2017-07-27 / Front Page

When the Opioid Crisis Hits Home

By James Merolla

“My brother was the last person you’d picture with a needle in his arm, and yet they were all dying as junkies. I wanted to understand why this was happening, so I quit my job as a legal journalist and began traveling around the country in the hopes that chronicling the experiences of other families affected by the trend would offer some answers. George, a funeral director in Brockton, was one of the first people I encountered. He told me the story about embalming his son as we sat in the receiving room of his funeral home, surrounded by the proverbial mementos of death: prayer cards, dried floral arrangements, a casket stuffed with billowy waves of satin. He choked up as he talked about Lance, and I choked up too, unable to maintain my reporter’s distance. It was my brother’s story all over again.”

Excerpt from “Generation Rx: A Story of Dope, Death and America’s Opiate Crisis”

Erin Marie Daly adored her little brother Pat, 10 years her junior. She doted on him when he was 10. She buried him when he was 20.

Daly, a former legal journalist, quit her beat to write “Generation Rx: A Story of Dope, Death and America’s Opiate Crisis,” which was published in 2014.

Daly will be at Emmanuel Church, 42 Dearborn St., on Wednesday, Aug. 2 to discuss the abuse of prescription drugs that are leading millions of young people to what seem to be the ravages of heroin addiction.

The award-winning journalist will read excerpts from her book, beginning at 7 p.m., offering a new perspective on what the prescription pill epidemic means to the communities some say it is killing.

She will discuss her research, spurred by Pat’s death from an overdose in 2009, her journey to uncover the truths about addiction, and will offer insights on policy, treatment and education in the face of this 21st-century plague.

“My best friend, Karen Sironen, is an active member of the Emmanuel Church community and passed along my information to Rev. Anita (Schell), who has had several parishioners affected by the epidemic, so that is how this visit came about,” Daly told Newport This Week.

“We need to have an open dialogue with our kids about the dangers of prescription drugs and how abuse of pills can lead to heroin. My message is one of compassion. When my brother was addicted to pills and later heroin, I considered myself a compassionate person, and yet I was completely uneducated when it came to his addiction.

“Because I didn’t understand it, and because I was scared, I often lashed out in anger at him for his actions or berated him for not being able to ‘just stop’ using drugs. I didn’t understand that he had a disease of the brain and that my request for him to just stop doing drugs was an unreasonable one.”

After her brother died, Daly learned about the disease. “Had I known more about what my brother was dealing with, I might have been able to treat him with more compassion,” she said. “This is what I hope others will gain by reading my book.”

Four out of five heroin users started out abusing pills, and nearly 100 people die every day in America from opioid overdoses, said Daly.

“This is not a small number, and it’s something we should be concerned about. If you or someone you know uses opioids (even taking legally prescribed pills for a legitimate medical condition), get trained in how to use the opioid overdose antidote Narcan, which has saved 26,000-plus lives,” she said. “It’s something I wish I would have known about when my brother was in active addiction. My greatest hope is that the book makes a difference.”

That is why Rev. Schell asked her to Newport.

“We have a moral obligation to be educated and make informed decisions about what we can do as individuals, families, friends and citizens in addressing this crisis,” Schell said. “Fear and ignorance immobilize us. Erin Marie Daly brings knowledge and understanding to this crisis that is affecting every citizen of our city and state. We are honored that she accepted our invitation to bring her personal story and compassion to our city.”

The crisis was addressed statewide in July, when Gov. Gina Raimondo hosted a conclave of the nation’s governors at the State House. The leading issue was the opioid crisis and implementing more effective ways of preventing and treating it.

“We have to start treating this as a disease, not a police matter,” Raimondo said last week. “We have to get these people to treatment.”

Raimondo signed an executive order to increase efforts to reduce “the alarming rate of deaths” due to opioid overdoses. She was joined by Richard Baum, acting director of the National Drug Control Policy, who was in Newport for the National Governors Association meeting.

Last year, deaths due to accidental drug overdoses in the state had increased by 16 percent, from 290 in 2015 to 336. Raimondo said her goal is to reduce such deaths by one-third by 2018.

The Aug. 2 event is free and open to the public.

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