Ever since one of my best friends from high school overdosed in 2009, I’ve been acutely aware of the opiate crisis gripping Rockland and the northeast in general.
When I take my kids for walks, we sometimes pass Sheri’s former house and I look at her old bedroom wishing somehow time travel was possible and I could go back and change the course of our lives through sheer will — although sheer will has never saved any addict I’ve known.
For awhile, I was headed down the bad road. I partook in the first wave of opiate resurgence in the mid-1990s before Oxycontin was on the scene and we had to
travel to run-down cities to buy our drugs instead of stopping by the local dealer’s place. Luckily, I managed to get my act together right after I turned 21. Sheri didn’t. And she paid the ultimate price for it, leaving behind her 3-year-old daughter, who has lived with Sheri’s parents ever since.
Since then, just in Rockland, with a population of about 17,000, I’ve heard about opiate-related deaths on an almost weekly basis. Sometimes they are in Rockland, like two brothers who both OD’d. Or the 21-year-old I used to babysit when he was just a toddler and lived across the street. Sometimes it’s in towns next to Rockland like Whitman where three people overdosed in a car parked in front of a convenience store. And sometimes it’s relatives of people from Rockland, who I can only guess overdosed due to their “sudden deaths,” the most widely-used euphemism for overdoses.
We are now at a point where the opiate crisis is finally being addressed by policy-makers. Governor Charlie Baker has convened a task force to deal with the opiate crisis. The Gloucester Police Department took the radical step of offering a hand-up to addicts instead of handcuffs. All of this points to a slow and gradual acceptance of addiction as truly a disease. The substance abuse-savvy have known this for years and long lamented the criminalization of a disease — the classic metaphor is: “Would we send an epileptic to prison if he had a seizure?” — but policy is starting to match the lexicon.
It will take much more than this to stem the rising tide of opiate abuse, but the seeds of change have been spread, even if they are still scattered far between.