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.

It wasn’t cheap, however, about $150 a day for five oxycodone pills. The habit also almost cost him his left arm after he started injecting the drugs, collapsed a vein and got an infection.

“You just get to a point you’re not getting high anymore,” he said. “You’re really feeding the beast. You’re feeding this insatiable hunger.”

Earlier this year, he had enough, stopped using and got sick.

“I white-knuckled it for four days. It’s basically the worst feeling you can experience,” he said.

Soon after Blums got into a three-month treatment program at Serenity House in Portland, he was able to visit with his son while sober for the first time in years.

“He’s a little boy and he needs a father and I just haven’t been able to provide that for him.”

Blums graduated from Serenity House in early September. “I look at life a lot different now,” he said.

Krista Tripp, it would seem, had no chance of avoiding addiction.

She grew up around family members who abused heroin and prescription pills, in a household that was filled with drama and verbal abuse, she said. Tripp, 26, was raised in Spruce Head near Rockland, an area hard hit by pill abuse.

“It’s a fishing community. Everyone works really hard. Everyone gets pills.”

By the time she got to middle school, it felt natural to try them. They took away her sadness and loneliness.

“When I put drugs into my body, all of those feelings went away and I felt better about myself,” she said.

“I was an alcoholic and I was an addict at the age of 13.”

She took all kinds of pills, including dangerous mixtures of painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs, as well as heroin and cocaine.

“I had my own boat and (lobster) traps when I was 15. I’d go haul (traps) and spend my money on drugs. ... And then I’d find boyfriends that partied like I did.”

Abusive relationships added to her pain. But at the time, she said, “I didn’t know where to go for help.”

She was arrested for possessing heroin and sent to jail, which led her to a treatment program and three years of sobriety.

Until then, she said, “I didn’t know what was wrong with me … I didn’t know I was an addict. I thought it was just normal.”

Eventually, however, she took a drink of alcohol, which led back to oxys and jail.

Now, along with members of her family in Spruce Head, Tripp is in treatment and, once again, sober.

She hopes to graduate from Crossroads’ halfway house and go back to school to become a clinician in one of Maine’s treatment programs.

“I have so much guilt and shame and remorse for the lifestyle I was living and I really want to give back ... I want to be an example.”

Alta Brown was a junior in high school more than a decade ago, when it seemed like everyone was suddenly using prescription pills.

So she did, too, snorting crushed pills off the sink in the high school’s restroom.

“I was trying to be cool,’ she said.

Brown, now 31, still lives in Indian Township, a Passamaquoddy reservation in Washington County where she grew up. The Down East region, with its high rates of unemployment and poverty and its small-town culture, was fertile ground for the prescription drug epidemic.

“I think it’s because we’re in a small community and there’s not a lot to do,” said Brown. “Basically, the only thing to do was drink and do drugs.”

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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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