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Editorial: A willful blindness?

Last week, about 200 people came out on a rainy Thursday night to watch Bess O’Brien’s documentary film “The Hungry Heart.” It is a moving and emotionally powerful 93-minute film on prescription drug and opiate addiction.
While the main meeting room in the Unitarian Universalist Society church in Middlebury was packed, it also means about 8,500 people in the Middlebury community were not there. That is expected, of course. No event draws all people.
But this one should. The need to be informed and aware is that great.
Among many revelations in the film, it documents how easily drug use spreads in our communities, how the over-prescription of pain killers can lead to addiction, and how quickly users become addicts. In some instances, parents spread their addiction to kids, grandparents innocently leave drugs in easily accessible places for grandkids to take, and friends lead friends into a downward spiral.
The film also explores some of the early signs of addiction through dozens of personal interviews. Amazingly many drug users in the early stages are able to continue going to classes, work and interacting with family without noticeable change. But that phase doesn’t last long. As the film documents, kids begin to draw away from family gatherings and occasionally ask to borrow money for what seems like reasonable requests. Then, often what happens is that property and money turn up missing. In several profiles, the film showed how inner-family theft is the first revelation and heartbreak of a son or daughter heading toward a serious drug addiction. It happens in the workplace, too.
“The Hungry Heart” showed in 31 communities across the state, the last three of which were at the Vergennes Opera Hall, Bristol’s Holley Hall and in Middlebury. Hopefully, word of mouth from the thousands of people who saw it can help spread the film’s message, which is this: Let’s create awareness of the problem and take the appropriate action to help those in need.
O’Brien cites several steps that residents can take immediately:
• At home, discuss the issue with kids. If you don’t know how to start that discussion, one of the easiest ways is to buy the movie and watch it with the entire family. (It’s on CD and can be purchased at www.kingdomcounty.org.) Dispose of medicines in the house that are no longer being used or out of date. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have medicines that could be abused and, if so, find a way to store them securely.
• In our communities, we need to encourage the proper officials to create treatment and recovery centers. Addison County is behind on this effort. While the Turning Point Center in Middlebury is one avenue to help those struggling with drug addictions, until recently there was no doctor providing medicines, like methadone or suboxone, in combination with therapy and drug support to help recovery addicts get clean. One doctor in the Bristol area is now currently offering that service.
All recovery clinics need volunteers and those in recovery need mentors they can trust and share their ups and downs. Create a community group to consider innovative ways to address the problem. Take your concern to the town selectboard, police, mayors and emergency responders. Discover how serious the problem is, and what should be done about it.
• On the state level, for those who are interested, join Friends of Recovery Vermont, which is an advocacy organization dedicated to addressing the disease of addiction. Watch for legislative action on the issue this upcoming session and be willing to be part of that dialogue.
The bad news is that drug use and addiction is becoming more prevalent than it has been, particularly among those younger adults who have not continued onto higher education or are on a productive career path. It’s cheap to get hooked, the addiction is quick, and the end results are devastating. To ignore the crisis is to let it fester and become an even greater problem.
The good news is that officials at Porter Hospital report they are in the process of presenting a plan for state approval that would help provide greater medical support for those dealing with the disease of addiction. There’s hope that the new clinic in Bristol will offer more help as well once it is fully underway.
In the meantime, for all those who missed the film and the conversation (some of the recovering addicts in the film attend each showing and participate in a community discussion afterwards) and want to see it, it’s not too late. Personal copies of he movie can be purchased, as noted above, or community libraries would be great venues to host an evening presentation, or weekend matinee. Also every middle school and high school in the county, and state, should be encouraged to book a school-wide showing of the film with a discussion afterwards.
Knowledge and community awareness is power in the fight against drug addiction. Turning a blind eye only makes the problem worse.
Angelo S. Lynn

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