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Police chief hopes sharing his story helps others snared by painkillers



Recorder Staff
Thursday, October 12, 2017

MONTAGUE — For Charles “Chip” Dodge, the opioid addiction crisis plaguing the country hits home.

The Montague police chief became addicted to oxycodone after receiving a prescription for the painkiller to treat a foot injury he incurred on the job. He now hopes his story can help remove the stigma associated with opioid addiction, and will help others get treatment.

Dodge told the Recorder about his addiction and recovery in interviews related to the Attorney General’s Office investigation into his department’s handling of a prescription drug drop box, but Dodge wanted to discuss the deeper, personal dimensions of his story with the belief that it could change people’s perceptions about opioid addiction.

“I saw this problem from a different perspective,” he said. “I knew from my own experience that this is affecting not just what people would consider junkies.”

He said that when he was a younger officer on the Montague police force he had pain in his feet from working frequent road details and overtime. He had visited doctors and received several diagnoses and treatments, none of which helped resolve the pain. He said his doctors suggested the painkillers as a last resort, and said that he should have no problems if he stuck to the prescription. He said he was on the painkillers for several years before the effectiveness began to wear off, and he decided to stop taking them.

“The day after is when I learned what addiction is,” he said.

Dodge said he thought he was dying or having some sort of a heart attack and went to the doctor. He said medical providers ran tests and everything came back normal. It didn’t occur to him that this was related to the medication he was taking, and it wasn’t until he gave them a medical history that they realized what had happened.

Dodge said he had doctors who helped him feel “comfortable and confident” in pursuing Suboxone medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. He said there was much less known about opioid addiction from prescription painkillers back then, at least five years ago, when the national opioid epidemic was just beginning to emerge. Today, the conventional wisdom in medical and recovery fields is that opioid addiction is a brain disease that can be caused by the powerful painkillers, and not a purposeful criminal behavior.

When doctors explained the diagnosis to him, Dodge said he was shocked, as he didn’t consider himself someone susceptible to addiction, but he decided to pursue the treatment, which was a taper-off program of Suboxone designed to slowly reduce his dependency on the painkillers over time.

Dodge said he felt, after talking it over with his doctors, that it was the right decision, about which he still feels confident today.

But it doesn’t take away the shock of that moment, where he said he felt a mix of disappointment in himself and confusion at how he became addicted to something his doctors had always said was safe.

“I never attributed that this could happen with medicine,” he said. “Since we were children we are taught to trust our doctors, and trust their advice, and they’ve always treated us right. That trust has been proven. They’ve always helped us. So naturally, I trusted my doctors.”

Dodge said he still does trust his doctors, and when they suggested the Suboxone treatment, he decided it was right for him.

“What they explained to me, because I had reservations, is that there are doctors, there are lawyers, there are police officers, there are judges, all of whom are being treated the exact same way they were recommending to me,” he said.

When Dodge became chief in 2012 more and more information about opioid addiction was coming into the public consciousness and he said the country was waking up to the opioid problem.

“For me, I was like, oh my God, there are other people out there experiencing what I did,” he said.

His initial shock and disappointment became what he would later see as an opportunity. Dodge didn’t know he would become chief when all of this happened earlier in his career, and he said that the combination of his first-hand knowledge and his position would make it possible for him to address the opioid crisis in a different way. He also has the support of his town’s Selectboard and the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office.

“I saw that there was an opportunity for me to be able to help my community from what I had learned,” he said.

Dodge said that what he went through has given him a different perspective on addiction and has driven him to help those struggling with it. He said he’s been able to talk to those who are in the middle of addictions, and assured them they could get through the worst of it.

“Because of what I had been through, because of the treatment I received, I realized you’re not dying, you’re going to be OK,” he said.

Flora Sadri, the regional director for Clean Slate addiction treatment centers, commended Dodge for his courage to get treatment and tell his story. She said that she always encourages those who have received treatment to return to their jobs.

“I think it gives him great perspective to have something like this happen, how it affects people, and also how you can recover and be normal,” she said.

Sadri’s work includes trying to remove the stigma from this disease, and explaining that it can happen to anyone.

“We have to stop looking at this as some disease from Mars, because it’s not,” she said.

“It can happen to anyone, it does happen to anyone, and I’ve seen them do miraculous things,” she said. “They can get it all back and then some.”

Dodge said that it doesn’t matter whether users started with legal prescriptions or illegal intravenous drugs, that departments like his can help everyone. He added that for a long time, so many people didn’t know the full extent of how someone could become addicted to opioids.

“People didn’t realize that medications could contain opioids, not just a needle,” he said.

He said he’s been able to reach families whose children are struggling with addiction and provide support that people may not expect from law enforcement.

Beyond that, he said his department has been better equipped to handle the drug crisis. Officers carry Narcan, a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an overdose in an emergency.

He said when the Franklin Recovery Clinic opened in Greenfield, he and others from his department were there before it opened to start discussions on how the police could collaborate with the addiction treatment facility.

When asked about critics who may doubt the ability of a police chief who has dealt with addiction, Dodge said that those who criticize would do better to look at their lives and make sure there is no one affected by opioids that they could be helping instead.

“I am almost certain that every family of every critic has got somebody who is going through this, whether they know it or not,” he said. “And I would hope instead of criticizing what other people are doing, they find those people and get them the help they need before it’s too late.”

Beyond anything else, Dodge wants to share his story with the goal that those who are ashamed or struggling privately will see it and get the help they need.

“I want to try to let people know that this can happen to anybody and that you can be helped and go back to having control,” he said.

Sadri, for her part, said that Dodge sharing his story will bring awareness that could be life-saving for some.

“I don’t know how many people he will save, but he will save people’s lives,” she said.

Reach Miranda Davis at
413-772-0261, ext. 280
or mdavis@recorder.com.