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SOUTH END — “Charlie” really is a good guy. His friends defend him, saying he is sick. And he really is. He just doesn’t realize it. “Charlie” is dealing with one of the biggest health problems in America — addiction.
"Charlie" was only one of those present May 25 at Catholic Charities' El Centro del Cardenal in the South End for "No Drug Day," designed to help spread the word about the value of prevention, treatment and recovery of alcohol addiction and substance abuse. Students and staff members from El Centro del Cardenal as well as members of the community were in attendance to discuss drug and alcohol abuse, share personal experiences, talk about recovery and discuss how the city of Boston and members of the South End community can respond to the problem of substance abuse. "No Drug Day" was sponsored by the South End No Drug Coalition.
"Charlie" is a member of The Improbable Players, an "improbable" group of professional actors, recovering alcoholics and addicts, who formed a touring theater company with the goal of spreading the word of hope and recovery from substance abuse. Players Brian and Chris introduced the audience to "Charlie" and presented a series of vignettes about life under the influence and how addiction affects every stage of life.
Those in attendance received general information about heroin and OxyContin, drugs that have a high percentage of use across the country, especially in Boston. A recent study released by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America states that an increasing number of teenagers are abusing prescription and over-the-counter medications. The report also shows that one-in-10 teenagers admit to abusing OxyContin, a controlled-release pain reliever available by prescription. Although teens are less likely to use illicit drugs like heroin, its abuse remains at a high level.
"In the last two years there has been an 80 percent increase in hospitalizations resulting from the use of OxyContin and heroin just in Boston," said Diego Martinucci, a psychiatrist from Argentina working as a bilingual counselor at El Centro del Cardenal. "Moreover, heroin is becoming purer and cheaper, so more people are getting addicted to it. A survey from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health indicates that 16 percent of eighth graders say that heroin is easy to obtain. That's something I think the public should know."
Although substance abuse remains high, the state continues to make several cuts in treatment. According to John Auerbach, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, the state has lost half of its detoxification beds despite the fact that three years ago there were not enough beds for those needing services. An increased number of beds is not the only thing needed. A variety of programs is also necessary, as proper treatment varies from person to person.
Dana Moulton shared his story of heroin abuse and how he became clean. He said he knew doing the drug was wrong; he wanted to change his ways but was afraid. He said he tried every treatment modality there was in order to get his life back on track. Finally, a stay at a methadone clinic helped him. Moulton has been clean for 10 years.
"Massachusetts has the worst rate of OxyContin and heroin use in the country, so we have to make recovery important," said Maryanne Frangules, executive director of the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR). She encouraged students to speak up and advocate for more recovery programs and to get involved in the coalition.
Auerbach suggested ways to increase the movement toward prevention as well as treatment and recovery. “Begin on a personal level by being responsible for yourself and to help, not blame, friends in need,” he said. “Secondly, work on a community level — with family and friends to find support services. And finally, join a coalition like this one.” He said currently there are seven coalitions throughout the city, which started more than one year ago. Seven more coalitions will form soon.
The South End No Drug Coalition includes El Centro del Cardenal, MOAR, the Harbor Light Center, the Latin American Health Institute and Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion (Puerto Rican Tenants in Action). The coalition’s primary goal is to raise awareness on drug prevention throughout the South End.