Quincy holds vigil for drug overdose victims as epidemic grows
By Katheleen Conti
Boston Globe Staff
One in a series of occasional articles about OPIATE ABUSE and its consequences.
Talking about the side effects of heroin makes Kathy Deady angry.
It’s not just the ease with which people become ADDICTED to it that sets her off, but the way it steals their souls, leaving vacant shells behind for loved ones to deal with.
“You look in their eyes and there’s nothing there,” she said. “I hate it.”
Deady should know. For nearly 22 years she looked into the vacant eyes of her drug-addicted son Michael, who got his first taste of marijuana at 8, then was caught in the vise grip of heroin by around 23.
Heroin’s entrance into her family life stole many things from Deady, but she wasn’t going to let it steal her voice. Four years ago, Deady and about half a dozen other Quincy parents dealing with OPIOID ADDICTION among their children decided to hold a candlelight vigil in Quincy Center as a public outlet for those grieving in private silence.
“There was such a stigma. The HEROIN ADDICT was the guy under the bridge in New York, not around here,” Deady said. “I wish there were more parents who wouldn’t just sit there and be quiet about it. This is why the vigil started. . . . It was a way for people to voice what was going on in their lives.”
‘It’s a place to show solidarity and to show that you can show your face somewhere. You can’t hide, you have to be brave, and you have to step up.’
The group expected about 25 people, but 200 showed up, carrying photographs of loved ones who had lost battles to ADDICTION. Quincy was in the throes of an opioid overdose epidemic and the vigil became a place for sharing, said Deady, whose son, now 40, has been clean and sober for 4½ years and was just married.
Michael said it is not hard to share his story with people because, “it’s part of being sober and happy and going through the  steps.”
The regionwide epidemic is being fed by easy access to prescription opioids and heroin, said Michael, who used to get heroin delivered to his parent’s house just as easily as if it were pizza. He said he finally decided to get sober when a friend with whom he got high looked at him one day and told Michael to get sober or he’d be dead within the week.
“Some days it’s easy, some days it’s not so easy. It ebbs and flows,” Michael said. “The most important thing to do for myself is talk about my feelings. I was a bottler; I never wanted to talk to anybody. I kept to myself, and that was very unhealthy for me.”
For now, Michael’s is a success story, but Deady, who openly admits to having post-traumatic stress from the years-long ordeal, keeps herself grounded by sharing with others the numbers that show addiction can be a very long road.
“Michael won’t say how many times he OD’ed. I would estimate 20,” she said. “He was in 150 detoxes, 60 programs, seven [court-ordered TREATMENT FACILITY commitments] that I did, and [eight or nine] he did himself.”
The overdose epidemic CONTINUES, and so does the vigil. On Wednesday, Deady, with Impact Quincy , is to host the fourth Quincy Overdose Candlelight Vigil on the Crane Library lawn, 40 Washington St.
Just as at the first vigil in 2010, the names of those who succumbed to overdoses will be read aloud, a ship bell rung after each, said Arlene Goldstein, program coordinator at Impact Quincy, a SUBSTANCE ABUSE PREVENTION program of human services nonprofit Bay State Community Services. Names will be collected and candles distributed starting at 6 p.m.
“It’s a place to show solidarity and to show that you can show your face somewhere,” Goldstein said. “You can’t hide, you have to be brave, and you have to step up because it’s an epidemic. You have to link arms and push forward for change. There’s a tremendous amount of change in the state.”
Between 2010 and 2012, there were 60 opiate overdose deaths in Quincy. In 2010, Quincy was 10th in the state for opioid-related deaths, she said.
In March, Governor Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency in response to OPIOID ADDICTION and dedicated $20 million to increase treatment and recovery services. From 2000 to 2012, state health officials said opioid-related overdoses in Massachusetts increased by 90 percent.
With the declaration, first responders were permitted to carry and administer the anti-overdose drug NALOXONE, better known as Narcan, which Quincy police have been carrying since 2010. In that time, more than 260 overdoses in Quincy have been reversed, Deady said.
The growing movement to have first responders carry Narcan nationally, known as the “Quincy model,” would not have happened without Deady and her friend and parent support group member Nancy Holler, who used their experiences with their sons’ multiple overdoses to push for the use of the drug locally, Goldstein said.
“What’s amazing about these two women is that they would not suffer in silence,” Goldstein said. “Thank God there are squeaky wheels who say, ‘What’s going on here?’ ”
The vigil has served as a beacon for many, Deady said.
“The vigil is for people who are going through similar things -- and a lot of them don’t say it to anyone else but when they go to the vigil and see everyone else, they see they’re not alone,” she said. “Because it’s so lonely. . . . If one person comes and finds some comfort, we did our JOB. If we can keep one kid alive, that’s our job.”