Pubdate: Sat, 31 Oct 2015
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2015 The New York Times Company
Author: Katharine Q. Seelye


NEWTON, N.H. - When Courtney Griffin was using heroin, she lied, 
disappeared, and stole from her parents to support her $400-a-day 
habit. Her family paid her debts, never filed a police report and 
kept her addiction secret - until she was found dead last year of an overdose.

At Courtney's funeral, they decided to acknowledge the reality that 
redefined their lives: Their bright, beautiful daughter, just 20, who 
played the French horn in high school and dreamed of living in 
Hawaii, had been kicked out of the Marines for drugs. Eventually, she 
overdosed at her boyfriend's grandmother's house, where she died alone.

"When I was a kid, junkies were the worst," Doug Griffin, 63, 
Courtney's father, recalled in their comfortable home here in 
southeastern New Hampshire. "I used to have an office in New York 
City. I saw them."

Noting that "junkies" is a word he would never use now, he said that 
these days, "they're working right next to you and you don't even 
know it. They're in my daughter's bedroom - they are my daughter."

When the nation's long-running war against drugs was defined by the 
crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, 
the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison 
sentences. But today's heroin crisis is different. While heroin use 
has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among 
whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first 
time in the last decade were white.

And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin - many of 
them in the suburbs and small towns - are now using their influence, 
anger and grief to cushion the country's approach to drugs, from 
altering the language around addiction to prodding government to 
treat it not as a crime, but as a disease.

"Because the demographic of people affected are more white, more 
middle class, these are parents who are empowered," said Michael 
Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug 
Control Policy, better known as the nation's drug czar. "They know 
how to call a legislator, they know how to get angry with their 
insurance company, they know how to advocate. They have been so 
instrumental in changing the conversation."

Mr. Botticelli, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 26 
years, speaks to some of these parents regularly.

Their efforts also include lobbying statehouses, holding rallies and 
starting nonprofit organizations, making these mothers and fathers 
part of a growing backlash against the harsh tactics of traditional 
drug enforcement. These days, in rare bipartisan or even nonpartisan 
agreement, punishment is out and compassion is in.

The presidential candidates of both parties are now talking about the 
drug epidemic, with Hillary Rodham Clinton hosting forums on the 
issue as Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina tell their own stories of loss 
while calling for more care and empathy.

On the campaign trail, presidential candidates acknowledge the 
problem of America's growing addiction to legal, prescription and 
illegal drugs, and discover the bipartisan appeal of drug policy.

Last week, President Obama traveled to West Virginia, a mostly white 
state with high levels of overdoses, to discuss his $133 million 
proposal to expand access for drug treatment and prevention programs. 
The Justice Department is also preparing to release roughly 6,000 
inmates from federal prisons as part of an effort to roll back the 
severe penalties issued to nonviolent drug dealers in decades past.

And in one of the most striking shifts in this new era, some local 
police departments have stopped punishing many heroin users. In 
Gloucester, Mass., those who walk into the police station and ask for 
help, even if they are carrying drugs or needles, are no longer 
arrested. Instead, they are diverted to treatment, despite questions 
about the police departments' unilateral authority to do so. It is an 
approach being replicated by three dozen other police departments 
around the country.

"How these policies evolve in the first place, and the connection 
with race, seems very stark," said Marc Mauer, executive director of 
the Sentencing Project, which examines racial issues in the criminal 
justice system.

Still, he and other experts said, a broad consensus seems to be 
emerging: The drug problem will not be solved by arrests alone, but 
rather by treatment.

Parents like the Griffins say that while they recognize the racial 
shift in heroin use, politicians and law enforcement are responding 
in this new way because "they realized what they were doing wasn't working."

"They're paying more attention because people are screaming about 
it," Mr. Griffin said. "I work with 100 people every day - parents, 
people in recovery, addicts - who are invading the statehouse, doing 
everything we can to make as much noise as we can to try to save these kids."

Heroin's spread into the suburbs and small towns grew out of an 
earlier wave of addiction to prescription painkillers; together the 
two trends are ravaging the country.

Deaths from heroin rose to 8,260 in 2013, quadrupling since 2000 and 
aggravating what some were already calling the worst drug overdose 
epidemic in United States history.

Over all, drug overdoses now cause more deaths than car crashes, with 
opioids like OxyContin and other pain medications killing 44 people a day.

Here in New England, the epidemic has grabbed officials by the lapels.

The old industrial cities, quiet small towns and rural outposts are 
seeing a near-daily parade of drug summit meetings, task forces, 
vigils against heroin, pronouncements from lawmakers and news media 
reports on the heroin crisis.

New Hampshire is typical of the hardest-hit states. Last year, 325 
people here died of opioid overdoses, a 68 percent increase from 
2013. Potentially hundreds more deaths were averted by emergency 
medical workers, who last year administered naloxone, a medication 
that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, in more than 1,900 cases.

Adding to the anxiety among parents, the state also ranks second to 
last, ahead only of Texas, in access to treatment programs; New 
Hampshire has about 100,000 people in need of treatment, state 
officials say, but the state's publicly financed system can serve 
just 4 percent of them.

Since New Hampshire holds the first-in-the-nation presidential 
primary, residents have repeatedly raised the issue of heroin with 
the 2016 candidates.

Mrs. Clinton still recalls her surprise that the first question she 
was asked in April, at her first open meeting in New Hampshire as a 
candidate, was not about the economy or health care, but heroin. Last 
month, she laid out a $10 billion plan to combat and treat drug 
addiction over the next decade.

She has also led discussions on the topic around the country, 
including packed forums like the one in Laconia, N.H., where hundreds 
of politically engaged, mostly white middle-class men and women, 
stayed for two hours in a sweltering meeting hall to talk and listen. 
One woman told of the difficulties of getting her son into a good 
treatment program, and said he eventually took his own life. Another 
told Mrs. Clinton of the searing pain of losing her beloved son to heroin.

Many of the 15 Republican candidates for president have heard similar 
stories, and they are sharing their own.

"I have some personal experience with this as a dad, and it is the 
most heartbreaking thing in the world to have to go through," Jeb 
Bush, the former governor of Florida, said at a town hall-style 
meeting in Merrimack, N.H., in August. His daughter, Noelle, was 
jailed twice while in rehab, for being caught with prescription pills 
and accused of having crack cocaine.

Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, tells 
audiences that she and her husband "buried a child to addiction." And 
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey released an ad here in New 
Hampshire declaring, "We need to be pro-life for the 16-year-old drug 
addict who's laying on the floor of the county jail."

Some black scholars said they welcomed the shift, while expressing 
frustration that earlier calls by African-Americans for a more 
empathetic approach were largely ignored.

"This new turn to a more compassionate view of those addicted to 
heroin is welcome," said Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, who specializes 
in racial issues at Columbia and U.C.L.A. law schools. "But," she 
added, "one cannot help notice that had this compassion existed for 
African-Americans caught up in addiction and the behaviors it 
produces, the devastating impact of mass incarceration upon entire 
communities would never have happened."

Now, all the political engagement around heroin has helped create 
what Timothy Rourke, the chairman of the New Hampshire Governor's 
Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, says is an impetus for change, 
not unlike the confluence of events that finally produced a response 
to the AIDS epidemic. "You have a lot of people dying, it's no longer 
just 'those people,' " he said. "You have people with lived 
experience demanding better treatment, and you have really good data."

A More Forgiving Approach

Among recent bills passed by the New Hampshire legislature in 
response is one that gives friends and family access to naloxone, the 
anti-overdose medication. Mr. Griffin, a few months after his 
daughter died, was among those testifying for the bill. It was set to 
pass in May but would not take effect until January 2016 - until Mr. 
Griffin warned lawmakers that too many lives could be lost in that 
six-month gap. At his urging, the bill was amended to take effect as 
soon as it was signed into law. It went into effect June 2.

Other parents like him have successfully lobbied for similar measures 
across the country. Almost all states now have laws or pilot programs 
making it easier for emergency medical workers or family and friends 
to obtain naloxone. And 32 states have passed "good Samaritan" laws 
that protect people from prosecution, at least for low-level 
offenses, if they call 911 to report an overdose.A generation ago 
when civil rights activists denounced as racist the push to punish 
crack-cocaine crimes, largely involving blacks, far more severely 
than powder-cocaine crimes, involving whites, political figures of 
both parties defended those policies as necessary to control violent crime.

But today, with heroin ravaging largely white communities in the 
Northeast and Midwest, and with violent crime largely down, the mood 
is more forgiving.

"Both the image and reality is that this is a white and often 
middle-class problem," said Mr. Mauer of the Sentencing Project. "And 
appropriately so, we're having a much broader conversation about 
prevention and treatment, and trying to be constructive in responding 
to this problem. This is good. I don't think we should lock up white 
kids to show we're being equal."

So officers like Eric Adams, a white former undercover narcotics 
detective in Laconia, are finding new ways to respond. He is deployed 
full time now by the Police Department to reach out to people who 
have overdosed and help them get treatment.

"The way I look at addiction now is completely different," Mr. Adams 
said. "I can't tell you what changed inside of me, but these are 
people and they have a purpose in life and we can't as law 
enforcement look at them any other way. They are committing crimes to 
feed their addiction, plain and simple. They need help."

Often working with the police, rather than against them, parents are 
driving these kinds of individual conversions.

Their efforts include attempts to recast addiction in a less 
stigmatizing light - many parents along with treatment providers are 
avoiding words like "addict" or "junkie" and instead using terms that 
convey a chronic illness, like "substance use disorder."

Parents are involved in many ways. To further raise awareness, Jim 
Hood, 63, of Westport, Conn., who lost his son, Austin, 20, to heroin 
three years ago, and Greg Williams, 31, of Danbury, Conn., who is in 
long-term recovery from substance abuse, organized the Oct. 4 "Unite 
to Face Addiction" rally in Washington. Featuring musicians like 
Sheryl Crow, it brought together more than 750 groups that are now 
collaborating to create a national organization, Facing Addiction, 
devoted to fighting the disease of addiction on the scale of the 
American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.

"With heart disease or cancer, you know what to do, who to call, 
where to go," Mr. Hood said. "With addiction, you just feel like 
you're out in the Wild West."

Ginger Katz of Norwalk, Conn., has equally lofty goals. After her 
son, Ian, 20, died of a heroin overdose in 1996, she founded the 
Courage to Speak Foundation to try to end the silence surrounding 
addiction, and she has developed a drug-prevention curriculum for schools.

For Doug and Pam Griffin Courtney is still their focus; her pastel 
bedroom is as she left it, with the schedules of meetings of 
Narcotics Anonymous taped to what she called her "recovery wall."

"We've pretty much given up what used to be our life," Mr. Griffin said.

But in addition to grieving and testifying at hearings and forums, 
the Griffins take calls day and night from parents across the country 
who have read their story and want to offer an encouraging word or 
ask for advice. They are establishing a sober house, named after 
Courtney. And they host a potluck dinner and church service once a 
month on Sunday nights at the First Baptist Church in nearby 
Plaistow, where they held their daughter's funeral, for people with 
addictions and their families.

At last month's service, more than 75 people filled the pews, 
including the family of Christopher Honor, who was Courtney's 
boyfriend. He was also addicted to heroin. Last month, almost a year 
after her death, Chris, 22, died of an overdose - the 23rd overdose 
and third fatal one this year in Plaistow, a town of 8,000 people.

Chris's mother, Amanda Jordan, 40, wanted to attend the Sunday night 
service last month, but it was just two weeks after she had buried 
Chris, and she worried it might be too soon to go back to that 
church, where Chris's funeral was held. She sometimes thinks Chris is 
still alive, and at his funeral she was convinced he was still breathing.

She was afraid she would fall apart, but she and other family members 
decided to go anyway. During the service, her son Brett, 18, became 
so overwhelmed with emotion that he had to leave, rushing down the 
center aisle for the outside. Ms. Jordan ran after him. Then a family 
friend, Shane Manning, ran after both of them. Outside, they all 
clutched one another and sobbed.

"I'm a mess," Ms. Jordan said after coming back inside and kneeling 
in front of a picture of Chris. In addition to yearning for her son, 
she had been worried that the Griffins blamed her for Courtney's 
death. But at the church, they welcomed her. In their shared pain, 
the families spoke and embraced.

Ms. Jordan, one of the more recent involuntary members of this club 
of shattered parents, said that someday, when she is better able to 
function, she "absolutely" wants to work with the Griffins to "help 
New Hampshire realize there's a huge problem." Right now, though, she 
just wants to hunt down the person who sold Chris his fatal dose. 
"These dealers aren't just selling it," she said. "They're murdering people."

Correction: October 30, 2015

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article 
erroneously included one drug among the prescription opioids 
contributing to 44 deaths each day from overdoses. While OxyContin is 
a prescription opioid, heroin is not.
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