Panel: Tough Love Can Help Addict Come to Grips with Their Illness

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Charlie Breitrose

Chris Thigpen of Benchmark Recovery Center and Watertown High School Head Master Shirley Lundberg spoke on the Watertown Drug Education panel.

Chris Thigpen of Benchmark Recovery Center and Watertown High School Head Master Shirley Lundberg spoke on the Watertown Drug Education panel.

Charlie Breitrose

Chris Thigpen of Benchmark Recovery Center and Watertown High School Head Master Shirley Lundberg spoke on the Watertown Drug Education panel.

Addiction to heroin and other opioids has risen in New England, and with tragic results, including in Watertown. Thursday night, a panel of people looking to help people overcome substance abuse shared their knowledge, including one sentiment that all agreed – tough parenting can help addicts get the treatment they need.

Those who attended the event, “Watertown Community Drug Education,”at Watertown Middle School, heard powerful personal testimonies of those who have overcome addition and parents of addicts in recovery.

Watertown resident Chris Thigpen, and Northeast Region business development director for the Benchmark Recovery Center, organized the event to share his knowledge as an addict in longterm recovery about what it takes to overcome addition.

Opioid addiction has risen at an alarming race in Watertown, with fatal consequences, said Watertown Police Lt. Daniel Unsworth.

“Last year one person died from overdosing,” Unsworth said. “This year we have had six deaths, and it’s only May. At that pace we could have 12 to 14 deaths.”

Watertown High School Head Master Shirley Lundberg said she worries about students’ attitudes toward drugs.

“My sense of students attitude about pot these days is it is no big deal,” Lundberg said. “Some states have legalized it, and police do not arrest people for it anymore – no big deal. But it is the first step in the path to heroin.”

She said the town has a great quality that can help it deal with a problem as difficult and complex as drug addiction.

“I learned quickly in my first days here that this community cares about each other,” Lundberg said. “It is a phenomenal quality of life, and it is not as palpable in other communities.”

A Mother’s Experience

Addiction to opioids can hit anyone, and sometimes starts with people who have been prescribed painkillers. However, many do not address it because of the shame they feel for being addicted to drugs, or having a family member who is an addict.

Salem’s Toby Channen said her family had no history of addition, but son got hooked on opioids after he was prescribed pain killers. He suffered severe face injuries after he was hit with the butt of a gun when he was dealing marijuana.

He had a history of smoking pot, but Channen did not know he was into painkillers until one of his friends called and told her that her son was into more serious drugs.

“We surprised him with a drug test and it came up positive for opiates,” Channen said. “We were completely unprepared. The insurance company said send him to the ER and then take him off to detox.

“We thought, ‘Phew, we caught this one. Wrong! It is a problem for life.”

Channen tried to keep her son’s addiction a secret, and tried to keep him happy, but that turned out to just allow him to keep using drugs.

“It turned upside down everything you think as a parent,” Shannen said. “What you are doing is completely wrong and of course he relapsed and went back to detox.”

Addicts need time to be ready to really overcome addiction.

“Detox is not treatment,” Channen said. “It takes about three months for addicts because it takes that long to get clear.”

What helped finally get her son into treatment and start recovery was a group called Learn 2 Cope (, which allows people to anonymously ask questions, get advice and support from those who have gone through the same situation.

Injury Leads to Addiction

Arlington’s Mike Duggan’s drug problem started after he broke his wrist during a hockey game. He was prescribed painkillers when he broke it. Then he needed surgery, and got more prescription painkillers. A short time later he had his wisdom teeth out and had more prescription painkillers.

He got into Bentley College and played football, but he spent most of his time outside school hanging out with friends from home and partying. He did not realize how dependent he had become to painkillers until he went to Old Orchard Beach with his girlfriend and forget his pills.

“I became deathly ill with flu-like symptoms. I stayed in bed the whole weekend and we told her parens I had the flu,” Duggan said. “When I went home I took a pill and felt better. I made the decision not to go anywhere without anything ever again.”

Gradually, his need for pills led him to stop going to some of his classes, most of his classes and finally all of his classes.

His mother confronted him, and he admitted he was doing it. Duggan felt relieved, but even though he wanted to quit, he was not in the state to do so. And even though his mother is a nurse, she did know know what to do.

Having gone through recovery, Duggan and his mother started Wicked Sober (

Many people make the mistake of going to the insurance company to ask what to do.

“You can’t call the person paying the bills for advice,” Duggan said. “If you go to the wrong detox and you could screw up your opportunity to get into the right recovery program. If you get into a program which has its own residential program, they pull from their own detox program.”

Duggan said what worries him is the new synthetic drugs coming on the market with names like Molly, Bath Salts and Spice.

Addict Helping Addicts

Mark Crandall, a recovering addict who works with homeless and at-risk kids in Manchester, N.H., said he has seen many deaths from drugs. Last year, 30 teens died from taking tainted Spice.

Crandall has battled drug problems since he was little. He calls County Jail his detox and several times he tried to get clean, but it never worked.

What finally helped him over the edge to recovery was his mother getting tough.

“She said, we are going to buy you a pair of new shoes, some pants and a couple shirts and I am going to drop you off at rehab,” Crandall said. “If you don’t make it, don’t come back.”

He spent 11 months in rehab, but said he was only really “a quarter engaged.” It was there, however, he met a couple people who would stay on his case and make sure he was not heading back to drugs.

Now he works to help others overcome addict, particularly youth, with New Hampshire’s Child and Family Services.

His concern is the lack of funding and programs for addicts.

“You go to forums and they talk about what’s effective (treatment) but it completely ignores the fact that there are no resources,”

There are upcoming events for family of addicts and those in treatment.

The Overdose Pervention & Education Network (OPEN) has an event called Saving Lives Together at the Somerville Hospital cafeteria on May 13 from 6-8 p.m. (Click here to register).

On May 19, a training to prevent and recognize the signs of overdoses will be held at Watertown High School from 6-8 p.m. Participants will learn how to administer Narcan, which can reverse the effects of overdoses. (Register for the event here).

The Watertown Community Drug Education event was taped by Watertown Cable Access, and will be showing local cable and on the website

See previous Watertown News stories on heroin, opioids and addition:

Police Chief Sees Heroin as a Growing Concern in Watertown

Experts Warn Heroin Addiction Can Impact Anyone

Good Samaritan Law Allows Reporting of Heroin Overdoses Without Being Arrested

Watertown Firefighters Now Armed with Antidote for Heroin Overdoses

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