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Addiction recovery journey ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’: three Boston-area women share their stories

Boston Herald - 10/1/2022

As overdose deaths surge in Massachusetts and the nation at large, around 500 members of the local community dedicated to recovery took to the streets to show the light on the other side of addiction.

Drug-attributable deaths exploded nationally in 2020 when 91,799 Americans lost their lives to drugs — a leap of more than 20,000 over the previous year, and well more than double the national deaths attributed to drug use a decade earlier, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database.

Opioids have become an even greater problem in Massachusetts, with deaths related to use of that category climbing 8.8% in 2021 over the previous year, according to the state’s Department of Public Health. That’s 2,290 confirmed and estimated Massachusetts opioid-related deaths last year alone, which is a huge chunk of the 18,522 deaths from 2010 through 2021.

“I was addicted to everything; alcohol, opiates, crack, cocaine,” said Kaitlyn McIntyre, who attended Thursday’s 32nd Recovery Month Celebration Day event and the 500-strong march from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall. “Nobody chooses that. Nobody wants that. … It’s like the devil — it takes over your soul.”

McIntyre is now five months clean and sober and attributes her membership in the programs of Boston’s St. Francis House — one of the local organizations established to help others with addiction and problems associated with homelessness — as having “helped save” her life.

“Before I started using, I used to be one of those people who would judge,” McIntyre told the Herald about how she viewed addicts on the street before she ended up living out on Massachusetts Avenue herself for a spell. “But it became me.”

She said after trying to seek help and failing time and again to get clean, a friend convinced her to give herself another one of what she called a “1% chance” and go through the doors of the St. Francis House on Boylston Street. She did and now says, “My clean date could have easily been my death date.”

Luz Reyes, who at the end of August celebrated two years working at the St. Francis House, where she works as an outreach coordinator, and eight years sober around the same time, said that she sees “a lot of people getting help,” and she’s seeing many members really throwing themselves into the work of the recovery community, including participating in last week’s “amazing recovery rally.”

Heroin is the drug of choice in Massachusetts since it overtook alcohol in surveys of enrollees for treatment programs in 2010, according to state data. Data stretching back to 2008 have showed addiction treatment enrollment across the state in the high 90,000s or even crossing over into the six figures, like in that first heroin-leading year, when 102,288 Bay State residents entered treatment programs.

Heroin has continued to be the dominant choice substance since then, with 52.8% of enrollees citing that as their drug of choice compared with 32.8% naming alcohol. No other drugs, including other opioids at 4.6%, rose above 5%. That includes 59% of residents of the Greater Boston region, who in 2017 — the last full year data set available — cited heroin or other opioids as their drug of choice.

Cocaine in either powder or rock form was a common secondary drug of choice at about 32%.

Being part of a community with so many “friendly faces” going through the process of recovery, St. Francis member Chiya Souto told the Herald, “makes the process a lot easier.”

“I was feeling very isolated, very alone before I found this community,” Souto, who is in her first six months of recovery from her alcohol addiction, said. “There’s just no judgment and it’s one day at a time and you just keep coming back.”

“Your life can go downhill extremely fast, in the blink of an eye,” she said, adding that mental health services should be at the forefront of anyone’s recovery plan. “You never know what obstacle is just around the corner that can put you in an addict’s shoes.”

The recovery process, and the second chance these women recognize it has, has them all wanting to give back to show others the way.

McIntyre is studying to get a credential in addiction counseling, Souto hopes one day to be able to work helping others in their recovery efforts and Reyes has already worked her way up at St. Francis to be able to put others who need a helping hand in touch with the support they need.

“No matter what the struggle is, just keep going, because you will find that light at the end of the tunnel,” Reyes said. “I am grateful that my God gave me the power not to go back to that first drink.”

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