Since the age of 16, I have struggled with addiction. At age 18, I entered my first detox, which was successful for a while, but I just wasn’t quite ready. I relapsed. It took five treatment centers over the last 18 years — and relapse after relapse — for me to finally be ready.
About a year and a half ago, I told myself, “This is it. You need to get right, or it’s never going to happen.” I was either going to die or end up in jail again, which was definitely not an option.
That is when I reached out to Penobscot Community Health Center, seeking a place in the Suboxone treatment program. Staff there welcomed me with open arms, and, after a few months on a waiting list, I was finally accepted.
That is when I met Dr. John Patten and Stephanie Partridge. They are my true saviors. Without their and my counselor Becky McMahan’s tough, personal guidance, I would not be where I am today. Since entering their program, and with the assistance of the medication, I have had minimal cravings and not one relapse.
Today I am a year-and-a-half sober and feeling the best I have ever felt in my life.
Now, this is my dilemma. Due to the severity of my addiction, I obviously made bad choices. In a drug-fueled state of mind, I committed serious crimes. But I took responsibility immediately, and I respectfully served the punishments handed down.
I paid my dues to society only to be shunned over and over again.
I am now unemployed and have applied to every place you could imagine, looking for a job. My resume does look bad on paper, I will admit that, but I have nailed interviews — even getting three job offers — only to have them withdrawn after the employer completed a background check.
Now, I understand that employers think hiring me is risky. But in the state of Maine they have the right to fire employees after taking them on. It always says on the application that having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify people from employment. But in every instance I’ve had lately, that is the only thing holding me back.
All I’ve ever asked for is a second chance. If someone hires me and is not happy with my performance, I will leave with gratitude and respect for being given a chance. They can give me a drug screen if that’s what they need to do. I can show them that through my work ethic and dependability they will not be sorry they hired me.
This is where society’s stigma toward drug addicts and ex-criminals needs to change.
We are not all inherently bad people. We made extremely bad decisions, but they should not define us for the rest of our lives. I’ve done what the community wants me to do and entered treatment. I’ve been successful at treatment and have turned my life around, but I have nowhere to go from here.
I cannot get any help from the state, and I cannot get a job to support myself sufficiently. This is when drug addicts stay addicted. They cannot support themselves, so they remain on the streets struggling to survive. They rob and steal to support their habit because they have no incentive to get better.
The community needs to reach out and give these people a chance and support them in becoming better members of society. The community needs to embrace their drive to do better instead of keeping them in this vicious life cycle that only causes higher relapse and incarceration recidivism rates.
We need to recognize these people as people. All we’re asking for is the chance to prove we can do better and become positive contributors to our communities once again.
Now, there is also another societal stigma that some people cannot seem to overcome, which is the use of medication-assisted treatment such as Suboxone and methadone. These medications play a crucial role in some people’s lives. If not for these medications, I know I would not be where I am today.
We need to be more educated on this aspect of recovery, more than any other. Addiction, believe it or not, is a disease like diabetes or cancer. Like insulin or chemotherapy, some addicts need the extra help with replacement therapy. With other diseases, you’d never deny people the medication they need to survive.
I won’t get into how these medications work and the physiology behind them, but I will say that, when taken, they not only significantly reduce cravings, they also reduce the harm to the community. They cut down on the use of intravenous drugs and lower the rates of medical problems like hepatitis and HIV.
When the cravings are gone, and the ability to use and get high is gone, the addict has no reason to seek the drugs or behave deceptively to get them. Fewer crimes are committed, and, therefore, there’s less havoc in the community.
The second reason behind the negative views of medication-assisted treatment is that, as a community, we choose not to educate ourselves. We rely on what we hear around town, and much of it has no merit.
Similarly, some professionals in the medical field are also uneducated on the matter and react negatively to people on Suboxone and methadone. That definitely does not help with stigma. Some clinicians conclude that their patients on replacement medications are not worthy of saying they’re in recovery. They might be afraid to treat them.
I will say that the medical community as a whole, however, has really stepped up to the plate — especially in the greater Bangor area. I’ve met people who are ready to learn, and understand addictions and the ways to treat them.
Remember, we do have one of the highest rates of opiate abuse and addiction in the country. But public education and collaboration between providers, pushing them toward a more holistic approach to treatment, can produce positive results all around.
Finally, this piece aims to just get people in the community thinking about what positive things they can to do contribute to the well being of people in recovery, or people who were just released from jail who seek a better life for themselves and their families.
To become a more productive member of society means we need a chance to get back to work and prove that we are worthy.
Nick St. Louis lives in Otis.