While thousands chase the dragon in Massachusetts, recovery specialists across the state are working furiously to outpace the state's deadly opioid addictionepidemic.
On Monday,hundreds of people in recovery and their supporters are expected to turn out for a citywide Recovery Month Celebration Day, marching from City Hall Plaza to the State House where policymakers, healthcare workers and former users will speak up about the dangerous and dark draw of drug addiction.
For Weymouth resident and recovering addict Patrick Cronin, the usual suspects codeine, vicodin and percoset have never held a candle to oxycontin. He popped his first Oxy at a party while a student at Suffolk University. The drug led him to heroin, and set in motion a relentless six-year cycle of drug abuse, recovery, and relapse.
“I never would have become a heroin addict if it weren't for Oxy,” said Cronin, now a program coordinator for Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery. "When Oxy blew up in the Boston area, no one had any idea what it was. I knew I immediately felt different, and I obsessed over it. It was very powerful."
Cronin said he overdosed once, and was saved when emergency responders administered Narcan.
The 35-year-old celebrates his 9th year of sobriety this week, though not all are so lucky. Each month hundreds turn out at candlelight vigils mourning those claimed by the overdose death toll.The most recent vigil was in Quincy on Thursday, in remembrance of a 25-year-old man who was set to begin his first year of law school.
But the future looks optimistic, according to Hilary Jacobs, director of the state’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services.
“There are lots of things happening really aggressively on this front,” said Jacobs. "Just having people talk about the fact that this is a problem in all of our communities is very important. We need to lift the veil on this problem."
In June, an Opioid Task Force recommended the state shine more light on treatment options and suggested the creation of regional centers to provide drop-in counseling and referral to treatment on demand.
The commission also called for tighter controls on opioid prescriptions, an issue Cronin believes is at the heart of the problem.
"The prescription monitoring just got out of control with doctors," Cronin said. "I think a lot of these pills are getting in the wrong hands. That's how I got mine; from someone who had a prescription but didn’t need it."
What most disturbs Cronin is how readily available the opiates are, and how nonchalant young people are experimenting with them.
"Kids are using them younger and younger. They're doing heroin like I would've tried marijuana when I was 18. That's frightening," he said.
Despite the alarming increase in drug use among teens and young adults, there are only four high schools in the state that cater specifically to students struggling to recover from substance abuse. Ostiguy High School in Downtown Crossing is one of them.
“I think there is definitely a need for more [recovery schools],” said Roger Oser, principal of Ostiguy High School, which describes itself as offering "a safe, sober learning environment for students who need help, and who are ready to commit to sobriety."
“We have a lot of young people identifying as having drug and alcohol issues. Once they decide to get clean and go back to their old environments with the same people and places they often end up doing the same things,” said Oser, adding that one of his students travels from Bourne to attend classes.
Cape Cod is far from renowned for its problem with drug abuse, as are most rural and suburban Massachusetts communities, but Cronin said people are starting to wake up to the pervasiveness of the problem in those areas.
"It seems like it wasn't until the wealthier communities started losing their kids that things started to change," said Cronin. "I don’t know if we’ll ever fix it completely but we’re on our way."