Without a map Mother of Milford addict says treatment is hard to find

MILFORD ­– As Martha stood in the back of the library conference room listening to Milford Police Sgt. Matthew Fiffield talk about helping loved ones fight addiction, she thought, “He makes it sound so simple.”

Martha (not her real name), grew up in
Milford, and that day she had driven up from her home in Massachusetts because she wanted to know more about prescription drug abuse.

For five years she had been trying to help her son, Joseph, who is 31 and addicted to opioids and alcohol – ever since her two other children sat her down and told her.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said recently.

She confronted her son and told him she “knew what he was doing and that it had to stop.”

A couple of weeks later, Joseph came to see her, and he had withdrawal symptoms and no money to buy pills.

“I wondered how I’d missed it ­– the constant sniffling. I thought it was allergies,” she said.

Joseph was snorting oxycodone. She called her boss and told him she had a family emergency and needed to take time off.

But time off to do what? She was entering unknown territory and there were no maps.

Through the doctor who had been Joseph’s pediatrician she found an outpatient facility in Londonderry and she paid for an suboxone program. Suboxone is a milder form of oxycondone used to wean patients off the opioid.

Halfway through the program Joseph learned that his girlfriend was pregnant, and Martha hoped his new responsibilities would help straighten him out, and for a while they seemed to.

When he broke up with his girlfriend Joseph moved in with his brother in New Hampshire but was soon looking glassy-­eyed and drinking lots of cola and losing teeth.

“What happened to this beautiful little boy … so loved by his extended family and friends?” his mother wondered.

“He was always painfully honest with me,” she said during an interview, looking trim, tanned and immaculately groomed but with a face strained with anxiety.

She had sent him to a private high school, where he was a basketball point guard and baseball starting pitcher. But in his early teens he was also showing signs of depression and anxiety. Then there was a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and he spent years in therapy and was prescribed various medications.

In the middle of his senior year his grades were so bad he was kicked off the teams and went into a downward spiral, his mother said.

She talked to school officials and told them she feared for him, “but they didn’t bend,” she said. Joseph spent his last year at Milford High School, leaving behind many friends.

From there he went to a school for marine technology, but after one semester decided he was not mechanically inclined.

Then, his mother, said Joseph was blindsided when his father left the family and his parents went through what his mother calls a long, nasty divorce.

He supported himself with series of dead-end jobs, the last driving a delivery truck for a Milford business, where he was drinking on the job and the owner seemed to know and not to care.

The mental health system failed him, his mother said.

“There was never follow up,” she said. After the allowed number of therapist visits nobody called him to say “How are you doing?”

When he used up his allowed visits, he was told to come back in the next calendar year.

“To me it was a big circle, like a hamster wheel.” she said. “My son began to believe there was nothing out there for him. He said, ‘Nothing works for me.’”

In July, when Martha was leaning against the library file cabinet listening to Sgt. Fiffield tell how many people died of overdoses drug deaths in New Hampshire, “my blood ran cold,” she said. “I needed to walk out of the room.”

Every time the phone rang she startled, fearing her son had overdosed.

She was aware of the facts. Two hundred people died of drug related deaths in New Hampshire in 2011, 160 of those deaths from oxycodone and other addictive prescription drugs.

In Milford, at least four people died from heroin or pill use since December of 2013.

Martha’s mind began to focus on the top priority: keeping her son alive. She was determined he quit his job before he killed himself or someone else.

The timing was good. Joseph had had a meltdown, he was admitting he had a problem and was asking for help.

With the help of her own brother, his mother began calling addiction hot lines looking for New Hampshire facilities that would take her son’s insurance.

But the ones that took the insurance either had no beds or only offered three to five-­day programs that she knew would not be sufficient.

After three days working the phone and her computer, she finally reached someone at a Florida rehabilitation facility.

Something about the way the man spoke gave her hope, and she decided to take Joseph there before the window of opportunity closed.

At least if he would not be behind the wheel, she told herself.

But back in Massachusetts, Martha was gripped by anxiety and doubt.

Her son complained there were too many patients, “a river of people and not enough staff,” she said, He said they were giving him too much suboxone and during a nine-day detox program, Joseph fell in the shower and there was no one around to help him. Clients are exchanging drugs among themselves. No one she talked to “would give me a straight answer” about her son’s care.

It didn’t help when she learned the reassuring voice on the phone was just an 800-number, and neither did online reviews telling people to “stay away from that place, they are testing out meds.”

Now, she said, Joseph’s therapist appears incompetent, unaware of even the most basic facts about her son, telling her he has a substance abuse problems because he was working in construction, with its macho drug and alcohol-centered environment, when Joseph had never worked a day in construction.

To get the facility to assign him a new therapist, his mother said she has enlisted the help of Florida’s Child and Family Services bureau.

Discharge day will probably come at the end of September, and that will bring a whole new set of anxieties. Joseph will probably have to go back to his delivery job to keep his health insurance – the job that enabled him to drink and drive. And how will he pay for medical bills that are piling up? And how will he keep those anxieties from driving him back to pills and alcohol?

“What do people do?” she said. “Nothing about this is simple.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100, ext. 304.