Mini-conference on the Opiod Crisis on the Cape
The Justice Committee, which includes members of The Federated Church and of the Am HaYam Havurah, held a mini-conference on opioid addiction at the church on May 5th.
About 60 people gathered to watch the HBO documentary Heroin: Cape Cod, USA and participate in a discussion afterward.
Cape resident and co-producer Lise Balk King introduced the movie, explaining that the movie makers simply followed eight young addicts on the Cape and went where their stories led them – which was down some very dark alleys indeed. The 76-minute movie seemed to last for hours as we watched harrowing scenes of attractive, articulate young men and women shooting heroin into their arms, hands, and necks and then talking about their addiction to the camera. One beautiful young woman said that the first time she used heroin “I knew I had met the love of my life.” On-screen notices would periodically tell us that the person we were watching (including the beautiful young woman) died of an overdose or disappeared a week or a month after the interview. Some of the young addicts observed that when they came out of treatment, their former addict friends shunned them, so they felt isolated; clearly this made them vulnerable to a relapse.
Among the key points made by the movie: Cape Cod has the highest rate of deaths from drug overdose of any county in Massachusetts; 80% of heroin users start out taking pain pills, often after an accident or injury; 85% of crime on Cape Cod is reckoned to be drug-related.
After the movie, six panel members spoke briefly and then answered questions. Tom Conrad, the Superintendent of Nauset schools, spoke emotionally about the search to find successful programs to deal with middle and high school students in trouble and to work with their parents. He warned that for kids “Idle time is dangerous time” and stressed the importance of keeping kids busy.
Paul Bender, a Gosnold program manager in Orleans, said Gosnold has counselors in nine Cape schools now, as well as in senior centers (youths aren’t the only ones suffering from addiction on the Cape) and five primary care centers. Gosnold also sponsors six family support groups – the closest one is at the Harwich police station.
Two middle-aged men, sober and “clean” for more than 25 years, described their addictions as spiritual, emotional, and physical diseases. They were saved by the 12-step program.
Linda Cubellis is co-facilitator of Parents Supporting Parents, which works with the parents of young addicts. She stressed that parents and teachers need to be trained to spot the signs of drug use. Tom Conrad interjected that the Nauset schools have a new course for teachers on spotting signs of trauma.
Lise Balk King added, as an update to the movie, that kids are now going directly to heroin and fentanyl (a synthetic opioid 40 to 50 times more potent than pure heroin) because pain pills are harder to find and more expensive.
Joan Peters Gilmartin said the Open Doorway of Cape Cod offers free detox programs to people who can’t pay – a unique service on the Lower/Outer Cape.
Tom Conrad said in conclusion that it was important for schools to open up facilities at convenient times for counseling to take place closer to homes; busy families don’t have time to go to Hyannis for meetings.