'Heroin doesn't discriminate based on your family and IQ,' Lowell Opiate Task Force
LOWELL — Georgy Lent did not grow up in a broken family.
She was raised in one of the wealthiest towns in the state and attended one of the most respected colleges in the area.
But after stealing Percocets from her parents' cabinets, she was hooked. Eventually the pills were not strong enough, so she moved on to heroin. As a senior at Boston College, she dropped out because the heroin "brought me to my knees."
Lent has an all-too familiar story, as the opiate epidemic worsens in the region.
"Heroin doesn't discriminate based on your family background and IQ levels," said Lent, 33, speaking at the Lowell Opioid Task Force forum on Thursday. "I never thought it would happen to me.
When I took DARE, I thought, 'Who would be dumb enough to use those drugs?'
"Every community is in the midst of this epidemic," added Lent, who grew up in Westwood. "There's no such thing as being safe, as I found out."
Lent was one of six recovering opiate addicts to speak at Lowell General Hospital on Thursday.
The forum -- called, "Crafting a Solution from the Inside: A Public Policy Dialogue Forum" -- gave the task force insight into how these individuals survived their addictions.
They stressed that there must be a heavier emphasis on: treatment, additional beds in the recovery centers, and for doctors to stop over-prescribing pills.
"It's usually from the outside looking in to these problems, but today was an opportunity to get a handle on what's been successful," said Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan. "I'm so grateful to all of these folks who agreed to talk about their own journey with opiates.
"We heard compelling stories about overdosing and about coming very close to not being with us today," Ryan added. "It made you realize how valuable treatment is and how much we have to learn from people who have been down this road. We know we have so many more people who need treatment."
Despite aggressive steps to combat the opiate crisis -- a new Lowell Drug Court, distribution of the life-saving drug Narcan, and more than $170,000 spent on prevention efforts -- numbers show the problem has only grown worse in Middlesex County.
Last year, the county had 103 deaths attributed to heroin. As of Aug. 28 of this year, that number stood at 99. Those statistics show officials that the county is well on track to exceed heroin-related deaths from 2014.
"I was trying to overdose because the pain was so severe," said Kerrie Ann, speaking at the forum on Thursday. "I called specific dealers because I knew it would relieve the pain. I wanted to find that dealer.
"But the (recovery) program I went on treated me like a person, not like a case number," she added.
Jared, another speaker at the forum, said the people around him kept him accountable.
They showed him it was possible to return as a healthy member of society.
"We cannot arrest ourselves out of this epidemic," Jared said.
When Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor asked the six speakers how officials should prevent others from becoming addicts, Jared emphasized that scare tactics in school do not work.
"The DARE program clearly doesn't work," Jared said. "Recovery high school programs are good, to get students recovered early. Schools should also bring in addicts to show them where this path will take them."
Billy, another speaker, said collaboration with others was key.
"People mentored me, and I had this connection with people like me," Billy said. "I saw how people like me could be successful in their recovery."
While Lent dropped out from Boston College her senior year, she's now been clean for seven years. Like Billy, she said treatment worked because she saw others "finding themselves again."
She saw how their lives were changing for the better, and it encouraged her to change.
"I'm excited these conversations are happening," said Lent, program director at Boston's Granada House, a treatment center. "It has been 'us against them' for a long time. Change won't happen overnight, but it can over the long term if we work together."
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