iBY GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
BELMONT — Community members of all ages packed the high school cafeteria Thursday night for an open and frank discussion about drugs, addiction and recovery.
It was the first meeting of the Belmont/Canterbury drug awareness coalition It Takes A Community. Modeled after similar area programs like Stand Up Laconia, the coalition seeks to bring together communities that are riven by drugs and the fallout felt by everyone whose lives they touch.
After watching a movie about the facelessness of addiction and recovery, "The Anonymous People" attendees ate some pizza and stayed for the panel discussion that followed.
With a panel of experts on hand, one of whom is in recovery, to answer questions, questions ranged from how many addicts sell drugs just to maintain their habit to the latest drugs, including Suboxone, to how long it takes to get into a recovery facility.
"Most of the addicts I deal with are dealers and stealers," said Dr. Paul Racicot who heads the emergency room at the Lakes Region General Hospital.
It Takes a Community coalition is a spinoff from the Belmont PTO that began its student-based program It Takes a Village three years ago. While the PTO has been doing drug awareness programs since it began It Takes a Village, the coalition incorporates elements from the PTO plus community members like Kelley Gaspa, who is the substance abuse coordinator for the Winnipesaukee Region at the Partnership for Public Health and Police Chief Mark Lewandoski.
One of the leaders of It Takes A Community is Darcy Ess, whose son Cameron died of a drug overdose in 2014, and she told the hushed crowd about his use of cigarettes and then marijuana in middle school, how he added alcohol to his choice drugs in high school and that it was when he had his wisdom teeth removed and was prescribed Percoset that caused the trigger in his brain to go toward opioids.
Ess has two sons, but said Cameron was the one whose brain reacted the way it did, leading him and her family into the dark hole of drug addiction. After a three-month stay in a drug facility, she said, he returned to Belmont but didn't get the support system he needed so he moved to another part of the state with her parents.
After graduation, she said, he did well for a while but she recalled him getting defensive about where he was going and what he was doing around the beginning of 2014. Three months later he was dead.
One of Cameron's friends, Josh Ross, told the audience that he is a recovering addict and has been sober since 2011. After telling the crowd that he was going to try not to get emotional, he recounted his story with drugs and recovery.
"I've done some really messed up things in my life but that's not what defines me," he said.
When asked what got him started, he said that his parents said he shouldn't and his friends at school said he wouldn't. He started with marijuana and alcohol and now realizes that something in his brain is triggered when he drinks.
He also said he was proud to be in the same room as K-9 Officer Evan Boulanger, who is a drug recognition expert with the department.
"He's probably arrested me six times," Ross said, to which Boulanger smiled and said he'd be proud to shake his hand.
Later in the meeting, Ross said that he remembered when Cameron got the Percoset because the two shared them. He said he remembered being at Cameron's funeral and having Ess look at him and ask "What are you doing?"
"Today, I can look Darcy in the eye," said Ross.
Also included in the panel was a Gilford man named Nate who is participating in Recovery Court, a program that began about three years ago by multiple Belknap County private and public entities, including Horizons Counseling Center, 4th Circuit Court Judge Jim Carroll, and other county and local agencies who have created an intense program with support for recovering drug addicts.
"I have a disease of more," said Nate, who said his pattern of addiction was very similar to that described by Ross and Ess. "I racked up four felonies in one month."
Noting that Recovery Court "saved his life," he said that now he is focused on where he is going, not where's he's been, and that he has reconnected with his family and real friends who really love him.
He said it was nice to "sit here with Officer Boulanger and not have him follow me into the parking lot."
At one point, the conversation turned to Suboxone, a controversial, but for some a viable method of staying off drugs until recovery and/or rehabilitation is available.
Racicot said that the general thinking around Suboxone is changing, and five years ago he was against "drug replacement therapy."
Corey Gately, a substance abuse counselor at LRGHealthcare said many physicians and counselors took a long time to accept narcotic replacement therapy but said now she had changed her mind.
Likening Suboxone with insulin, she said when someone learns they are diabetic, he or she given a new routine to follow and medicine to help.
"Suboxone give people a chance to get their lives together," Gately said, adding that a person can't just walk in a "get a script" but must work with behavioral health experts on their life habits as does a diabetic.
"It's more than just avoiding detox," said Horizon's Director Jacqui Abikoff. "Even after detox, (addicts') brains aren't capable of feeling joy."