By Richard Campbell
The Massachusetts State of Awareness Day which is part of the International Awareness Movement on the prevention and cure for addictions held a passionate public outreach event this past Saturday August 31 at the Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common. The day, which was proclaimed by Governor Charlie Baker, hosted multiple addiction and recovery organizations. The event, supported by Wahl Street Productions, (Mark and James Wahlberg) who are behind the film: The Circle of Addiction: A Different Kind of Tears, was attended by many families who showed placards and T-shirts in memory of their loved ones. The International Awareness Day originated in Melbourne Australia in 2001 and has grown along with the epidemic that it hopes to end. The speakers were predominately activists who came to alternatively warn people about the ongoing opioid crisis-to hold in remembrance family members and friends who have died as a result of addiction.
With tables set up to answer questions and provide resources, a coterie of 300 or so people showed up for an event which seemed to lack sufficiently large advance promotion given the size of the problem in our state. The gruesome statistics of this national epidemic that is disproportionately found in New England are shocking enough to jolt one into attention, (four out of five opioid addicts begin their addiction with prescription medications, there were over 60,000 deaths due to opioids in 2016), and more people have died from the epidemic than were killed in the Vietnam War.
But the heart felt stories of how families have suffered from premature death of their children brought the deep sorrow into focus. Dina Favreau from Billerica who founded “Heroin is Killing My Town” with Billy Pfaff was the first speaker in the event and related the current struggles she has had with addiction recovery, including multiple deaths in her family. Jason Hyland author of “Stop Thinking Like That,” who acknowledged he was a writer in full recovery, spoke about how impossible his quest seemed a year ago, encouraged people to not give up on themselves or their dreams. John and Stephani Greene, creators of the Evan Foundation, (2014) named for their son who died of an overdose, described the heart wrenching loss of their nineteen-year-old son and its after effects. Their commitment to “No First Time”, their outreach to youth considering drugs is one of many organizations founded to also educate parents about the warning signs in order to save lives.
Maureen Cavanagh, Executive Director of “Above the Noise Foundation” and author of “If You Loved Me” related the story of her daughter telling her that “if you really loved me you would kill me.” She announced her foundation will hold a Recovery Fest at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on September 19th headlined with a performance by nationally known rapper Macklemore (Ben Hammond Haggerty) who struggled with addiction and skyped in a message asking people to come to the concert. Matt Ganem who lived in South Boston, a recovering heroin and OxyContin addict is now the Outreach Coordinator of “Wicked Sober” and bills himself as a Poet in Recovery, also gave a spirited rap about the epidemic and related his personal story. His book of poems “The Shadow of an Addict” was published in 2012.
All the while that speakers were coming to the podium, an army of addiction and recovery professionals manned their tables handing out information and bling in an attempt to reach out to the community and raise awareness, and here I conclude with a brief sampling. RAW New England, (newenglandraw.com) located in Concord, New Hampshire was on hand promoting their clinically diverse approach that includes experimental therapies, 12 step immersion, Buddhist psychology, and the Alpha Series of recovery. Woburn Wellness (woburnwellness.com) that offers day treatment and an intensive outpatient program which includes aftercare, life skills, nutritional plans, occupational assistance, and therapeutic family reintegration, had a table as well. Gosnold (gosnold.org) Treatment and Recovery from Falmouth offered information on their extensive programs from treatment, prevention, to residential programs housed in multiple locations.
The Gavin Foundation of South Boston (https://www.gavinfoundation.org/) had a table and announced their up and coming Comedy Night fundraiser at IBEW Hall in Dorchester September 14th. MOAR Massachusetts Organization for Addiction and Recovery was on hand to promote their services and their Recovery Month Celebration kicking off on City Hall Plaza on September 17. Their resources page is extensive at http://www.moar-recovery.org/resources. The Massachusetts Medical Society which is advocating for SIF’s or supervised injection facilities and reduction of harm to reduce deaths from the opioid epidemic advertised SIF successes in other states and cities. We are ultimately very lucky to have such tireless advocates for change in our midst, as the proportions of the epidemic are very hard to understand. With the arrival of Fentanyl those who follow this crisis are expecting even more dire statistics this coming year. For more detailed scientific and medical information see: https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/recovery. Needless to say it was a well organized event that had a powerful message, but a somber end to the summer season.