or untreated mental or emotional problems or victims of unimaginable trauma. And they’re sometimes kids like Ms. Cavanagh’s daughter. Or doctors or teachers, priests or policemen … or newspaper editors. Associate editor J. Marshall Craig, who quarterbacked our addiction recovery supplement—which was the brainchild of other members of our staff in recovery—writes openly of struggling with addiction most of his adult life. In this life-and-death discussion there’s no room for platitudes. Just bold, plain facts to defeat the stigmas of addiction and all the misinformation and unhelpful ignorance out there.
Opioid overdoses are up in Upper Cape towns; and despite the broad availability of Narcan, which is able to stop an overdose in its tracks, deaths from overdose are also up—by a factor of 300 percent, in Falmouth, in the first half of this year. There is a need to celebrate our wins. Recovery is the good news in the midst of an addiction crisis that’s frustratingly bereft of positive trends.
Sober houses, for instance, work. They save lives by providing addicts with safe housing during critical post-treatment weeks and months integrating back into healthful society. You say you don’t want one on your street? In your neighborhood? Statistically, if there isn’t an addict in your own home, there’s likely one on your street.
Needle exchanges—more properly called syringe access programs—have been an unpopular and contentious topic in Falmouth. That is a shameful ignorance we need to solve.
There have been seven federally mandated studies in the United States since 1988 and every one of them concludes—absolutely—that needle exchanges save lives, save tens of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money by mitigating blood-borne diseases AND “create an opportunity for people to get the care and provide transition into treatment for people in the community.” That’s from Michael Botticelli, director of the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Syringe access is now proven to NOT increase crime, increase drug use or do anything but save lives. “Politics are tricky but the science is clear: needle exchanges work.” That was actually a headline in the New York Times three years ago, in a story about worldwide research conducted by the World Health Organization and the UN.
Addiction is now such a threat in the United States, so deadly, that it has lowered the country’s life expectancy.
In an interview, Ms. Cavanagh said, “The person can put in 110 percent (in treatment), but then they don’t have any place to go, or they don’t have a job afterward… Without that kind of support, the person can’t make it… There has to be a societal shift in how we talk about addiction.”
Addiction is in our back yards—if not closer. It’s time we came together to help those suffering instead of grabbing brooms and lifting the edge of the carpet every time it makes us uncomfortable or seems inconvenient.