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

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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.

Roberts has relapsed before, but both she and her mother are hopeful.

“I’ve noticed a big change in her this time,” said Breton, who now looks forward to her daughter’s telephone calls. “I always pray that this is it. And she’s doing really well.”

Blake Carver was 14 when he broke his ankle skateboarding and got a prescription for Percocet.

After he recovered, he still had half a bottle of the painkiller left, plus one refill.

So Carver and his friends tried crushing and snorting them, having already experimented with alcohol and pot.

Carver, now 24, didn’t know then that he was a prime candidate for addiction: a teenager with a family history of substance abuse and, he was later told, the victim of sexual abuse as a toddler.

“I had this hole I was trying to fill and I didn’t know it,” he said. “It was the one thing that worked.”
Before the prescription was gone, he was hooked. He eventually tried stronger pills and began injecting the drugs to get a more intense high.

OxyContin was easy to find but his habit cost $200 or more a day, so Carver broke into homes and stole cash and whatever he could sell. He also always checked the medicine cabinets, just in case he got lucky and found pills.

He was in and out of the Maine Youth Center and then went to prison for five years. He was released earlier this year and moved into Serenity House, a residential treatment center for men in Portland.

He attended counseling sessions and 12-step recovery meetings and got a job as a landscaper. He graduated from the program in August, vowing to stay clean with the support of a new group of sober friends.

Carver remains upbeat, and said last week he is attending support group meetings, working at a Portland manufacturing plant and looking for a new apartment. “I’m doing good,” he said.

Isaac Malburg, 37, was a fisherman in Rockland 10 years ago when he had back surgery and needed painkillers to keep working.

He started out taking three Vicodin pills a day.

“That rapidly went to 10 a day,” he said. He eventually needed more back surgery and stronger pills, including oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin.

“I loved them,” he said. “It was mind-altering, too. You use more of it, you get high. I started seeking more of that.”

He took the pills for years, going back to the doctor for more whenever he ran out.

“There was a point when he said, ‘I can’t cover you anymore.’ So I found a new doctor who could,” he said. “All I had to say was I was in pain.”

The addiction gradually took over his life, he said.

He tried methadone treatments but ultimately decided to quit cold turkey. Withdrawal was the worst experience of his life – “a vivid nightmare,” he said.

Once sober, Malburg sought treatment at Serenity House in Portland. He graduated in late August and got a job on a lobster boat.

“I’ve gone back to what I love to do,” Malburg said in September.

Daryl Blums has a good job in a family business and a 7-year-old son.

But for much of the past three years, all the 27-year-old cared about was getting more pills.

“I basically had a calendar. I knew when different people were getting their medications refilled (and would have pills to sell). I had a whole network,” he said. “Maybe in three years, I had five days I couldn’t find anything.”

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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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