Last week a group of community members worked together to bring a film about opioid addiction to the Big Picture Theater. Over 40 people showed up to watch “The Hungry Heart” by Bess O’Brien and the majority stayed for the conversation after.
Some of the themes in the film were eye opening. Many of the people with addiction struggled with sufficient support systems as they were growing up and yet others had support systems in place. To me that reinforced what I already know, that being addicted to opioids can happen to anyone and is not determined by access to wealth (assumption being that wealth equals more access to community and other supports).
Another daunting takeaway was that medically assisted treatment (used to conquer cravings) is only one piece of the puzzle. If a person struggling with addiction does not have community support, housing, a job or access to transportation, it is near impossible to recover. Here is where socioeconomics makes a difference; a person with resources can drive themselves to the clinic in Berlin or pay to go to a residential treatment center. The path to recovery is undoubtedly difficult in both cases, but it looks very different without a savings account.
Which makes me believe that it is a particularly challenging journey here in the Mad River Valley. While I imagine that it is not too difficult to find a job that pays between $10 and $13 per hour, I know that that rate only allows for subsistence living and requires roommates. Having a reliable vehicle with winter tires and gas money to make the trek is a significant barrier.
The conversation that took place after the movie held questions from the audience like Do we have a problem here? How many people are impacted? Where do we have treatment services? What’s happening in the high school? Short answers are that we don’t have access to data to quantify the problem, treatment services are available in Berlin and initially requires daily visits and the high school is currently focused on students’ high use of Juuls and vapes, which are significant risk factors in long-term addiction.
In the last three years we have lost people to this disease and we are now starting to see more arrests related to opioids. We cannot pretend it has not made it past our mountain surround. A mother who had lost her child spoke up after the movie and asked that we remember that people who are addicted are still people. She asked that the audience please not avoid contact with people who are struggling with addiction; it is dehumanizing and makes the situation worse.
Thank you to the Mad River Valley libraries for arranging for “The Hungry Heart” viewing and getting this conversation started. Thank you to Matt Whalen, the substance abuse prevention consultant from the Vermont Department of Health, for leading the conversation, and thank you to the sponsors, Big Picture Theater, Capstone Community Action and the MRV Community Fund.
Baruzzi lives in Fayston and is the community services coordinator for Capstone Community Action.