October 16, 2011

Faces on the front lines

Recovering addicts from all over Maine share their difficult stories, candidly confronting the low points in their lives and revealing a thing they all have in common: They’re still fighters.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Kristin Roberts had it all – four children, a husband, a home in Cumberland, and an addiction to painkillers that would take them all away.

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Kristin Roberts

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Blake Carver

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PAINKILLERS IN MAINE: Stories, video interviews and links to resources.

“I never thought in my life I would be addicted,” she says.

Her mother, then a captain at the Cumberland County Jail, didn’t see it coming, either.

“It’s important that people know it can touch any family,” said Maj. Francine Breton, who now oversees the jail.

Roberts, 38, was in her 20s when she fell down some stairs and broke her tailbone. She got a prescription for OxyContin pills for the pain, and soon learned the new drug would get her high if she crushed them up and snorted them.

“I’m on top of the world. All my feelings are numb,” she remembered. “I didn’t have a care in the world.”

Roberts gradually needed more and more pills to stay numb. Then she needed them simply to function and avoid the hot and cold sweats that meant her body was screaming for another dose.

So she saw her doctor more often, always leaving with another prescription.

“I could go in there and get whatever I wanted.” When one doctor would finally say “no more pills,” she would find another, she said.

Her mother, meanwhile, watched as Roberts changed from a devoted mother to an addict who would stay away from home for days.

The shame and guilt only made Roberts seek more drugs, she said. “I couldn’t live with myself and I’d have to be high every single day,” she said.

Roberts eventually started buying the pills on the street and stealing money to pay for them. Breton would come to dread phone calls from a desperate Roberts saying she needed money.

Roberts got divorced and lost custody of her kids, who were cared for by relatives. She also was in and out of jail for drug possession, theft and probation violations.

Roberts’ arrests created embarrassment for Breton as well as a new county policy: immediate family members of jail employees have to be transferred to a different county to avoid perceptions of favoritism.

Roberts, as a result, spent time in several different county jails as her addiction deepened. Her last arrest was in March, when a police officer spotted her stealing dresses and fabrics from a Portland dress shop. She was so high at the time, she said, she didn’t understand what she was doing.

Breton had told jail staff that she didn’t want to be called each time her daughter got arrested, but officers who saw how gaunt and sick Roberts looked in March called anyway.

“I was just sick and tired,” Roberts said. “I had nobody. ... It’s really taken everything that I had – marriage, kids, money, school, my health. It is the root of all evil.”

After she got out of jail the last time, Roberts entered treatment at Crossroads halfway house, a residential program in Portland that includes intensive counseling. She is about halfway through a six-month treatment program, working as a waitress and rebuilding relationships with her mother and her kids, now between 16 and 22 years of age. She also has signed up for courses to become a substance abuse counselor.

“This place is really saving my life,” she said. “I’m starting to feel comfortable in my own skin.”

The experience also has taught Breton about the power of addiction, something that she works around every day. “I’m dealing with a jail full of people in the same situation,” she said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Isaac Malburg

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Daryl Blums

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Krista Tripp

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Alta Brown

  


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