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March 3, 2013

A dad, his daughter and drugs ...

Her heroin addiction drove them apart; helping others kick the habit reunited them

It’s a choice no parent wants to make.

Phil Lahey had just been sworn in as a Methuen city councilor in 2006 when he did the unthinkable.

“It’s hard throwing your daughter out,” said the 64-year-old former Methuen DPW worker. “But it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The hardest thing was when I got a phone call and learned she OD’ed. I thought I lost her.”

A decade and a half earlier, Colleen Lahey was an innocent teenager fresh out of Catholic grade school. But a series of bad choices in high school started her down the dark path of drug addiction.

The day her father kicked her out was nearly her last. Colleen overdosed on heroin with the intent to kill herself.

Now, at age 36 and approaching four and a half years clean, she’s making the most of her second chance — with a little help from dad.

Since April 2012, the Laheys have hosted an addiction awareness show on Methuen Community Television. They speak openly about their personal experiences — both good and bad — and invite their guests to do the same.

“We want people to know that just because you’re an addict, you’re not a bad person,” said Colleen Lahey. “You’re just sick.

“I had a good childhood, a good upbringing, all of that. It doesn’t matter. Addiction can strike anybody.”

“The Empty Chair Show” takes its name from the vacant seat placed on the set next to Colleen and her dad during each taping. The chair represents addicts who died not knowing that recovery was possible.

“That could have been me,” says Colleen during the first episode. “That’s why we’re here. To let people know there’s a way out.”

‘It changes everything’

The creative spark for “The Empty Chair Show” came three years ago, when the Laheys appeared as guests on the MCTV program “In Focus,” hosted by former City Councilor Pat Uliano.

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