Getting a Grip on Heroin Addiction

Photo courtesy Matthew Ganem.

Photo courtesy Matthew Ganem.

By Alex Schley

At age 19, Matthew Ganem fell into a two-year nightmare of heroin addiction, leading him in and out of jail. He said he lost everything.

“I thought I was going to die a heroin addict,” said Ganem, a father of two.

Like many addicts, Ganem didn’t see a way out. Because he had little assistance, there were few opportunities to break free.

“If you talked to my mother or father, they were ashamed of it,” said Ganem, recounting the difficulties many addicts face.

Nearly a decade later, he is nine years sober. And now, he is working to help fellow addicts recover from their addiction – and erase the stigma it carries.

Ganem is part of a growing movement to confront the heroin epidemic head on.

Three months ago, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh created the Office of Recovery Services, which will focus specifically on addiction and recovery. Walsh has close ties to the epidemic, having lost several close friends to addiction, and having fought his own battle with alcoholism.

He said in an interview that the endeavor is personal.

“A lot of people I know are active out on the street. I know a lot of people that have passed away from addiction,”  he said.

Also, recently, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker released his own plan to address the opioid crisis, vowingto change the way the Commonwealth treats and even thinks about substance addiction.”

He said in a press release that there is not “a one-size-fits-all approach,” and conquering the disease will, “require all of us to rethink the way we treat addiction.” Baker approved $27.8 million in the 2016 budget year to combat the epidemic, an increase from the $20 million that was funded two years ago.

Meanwhile in Gloucester, law enforcement is attempting to redefine its role in the crisis with a new program to get addicts off the street.

“Addiction is a disease, not a crime,” said Gloucester resident John Rosenthal, who co-founded a nonprofit that provides addicts resources to combat the problem. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this. We’re going to try to get addicts into treatment.”

Under the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative adopted in Gloucester, anyone seeking help at a police station will be sent to a treatment center rather than a jail.

Twenty-three addicts went to the police station in the first three weeks of the program. Each of them are currently in programs, according to Rosenthal.

Addicts like Ganem endorse the movement to erase the stigma of addiction by confronting the epidemic.

“Everyone is worth it,” said Ganem, who uses poetry to connect with his fellow addicts. “Everyone who is struggling…you still deserve a chance at getting clean.”

One of the people Ganem works with is Keith Laporta, a recovering addict who he met in jail, and connected with through poetry.

“It’s true life stuff. Stuff that I’ve been through, stuff that a lot of us have been through,” said Laporta, who has been sober for six months. “His writing inspired me to save my own life.”

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