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Spotlight on addiction struggle: Rally against heroin

New Hampshire Sunday News

August 29. 2015 9:44PM
A Heroin-Stop the Circle Rally was held in Manchester's Veterans Park on Saturday afternoon to bring education and contact with resources to area residents about the epidemic of drug and heroin use that is gripping the area.The rally featured personal and professional speakers, music and booths representing assistance and recovery programs for addicts and their families.Kelly Riley shows a picture of her son, Richie Rodier, who she lost to an overdose at age 24. (Bruce Taylor/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Those gathered for the “Stop the Circle” rally Saturday in a downtown park heard from a U.S. senator, the city's mayor and police chief, even a presidential candidate.

But it was the voices of those who have lost the most to the state's heroin epidemic that resonated most deeply.

Using their real names, they stepped out of the shadow of shame and despair to share their stories — and their hope that there can be another way.

Fifteen-year-old Joely Garber's father died last January of an accidental heroin overdose. “My father was a great man,” she said. “He had struggled all his life but addiction had finally won.”

And now, she said, “I realize that my father will not be here to help me in life.

“He won't be there for homecoming or prom, he won't see me drive, and he won't be the one walking me down the aisle,” she said. “And he won't be there to give me a hug when I need it the most.”

Those lost to addiction, she said, “are not a statistic. They are human beings, and they are loved.”

Courtney Babel, 22, of Pelham, lost her father to an overdose when she was 16 and then watched her older sister descend into heroin addiction. Today, her sister is in jail, but is finally in recovery, Babel said.

“My sister is not a junkie or a lost cause,” she said. “My sister is a fighter.”And she said, “We need more helping hands to help these people who are battling heroin addiction. Because after all, we are the people who can save the people.”

Susan Markievitz lost her son Chad, 25, to a heroin overdose a year ago. But her voice was upbeat and strong as she rallied the crowd.

“If we don't stand as one huge village ... we won't win,” she said. “So keep up the fight. Recovery's out there. Let's make it happen, New Hampshire.”

Katy Gordon told the crowd when she moved from cocaine and pills to heroin, “I had met my match, my true soul and it was love at first high.”

“Heroin has a funny way of calling your name,” she said. “Reeling you back in when you start to feel strong. It was my heaven ; it was my hell.”She lost her job, her boyfriend, her family. “I was living a slow suicide,” she said.

After a near-death experience, she said, “I sat there praying to a God I didn't believe in, begging him to just take me so I didn't have to live this nightmare anymore.”

And that's when she heard a tiny voice: “Surrender.”

Today, she's in recovery and works in the recovery field helping others. She's married, with a son and a baby on the way.

To those struggling with addiction, she offered this: “Surrender. Choose life. I promise you, it's worth it.”

Denise Barbin spoke of the agony of watching her daughter spiral downward into addiction. She and her husband finally threw her out of their house, she said, “one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.”

“My biggest fear was she would think we didn't love her anymore,” she said. “My heart was broken.”

Finally, her daughter reached out for help, and got into a residential rehab program in Florida. She's been clean and sober for four years and now has a husband and “beautiful baby,” Barbin said.

“If any of you out there thinks it's hopeless, it's not,” she said. “Don't give up until the miracle.”

During breaks in the speeches, those who have lost loved ones to overdoses dropped silver paper hearts into a box. Later in the afternoon, the names would be read aloud.

Melanie Clement of Manchester was in charge of the heart project. Her white T-shirt was covered with first names, including 17 of her own relatives and friends. “They're all gone,” she said.

“It just seems like every week, it's another phone call; it's another funeral.”

Lois and Jon Kesty of New Boston wrote the names “Sumner” and “Michael” on two paper hearts, for their daughter and her friend. Both were 23 and both died of heroin overdoses three years ago.

These were gifted, promising young people, Jon Kesty said. “My daughter could have been President of the United States.”

“She was not the person you would expect” to be an addict, Lois Kesty said. “She was creative and beautiful, but those things don't protect you.”

Their daughter had tried rehab several times but just wasn't ready, they said.

Coming to these kinds of events, Lois Kesty said, helps her heart. “There's a certain kinship with other people who understand,” she said. “And we understand what the parents who still have addicts are going through.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a former N.H. attorney general, told the crowd she's been shocked at how many families have been affected by the state's opioid epidemic.

“This is an issue it doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or Republican,” Ayotte said. “This has to be an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, campaigning for President here on Saturday, offered brief, low-key remarks, calling for more resources for treatment and recovery. “Drug addiction is a disease; it's not a moral failing,” he said.

Christie said there wasn't a person in the crowd who hadn't made a mistake. “There but for the grace of God go I,” he said.

The rally was organized by local activist Melissa Laferriere, who said, “I believe it is our responsibility as a community, as individuals and as human beings to provide the help and hope that is so desperately needed right now.”

She urged addicts and their families to reach out to the recovery support groups at resource tables around Veterans Park. “To me it seems simple: put as many people who can help in the same place at the same time and hope that it makes a difference.”

The crowd cheered police Chief Nick Willard when he talked about making sure that those who deal drugs go to prison but those suffering from addiction get the help they need, from mental health services to treatment and recovery programs. “Every single life matters,” he said. “Enough talk. It's time for action.”

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