Editor’s note: The following story is based on family accounts and information documented in Troy Haines’ medical records. His personal accounts offer an inside look into life with a substance use disorder. This is his story.
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — “Hospital, jail or death. What do we hope for?”
That was the question Beth Haines asked herself every few days for the past two months whenever her brother Troy Haines slipped back into old patterns of substance use and temporarily vanished. When he finally got back in touch, Beth Haines knew that his troubles weren’t over but at least for now, she could be sure that he was alive.
But she feared the worst for her brother.
On Oct. 19, Troy Haines walked out of the psychiatric unit of Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent and hopped in a cab headed for his father’s house in Mapleton. He was in good spirits that day, his father Joe Haines remembered.
Troy Haines planned to move in with his sister in Casco on Monday and find a new job. He had just started dating again after separating from his wife.
This was going to be his fresh start.
But by 6 p.m., the elder Haines had found his son dead in a rundown house with no electricity, heat or running water. Beth Haines said that her brother thought he was using heroin. What he didn’t know was that it was laced with fentanyl.
In many ways, Troy Haines’ story is the classic tale of a once prominent community leader who fell victim to a deadly disorder. What happened to him could happen to anyone.
Treatment for substance use disorder is more accessible than ever before, but stigma poses a challenge to people who want to recover. Health care providers have a better understanding of how the disorder and recovery cycle works than even a few short years ago, including what some of the triggers are, and how societal views about people with substance use disorder affects treatment outcomes. They stress that education is key to steering people away from substances in the first place, and that support is crucial to providing help to those affected.
Even with all of this knowledge, it’s not a perfect system and people fall through the cracks. Haines’ story offers an inside look into life with a chronic but treatable disorder and shows why the drug crisis in Maine is a community problem.
So how did Haines end up here?
A different life
A native of Aroostook County, Haines built his life around the love he had for his community. With an innate desire to help others, he got involved in state and local politics and operated his own company to serve local people.
“Troy was just a special, special kid … he was a caretaker even at the end when he called me from Mercy, when he was refusing to leave Mercy until they got him some help … he called me and said, ‘Mom, they’re telling me there’s no beds, they’re telling me I have to leave and I understand … there’s so many people here who need so much more help than me,’” his mother, Debra, said after he passed.
“He was just a good boy, a good kid, [a] good man,” she said.
In high school, Haines was appointed as the senior class president, which sparked his interest in Maine politics. He ran for the state House of Representatives three times — twice in District 7 and once in District 146 — between 2012 and 2014.
Although Haines never won an election, he came close. In the 2012 race for District 7, he fell 184 votes short to his Republican opponent, Alexander Willette.
Haines was busy during this period of his life, his parents said. He was managing his business — SPW Meat Cutting in Mapleton — running campaigns and trying to maintain his marriage and family life. He could afford to go on vacations to Costa Rica with his wife and support his lifestyle at home.
But in the last four to five years, the Haines family noticed that he was developing a real problem.
It’s hard to determine exactly what brought on Troy Haines’ substance use, but they think it was spurred by his struggles with mental health. Around the same time they realized he was drinking and using drugs, his family also saw that Haines was plagued with depression.
Debra remembers her son saying at one point that he thought life wasn’t meant for him and he knew something was wrong. He said to her: “Mom, my brain is not wired right and if we can’t fix it, I don’t know if I can continue in this life.”
“With his mental illness and his addiction, he lost everything. Everything,” his mother said.
In 2016, the bank foreclosed on Haines’ house. The next year, he filed for bankruptcy, according to court documents. Haines’ personal relationships — especially with his wife and other family members — became strained.
Shortly before he died, Haines was arrested for driving while intoxicated on Sept. 20 — his 40th birthday. He bounced between various treatment clinics and hospitals in Aroostook County and around the coast.
In September and October, Haines was admitted to at least nine different recovery centers or hospitals, seeking help for his substance use disorder and mental illness.
‘They tell me I’m not bad enough for help’
There is no normal experience for someone with a substance use disorder, but experts say that those who develop one often have underlying mental illnesses that may have gone untreated.
In 2016, 51 percent of all substance use treatment admissions in Maine also involved a mental health disorder, according to the State Epidemiological Profile of substance use trends published in 2018.
Hiding a substance use disorder or denying the severity of the problem isn’t uncommon, either, according to Erik Lamoreau, a peer support recovery center manager for substance use disorder at Aroostook Mental Health Clinic.
Accepting the problem is a crucial part of recovery, he said, and until people admit that they need help, moving forward can be a real challenge.
For too long, Haines lived in denial of his problem and that affected his ability to get the help he desperately needed, his family said. Before he came to terms with his disorder, Haines would lie about how bad it was and say anything he needed to be released from treatment facilities or hospitals.
Only once did Haines voluntarily admit himself into a treatment center, his sister Beth Haines said.
So when he drank again or had a psychotic episode, his family begged first responders to issue him a “blue paper” — a court order to admit him into a psychiatric facility against his will — so that he would be forced into treatment. To them, Troy Haines was in an immediate crisis.
But a blue paper never came.
There isn’t such a thing for substance use disorder. It only covers individuals with severe psychiatric problems in emergency situations who pose a serious risk to themselves or others, said Lorraine Chamberlain, director of integration and behavioral health at Aroostook Mental Health Clinic.
People can bring their loved ones to treatment centers and urge them to get help, she said, but the state can’t legally force someone into it.
It’s not clear if authorities tried to issue Haines a blue paper on the grounds of his mental illnesses, but his family said they thought authorities never secured one for him because they didn’t see his situation as desperate enough.
When he was with his family, it was a different case. He could be manipulative, Beth Haines said. “He would present as suicidal and when we got help, he knew what not to say,” his mother Debra said.
This baffled his parents, who watched their son plummet to some of the lowest points of his life from the disorder, like the times he punched the refrigerator with his fist or talked about wanting to end his life.
“He had a great fear of being ‘blue-papered’ or committed,” his mother said shortly after he passed. “So he would often couch things in terms that he knew couldn’t be used against him and minimize things for that purpose.”
On Sept. 30, less than one month before his death, Troy Haines sent this message to his sister:
“I go to the emergency room and they tell me I’m not bad enough for help because I’m polite when I’m there and because I’ve only had like five drinking binges in three years … they don’t understand that it’s going to f****** kill me.”
“I wasn’t screaming and bouncing off the walls like everyone else I wanted to be screaming I wanted to be bouncing off the walls.”
Barriers to getting help
Haines didn’t die because he didn’t try hard enough — he was taken hostage by a disorder that consumed every part of his life. “He was always very hopeful that he was gonna beat this … once he stopped denying it,” his mother said a few weeks after his death.
His story represents a larger issue: people with substance use disorders live in fear of being publicly scrutinized, forcing them into a state of deep shame and self-hatred, making it even less likely that they’ll ever reach out for help.
“Everybody looks at the addict as the person that’s at fault, and they’re not,” Debra said.
The social stigma of substance use disorder played a great part in Haines’ struggles to get treatment, Beth Haines said. She said her brother hated himself for how the disorder had changed him.
Troy Haines hung up blankets and sleeping bags on the walls of the house where he died to hide from the rest of the world.
The house once belonged to his grandparents, and although it was falling apart, it still felt like home to Haines. Whenever he went back to Aroostook County, this is where he wanted to stay.
The floorboards were weak or missing altogether. He had no running water, heat or electricity inside the house, either. He had to build fires outside to get warm because the wood stove didn’t work anymore.
Feces littered the second floor of the house and pill bottles of Haines’ old medications were scattered around the couch in the living room, where they remained for weeks after he passed.
In November, Beth Haines went back to the house to pack up the things she would save for the family.
The bed was still untouched since the last time Troy Haines had slept in it. Someone must have opened all the windows in the house after his death, Beth Haines said. Frigid winter air whipped through the rooms, making the house just as unbearably cold as the outside.
She held back sobs as she walked through the house, thinking about her brother spending his final moments surrounded by squalor and completely alone.
‘It has affected everything’
The drug epidemic has affected every part of Maine communities — regardless of socioeconomic status or education — and for some health care providers and policymakers, this is where the real work begins.
With each new fatal overdose, the need for public action becomes more clear: substance use disorder doesn’t discriminate and ending the crisis is everyone’s responsibility.
“Any one of us could have this issue,” said Chamberlain from Aroostook Mental Health Clinic. The task at hand now, she continued, is how to help those suffering with a substance use disorder — and it starts by changing the way people talk about it. “You start by talking about it differently … [and] asking, ‘How can I help?’”
Ordinary people can help their own communities by educating themselves and others to reduce the stigma of substance use disorder, according to Gordon Smith, director of the Maine Opioid Response team. People also can train to become recovery coaches or start local coalitions.
“[The epidemic] has affected everything,” Smith said. “It’s not just about people dying, it’s about our community.”
After her son’s death, Debra spoke about what she hoped for by sharing Troy Haines’ story. She wept, struggling to get the words out.
“I want to promote awareness and somehow affect some change in mental health services so that what happened to Troy doesn’t happen to other people,” she said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, call 211 or visit www.211maine.org. To reach a suicide prevention hotline, call 888-568-1112 or 800-273-TALK (8255), or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.