Three women in the Boston area share their stories

With overdose deaths surging in Massachusetts and across the country, some 500 local community members dedicated to recovery took to the streets to show the other side of addiction.

Drug-related deaths exploded nationwide in 2020, when 91,799 Americans died from drugs — an increase of more than 20,000 from the year before, as a result of drug use a decade ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than double the national death toll control and prevention database.

Opioids have become a bigger problem in Massachusetts, with deaths related to their use rising 8.8 percent in 2021 from the previous year, according to the state’s Department of Public Health. Last year alone, there were 2,290 confirmed and estimated opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts, accounting for a significant portion of the 18,522 deaths from 2010 to 2021.

“I’m addicted to everything; alcohol, opiates, crack, cocaine,” said Caitlin McInty, who attended Thursday’s 32nd Rehab Month celebration and a 500-person march from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall Er said. “No one would choose that. No one wanted that. … It’s like the devil – it takes over your soul.”

McIntyre is now five months clean and sober, and credits her membership to a program at St. Louis University in Boston. The Francis House – one of the local organisations helping others with addiction and homelessness-related issues – “helped save” her life.

“Before I started using it, I used to be one of those people who would judge,” McIntyre told the Herald of how she viewed street drug addicts before she ended up living on Massachusetts Avenue herself for a while. “But it became me.”

After trying to get help and cleaning up again and again, a friend persuaded her to give herself what she called another “1 percent chance” and walk through the gates of St. Petersburg, she said. Francis House on Boylston Street. She did, and now says: “My clean date could easily be my death date.”

Luz Reyes, who celebrated two years in St. Petersburg at the end of August. Francis House, who worked there as an outreach coordinator and was sober for eight years around the same time, said she saw “a lot of people getting help,” and she saw a lot of members really getting involved in restoring the community , including taking part in last week’s “amazing recovery rally”.

Heroin was the drug of choice in Massachusetts as it surpassed alcohol in a 2010 survey of treatment plan enrollees, according to state data. Data going back to 2008 shows addiction treatment enrollments topping six figures at 90,000 statewide, as in the first heroin lead year, when 102,288 Bay State residents enrolled in treatment programs.

Since then, heroin has been the main substance of choice, with 52.8% of participants listing it as the drug of choice, while 32.8% chose alcohol. No other drugs, including 4.6% of other opioids, rose more than 5%. This includes 59% of residents of the Greater Boston area who listed heroin or other opioids as their drug of choice in 2017 (the last full-year data set available).

Cocaine in powder or rock form was a common adjunctive drug, accounting for about 32 percent.

As part of a community with so many “friendly faces”, St. Francis member Chiya Souto told the Herald, “It made the process a lot easier.”

“Before I found this community, I felt very isolated, very lonely,” said Souto, who is recovering from alcohol addiction for the first six months. “Without judgment, once a day, you just keep coming back.”

“Your life can go downhill quickly in the blink of an eye,” she said, adding that mental health services should be a top priority in anyone’s recovery plan. “You never know what obstacle is just around the corner that can put you in an addict situation.”

The recovery process, and the second chance for these women to recognize it, makes them all want to give back and show others the way.

McIntyre is studying to earn a certificate in addiction counseling, Souto hopes to one day help others in their recovery efforts, and Reyes is already at St. Francis to enable others in need to get the support they need.

“No matter the struggle, keep going, because you’ll find that light at the end of the tunnel,” Reyes said. “I’m grateful to my God for giving me the strength to stop having my first drink.”

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