'A face to addiction' offers hope
BRATTLEBORO — Having raised three grandchildren while watching her own children battle with drug addiction, Susan Avery knows how families are being ripped apart by the opioid epidemic.
"Left behind are the children, our future," Avery told members of the local AARP chapter Tuesday at the Brattleboro Senior Center. "I've made a commitment to put a face to addiction and I'm honored to be here today."
Like her parents and grandparents, Avery is a native to Brattleboro. She said her son and daughter, now in their late 40s, have been addicted to a variety of substances including crack cocaine, heroin and alcohol.
After eliciting some "wows" while showing the PBS documentary "Understanding the Opioid Epidemic" on Tuesday, Avery said she wanted to end the presentation on a positive note.
"My daughter, after 24 years of addictive behavior, has just completed her 60th day of being clean and sober," she said. "She's working in a program in Massachusetts. She went through a detox. She went to the next level of care."
Avery said her children had taken the drugs by choice but quickly became caught in cycles of drug seeking that led to "lost hopes and dreams, and lifelong harmful circumstances."
"There being no standard, addiction is an insidiously cruel disease that has no boundaries," she said. "As someone who has watched the deterioration of my children's lives, I have witnessed firsthand the carnage; relationships broken and abandoned with their children, parents and grandparents."
Elementary school teachers can talk about how children are living with relatives or within the foster system, Avery told the crowd of more than a dozen. "Often, opioid addiction has paralyzed two or more generations of a single family."
Avery serves on the Consumer Advisory Council at the Brattleboro Retreat. But her work on drug-related issues happens on local and state coalitions tasked with combating the opioid epidemic, and in Nar-Anon Family Groups, which she facilitates in Brattleboro and Keene, N.H.
Her advocacy includes the calling for school staff to provide "compassionate support" to adults and children affected by addiction and for Vermont to seek a waiver to get federal money to expand access for drug treatment. She also wants the federal government to continue to apply pressure to pharmaceutical companies that she calls complicit in "stoking this epidemic."
Jean Garrecht, the chapter's co-president, described the film as "powerful." She said Avery asked to speak with the group about a year ago.
"A lot of you know her and how hard she's worked on this current crisis, the opioid crisis," Garrecht said. "We're very happy to have you here, Susan."
Bringing up talking points from the film, Avery said addiction brings about cravings with no ability to stop using drugs and called it a parent's "worst nightmare." She noted drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.
Addiction should be looked at as a brain disorder and not as a choice, Avery said, adding that "recovery is possible."
After giving her daughter's present status, Avery said, "There is hope."
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at email@example.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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