‘No First Time’ educates community

Feb 8, 2018 by

Starting the conversation about opiate addiction

Published in the February 8, 2018 edition


NORTH READING — A hush fell over the large crowd gathered in the distance learning lab at North Reading High School, as Stephanie Greene shared the emotional journey of her son Evan’s battle with opiate addiction.

According to Greene, Evan was a friendly and energetic teenager who loved life. He was very active and enjoyed playing sports. All of that changed at the age of 15 when he tried Percocet at a friend’s party.

Over time, his family noticed changes in his behavior. Evan had quit sports, started hanging out with different kids his parents did not know, and stayed in the house more often. When Greene and her husband John questioned Evan, he claimed nothing was wrong, and that he was “just into different stuff now.”

“Kids make you feel like you’re the crazy one,” Greene said.

ONE PERCOCET taken at a party when Stephanie Greene’s son Evan was 15 got him hooked on the opiates that would eventually take his life. “We had no idea what was going on in our own house,” she said as she shared the emotional details of her son’s battle with addiction to a full house of parents. (Jillian String Photo)

Greene stated that by the age of 17, Evan was addicted to heroin. Numerous detox programs and 45 days in jail were not enough to help him get clean, and at the age of 19, Evan died from a heroin overdose.

“We didn’t know how to look for signs, or how serious this could be. …We punished him and tried to keep him from his friends, but we should have had him in detox sooner,” Greene shared.

The Greenes started the Evan Foundation three years ago in the hopes of raising awareness regarding opiate addiction.

“Our mission is to educate people and to get a conversation going,” Greene noted. “We have addiction on both sides of our family, but no one ever talked about it.”

Conversation and parental involvement is vital

Norfolk County Police Detective John Fanning shared that he lost his father to an opiate overdose, and four years later his mother died of complications secondary to drug and alcohol abuse. Fanning urged audience members to talk about family history with their children, stating that those with a genetic disposition for addiction are at a higher risk for unsafe behavior.

“Setting expectations is the number one factor to keeping kids away from drugs and alcohol,” Fanning said.

He went on to share how parents can model responsible behavior with alcohol, and also how parents can advocate for their children when doctors prescribe pain medication.

“Doctors are getting better, but you need to regulate it. Think, ‘does my kid really need 30 Vicodin?’” Fanning asked.

According to Fanning, deaths from opiate overdoses rose from 64 in 2013 to 165 in 2017 in Norfolk County alone.

Six died every day

“Six people in Massachusetts died every day in 2016 from overdose. This whole room would be knocked out in a month. This is the epidemic,” Fanning emphasized.

Fanning discussed warning signs of opiate addiction, such as changes in behavior, extreme lethargy, and “pinpoint pupils.”

“The alien in the body is not going to tell the truth. You have to see through it,” Fanning warned.

He also urged parents to role play peer pressure situations with their children, and come up with a code word to text should children need assistance at a social gathering.

Teach kids to be leaders, not followers

Following Fanning’s advice to parents, Matt Ganem shared his experiences with heroin addiction. Ganem stated that he always wanted to fit in, so at the age of 12, he started smoking cigarettes with friends. By age 16, he was smoking marijuana and abusing prescription drugs like OxyContin.

“It made me feel incredible. It took me out of being that scared little boy and made me feel like I could conquer the world. I didn’t know it would ruin my future,” Ganem said.

Ganem went on to share how his addiction destroyed his relationship with his family. He was in and out of detox programs, watched his friends die, and wanted to die himself. Ganem remembered having a “miracle moment,” where he finally wanted to live more than he wanted to die.

Ganem implored parents to teach kids how to have the courage to walk away from risky behaviors, and avoid first-time exposure to drugs and alcohol that can significantly alter their future.

“I have yet to meet a 12- or 14-year-old that says they want to be an alcoholic or drug dealer when they grow up,” Ganem notes.

While in recovery, Ganem turned to poetry to express his feelings when times were tough. He authored “The Shadow of an Addict,” which won the Mass. Poetry Award for Best Poetry Book 2013. Currently the executive director of the Banyan Treatment Center Massachusetts, Ganem was awarded Recovery Advocate of the Year 2015 by the Massachusetts Organization of Addiction and Recovery.

Sponsored by CIT, Parents’ Association

The No First Time presentation was sponsored by the Community Impact Team (CIT) and the High School Parents’ Association. Students in grades 9-12 subsequently attended the student version of the presentation on February 7.

CIT members Amy Luckiewicz, Police Chief Michael Murphy, Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard, and Detective Thomas Hatch were on hand to answer questions after the presentation.

The Greenes achieved their mission of starting a conversation. The audience asked numerous follow-up questions regarding trends to look for and other ways to approach the subject of substance abuse with their children.

For more information and resources, the audience was directed to www.evangfoundation.org and www.northreadingma.gov/cit.

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