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Addiction in Franklin County

"The Hungry Heart"

  • Abotu 170 people attended "The Hungry Heart" at Greenfield Community College on Tuesday.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

GREENFIELD — About 170 people gathered in the community college cafeteria on a rainy evening to listen to the problems of another Franklin County, Franklin County Vt., which it seems is in a very similar situation to this one.

The documentarians of “The Hungry Heart” turned a lens on the prescription opioid and heroin problem in a northern corner of Vermont, providing a platform for the stories of a diverse group of mostly young people recovering from their various addictions to Percocets, OxyContin, heroin and an alphabet soup of other opioids, most with the help of Suboxone and a family-physician turned addiction specialist at the end of a long career.

Some described broken homes, addicted parents, pain, poverty and isolation and the initially magical ability of painkillers to relieve psychic pain along with the physical. Others came from good homes and found something that made them happy.

Community members including Dr. Fred Holmes, the physician at the center of the film, described shock at the appearance of a problem that had apparently built undetected for years, and the overwhelming difficulty of coping with the problem.

In the audience Tuesday, Christopher Lemay, 25, a Greenfield native, had a story that wouldn’t have been out of place in the next state up.

Lemay graduated from Greenfield High School in 2007 and left for Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island.

“I made the dean’s list one year and was addicted to Percs the next,” he said.

Lemay said he is now 11 months sober after several cycles through rehab, and is staying clean with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Just putting down drugs is actually the easy part, after a while, for me; it’s staying away from them and having a happy life,” Lemay said.

Lemay said he didn’t have one of the main problems described by some of the young people in the film — he has parents. What he described is a disease too powerful to prepare for.

“I could be talking to you right now and go get high an hour later,” he said. “You don’t know how strong it is until it’s already got you.”

Raina Lowell, a subject of the film who accompanied filmmaker Bess O’Brien for a talk following the film, described a similarly unexpected grip.

Lowell said she started using pills at 30, after years of anxiety and the trauma of losing a child, but she though she knew what addiction was.

“I didn’t understand that it wasn’t my choice when addiction set in,” she said.

The production company Kingdom County Productions has a grant to show the film in all Vermont public schools.

Lowell said some worry that showing the documentary to kids will teach them only that drugs feel great.

“I give kids a lot more credit than that,” Lowell said. “What we have been doing hasn’t been working.”

The Heroin Education and Awareness Task Force organized the event with an eye to opening dialogue with the middle and high schools, under-represented in a crowd that did not fill the Greenfield Community College cafeteria.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

Just an FYI, Greenfield High School advertised this event and 15 students attended the event via the Green Room afterschool program which supplied a wonderful dinner and provided transportation to the movie. There were also 8 staff members at the movie. SO if you feel it necessary to shame local schools in a public forum, at least you should make an attempt to contact the schools and specifically identify their involvement. Oh, and one other thing, maybe the people that planned the event ,should make it more school friendly. After school, youth are involved with sports, jobs and they may have family obligations. Show the movie at the schools, so a plan can be in place to counsel youth if they are emotionally and personally affected after the movie.

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