Letters, June 12
Over the past decade, deaths caused by drug addiction in the Northeast have tripled and even more alarmingly, over the past year, the number of youth who have died from opiate overdose has reached epidemic proportions.
On June 2, 2014, Maine Attorney General, Janet Mills, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner distributed the following statistics in a press release:
—176 drug-induced deaths occurred in Maine in 2013, an increase of 13 deaths over 2012.
—105 of these deaths were attributable to pharmaceutical opioids and 34 were attributable to heroin
—Drug-induced deaths have been consistently high over the last 13 years and now exceed the number of deaths due to crashes on Maine’s highways
Mills stated: “Maine medical and law enforcement communities have made a concerted effort to reduce access to opioids in Maine; however the statistics show there is still a major addiction problem in our state. Law enforcement, prosecutors, the medical community and educators must work in concert to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place.”
Until November 16, 1991, I was an addict for alcohol — that’s right, an addict. Alcohol is a depressant drug; it slows down vital functions resulting in slurred speech, unsteady movement, disturbed perceptions and an inability to react quickly. I liked those symptoms. I liked how alcohol changed my mood, made me sociable and most importantly how it brought relief from my ongoing fear of life. Alcohol took precedence over everything, and I mean everything.
Now, as a person in recovery who was guided and supported toward an unmerited gift of sobriety, I am beyond despair at the current loss of life due to untreated addiction in our community. I share my personal story to demonstrate I am fearless to expose my recovery. I believe others in recovery are ready to do the same.
There are currently 23 million sober, clean, people in recovery in the United States. Imagine this force for good in our midst. Even if only a few people in recovery in Waldo County stepped forward to be counted, to share their success in recovery, can you envision the message of hope those in recovery could deliver to the sick and suffering right here, right now? That is recovery in action, a visible sign of hope, given freely to those who have lost their way.
For the record, anonymity does not equal secrecy; it simply means, “AA members may disclose their identity as recovered alcoholics, giving radio, television and internet interviews, without violating the Traditions—so long as their AA membership is not revealed,” according to page 11 of "General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous."
Our immediate problem is the current addiction climate moves fast and people with opiate addiction die quickly. They do not find their way to church basements in time for the miracle to happen. For an alcoholic, it may be years, even decades before they succumb from alcoholism. Not so with opiate addiction — our youth move from prescription opiates, to heroin addiction in a matter of months, weeks or even days.
In the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous miracles happen. These miracles happen not because of anonymity, they happen because of the spirit of the people, their belief in a way out that together they can do, what alone, they cannot. In my recovery experience, I found there was nothing special about me. I just happened to know someone I trusted, who had traveled the road before me, and who was willing to take me along. Not everyone has this opportunity, not everyone receives this message.
We hear people say, "Some people do not want help.” I disagree. Maybe there are those who don’t know they need help, or those who are afraid to ask for help but everyone needs help to overcome substance use addiction. This is a disease, which is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome without help.
When addiction is in place, the sufferer tells themselves lies, they believe the lies, they forget there is a reason to live, and they forget life is what they make it, always has been and always will be. This despondency, this darkness, is the benchmark of the disease of addiction and this fact is proven time and time again by the countless number of people who die because they forgot the reason to live.
What’s the answer? Is it time to throw open the doors? Can we stand idly by with the answer we have found which solves all our problems while people die? For some of us the answer is spiritual, for others a practical application of principles and values, and still others rational recovery in all its forms has proven to be a way out.
In Waldo County a conversation has began. Recently, more than 200 people viewed the film "Hungry Heart," which was promoted by Seaport Community Health Center, at the Colonial Theatre in Belfast. This moving documentary captures a rural doctor’s dilemma (not unlike the doctors in Waldo County) as he tries his best to deal with the growing number of opiate addicted people who come to him for help. Since the film was shown, two groups have formed to continue the conversation. The groups will tackle the issue from two directions: one will focus on prevention and intervention; the other aims to develop a recovery support network. Both groups need caring, interested and committed people in their ranks. The enemy has a foothold and it will take an army to win the war. This is a war we can all support, as the enemy lives among us, taking victims one by one.
As a community we must join together to address this menace in our midst. Most will agree these are desperate times which call for desperate measures. In Waldo County, we have begun the fight; however we will need more recovery warriors to win the battle.
There are community meetings scheduled in the month of June. The Waldo County Drug Task Force, headed by Chief of Police Michael McFadden, and the Anti-Drug Coalition, with Patrick Walsh from Broadreach and Healthy Waldo County, will lead the troops forward. Please check your local newspaper and look for postings in the community for the next meeting time and place. We desperately need your help. You are our most important resource.
New leadership needed to improve health care options for Mainers
Many people in our community, despite recent changes in the healthcare laws, are still without health coverage. I find this unacceptable in a "civilized" society. Most other modern industrial countries have universal health care. My hope is that someday this type of equal treatment will be available to all our citizens, not just those who can pay for it.
Until then we have to make do with what we have. I am furious that our governor and my present State Senator, Mike Thibedeau, did not support expanding MaineCare. We need a change in leadership. Jonathan Fulford is running for State Senate. On this issue, as well as others, he gets my vote. Jonathan definitely supports universal healthcare, but under the current system he is strongly in favor of accepting federal dollars for medicaid expansion to cover more Mainers. Expanding MaineCare would not only cover nearly 70,000 people living at or near the poverty line (including 3,000 veterans), it would also add jobs and stimulate the economy.
I work as a mental health provider and see people with many challenges, most whom are courageous and try hard to take good care of themselves. There are many obstacles in our country to good health and well being if you are poor. You don't go to the doctor for routine, preventative care because of the expense. You don't get good education about self care. You can't afford medications. One way to help our community be physically and mentally healthy is through accessible low- or no-cost health insurance.
Please vote for Jonathan Fulford in this next November election.
Remembering my Dad, Jefferson Eldridge, on Father’s Day
Dad was a large man, 6 feet tall. That must be where my kids got it. He was never ugly to us kids but was very stern. We just knew what he wanted when we were working with him, whether it was a staple for the fence, a hammer, or whatever. He never touched one of us kids, but only once he spanked my sister Shirley with one whack. (She wasn’t much for barn chores.) Dad wanted her to help me lug a pail of grain to the hen house, so he would put her hand on with mind, and she would let go. Finally he put her hand on the pail so she knew he meant it. But after he went back in the barn she turned and stuck out her tongue, which was the wrong thing to do. He was looking. One slap and she helped me.
If Dad had work to do that he needed help with, I was allowed to stay home from school to gather sap, cut see potatoes, or whatever needed to be done. Dad was a cattle dealer so we loaded and unloaded my cow, pigs, and calves. Sunday nights many times I took cattle and calves to Burnham to put on the train for Boston. At first I didn’t have a license.
Dad loved to help people out. I remember we would have extra garden stuff and mum would call people to come and pick it. Very seldom they would come. So my dad would go with his cane to pick beans, cukes, and other veggies, and take them to people.
I could go on and on about my Dad. He just loved all his 10 grandkids.
Have a nice Father’s Day. Enjoy him; he won’t be here forever.