Pubdate: Mon, 26 Jun 2006
Source: Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, CT)
Copyright: 2006sMediaNews Group, Inc
Author: Marian Gail Brown and Linda Conner Lambeck, Staff Writers
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Michael Askew stood on a street corner outside a Norwalk housing
complex with two bags of heroin in his pocket and one goal: score
enough money to finance his next crack cocaine fix.

Scoring was all he thought about. He scanned the street for potential
customers, as well as competitors. In his mind, he relived the rush of
energy, the euphoria, that cocaine always gave him. He had graduated
- -- or descended -- from snorting lines of powdered cocaine to smoking
the crack form of the drug. It gave him confidence.

He craved more.

There was nothing remarkable about the blond guy who approached him on
the corner of Roodner Court housing complex on May 28, 1989, at 7:45
a.m. He was tall. He was thin. And he was an undercover cop. Two bags
of heroin. Forty dollars in crisp bills changing hands. And Askew's
freedom down the drain as the undercover cop's backup officers snapped
handcuffs on his wrists.

"I'll never forget that day or anything about it. I'm drug-free 17
years and counting now. Since that day, May 28, 1989, I have never had
to use any mind-altering or mood-altering drug ever again," says
Askew, 52, a recovering cocaine addict who works with Connecticut
Community for Addiction Services, helping other people beat drug problems.

Experts say people from all levels of society can develop problems
with drugs.

Connecticut was rocked last week when the mayor of its largest city
admitted that he had used cocaine while in office.

Bridgeport Mayor John M. Fabrizi said he used cocaine both before and
after he became the city's top elected official.

During an interview with the Connecticut Post editorial board, Fabrizi
said he quit using cocaine at the end of 2004 and stopped drinking
alcohol this year. He said he is receiving treatment.

He is not alone.

Some 45,000 Connecticut residents sought treatment last year for drug
problems, with 5,979 of them identifying cocaine as their primary drug
of choice, according to the state Department of Mental Health and
Addiction Services.

"We're seeing cocaine use trend down slightly from what it was five
years ago when 6,528 people entered treatment programs and listed
cocaine as their main drug of choice," says Jim Siemianowski, a
department spokesman.

Meanwhile, heroin use has increased in recent years.

Scientists, health policy analysts and researchers consider cocaine
highly addictive because of its impact on brain function.

Siemianowski believes cocaine addiction may be harder to kick than
heroin because treatment relies on behavioral approaches to halting
the triggers for cocaine use. There is no substitute drug available
for cocaine addicts to ease their cravings, Siemianowski says, the way
methadone is given to heroin addicts.

John Hamilton, senior vice president of Liberation Programs in
Bridgeport and other locations, calls cocaine one of the more
difficult drugs to overcome.

"It seizes the brain," Hamilton says. "It really changes brain
chemistry and seizes [the user's] life."

Often, cocaine users lose the capacity to feel good about themselves
without the drug, Hamilton says. "It's like living with a two when you
know there's a 10 out there."

Matt Eakin, 36, a colleague of Hamilton's and a former cocaine addict
who works at Mountain Side Treatment Center in Canaan, says his
10-year addiction left him living out of a truck and suicidal.

mattered but getting, using, doing more cocaine," Eakin says. "Nothing
else came close."

His girlfriend left him. His family couldn't stand to be around him.
"It was kill myself or get sober," he says. He opted for the latter
and checked into a treatment center.

It took a long time to recover. Even today, Eakin has to avoid places
where mind-altering substances are available. He hangs around others
in recovery. Today he is happy, but characterizes his recovery as a
daily process.

Proper counseling, coupled with strong support systems, can be very
effective for cocaine addicts willing to cooperate, says Kremlin
Devissiere, program director at Chemical Abuse Service Agency, or
CASA, a residential and outpatient drug treatment facility on Arctic
Street in Bridgeport.

"Each person is different. I've seen people on the first try beat it,"
Devissiere says. "Others are so chronic it takes several tries."

Length of treatment also varies. Some addicts need inpatient
treatment. Others can do it on a strict outpatient basis.

Askew, the recovering addict from Norwalk, started using cocaine
"recreationally" in the 1970s, snorting lines at discos and getting
high on the weekends.

"Then before I knew it, they were starting on Thursdays," Askew says.
"Eventually, weekends lasted all week long."

In the beginning, Askew says he had no problem functioning at work,
doing data processing for the city of Norwalk. After three or four
months, he couldn't do his job and stopped going to work.

He spent years working for temp agencies, never lasting long at any
job. To support himself, he stole things -- from baby formula to fancy
designer eyewear. He eventually landed in jail for nine months on a
larceny charge.

The morning the undercover cop approached Askew, he had enjoyed a mere
two months of freedom. "I hated him. I absolutely hated him for doing
this to me," Askew says." But maybe I should have thanked that cop."

Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery's clientele includes
about 2,500 people and their families. Askew says a cocaine addict can
be anybody.

"Business sorts in white-collar professions, the neighbor down the
street. It cuts across gender, race and class lines," he says.

Nearly half of the 65,000 people estimated to have used cocaine in
Connecticut last year were 26 and older, according to the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration. Of those, 5,000 cocaine users were
between 12 and 17 and 17,000 were between 18 and 25.

Nationally, 2.4 percent of the population uses cocaine, according to
statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration. In Connecticut, cocaine use is estimated at 2.2 percent.

"The statistics show that Connecticut is about in the middle compared
to other states," says Leah Young, a spokeswoman for the Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "It's neither at the
high end or the low end with cocaine." 
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