METHUEN — For 15 years, Phil Lahey has made noise.
He has asked for resources from legislators. He has lent his support to local initiatives, including the two part-time drug counselors the Methuen Police Department will add to its staff this year. And he has taken to community television to demand his neighbors pay attention to the region's ever-worsening opioid epidemic.
He does it all with hopes that he can save parents from making the mistakes he made when he ignored the signs that his daughter was addicted to heroin.
Until about two years ago, Lahey says, the effort was like pushing against a brick wall. That is changing. And that change and progress is what he wants to highlight at a forum Saturday hosted by the advocacy group he leads, The Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project.
"Everybody always comes at this saying, 'We need this. We need that,'" Lahey said in a recent interview. "Everybody knows what we need. I want people who can say what they've done this past year, who can say what things can legitimately be done in the future, so there's some hope."
Called "Reasons for Hope," the forum will feature a discussion at the Methuen Senior Center, Saturday, Sept. 12, where law enforcement officials, media professionals, drug court personnel, recovery counselors, lawmakers and others will talk about prevention and attempts to spread awareness about the opiate epidemic. The Eagle-Tribune is the media sponsor for the event.
Betsy Cote, of North Andover, became active with MVPASAP after she lost her son, Christopher, to a heroin overdose in 2013. Her reasons for joining the effort were multifaceted. She was looking for emotional support. She wanted to find out what local and state government officials were doing to combat the deadly disease that no one was talking about.
"Chris died before anybody would admit there was a real crisis. Chris was right at the beginning of it. We couldn’t ever get any help or find anyone to help us," she said.
Now that the crisis is making headlines and commanding the attention of lawmakers, Cote said, she wants to help educate the public about the signs of addiction and the toll it takes on families. The Cotes didn't understand why Christopher's behavior began to change when he began to regularly use cocaine and oxycodone, a powerful prescription painkiller, in high school.
Cote now knows that period of time where Christopher began to lie, steal and drift away from friends and loved ones was a precursor to a battle with heroin addiction that he ultimately lost. But at the time, she said, she lacked the knowledge to help her son.
"It can happen to you. You can make a lot of money. You can live in a castle. But it’s still a major crisis," she said. "I don't think any parents are well informed until it happens to them. Not really. I didn't know."
Insurance companies that would not cover a rehab stay longer than 30 days prevented Christopher from getting the help he needed, Cote said. She also said she would like to see communities become better informed and more engaged when it comes to protecting their children, and calling for support from leaders.
"In the end it comes down to education. I have two older kids that are very successful. Chris was my baby, and if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. The only way to prevent it is education. I really believe that," she said.
Above all, Cote said she hopes events like the one Sept. 12 will inspire even one addict to get on the path to recovery.
"People have heard Christopher's story and told me they were inspired by him," she said. "I want people to know that there’s hope, too. There’s hope if you are an addict, and every day is a new day. If you can stop somebody from using, that’s just the best."
BECOME A PART OF THE SOLUTION
What: Reasons for Hope, an event and panel discussion hosted by The Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project.
When: Saturday, Sept. 12, 11 a.m.
Where: Methuen Senior Center, located at 77 Lowell St., Methuen.
How: Free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. For more information, email email@example.com.
Panel: Law enforcement officials, media professionals, drug court personnel, recovery counselors, lawmakers and others, including, but not limited to:
* Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon
* State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen
* State Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen
* Dean Brouder, Methuen School Department Drug and Alcohol Trauma Intervention Prevention coordinator;
* Tracey Rauh, managing editor of The Eagle-Tribune
* Danielle Sullivan Murray, who works with the Lawrence Drug Court
* Gary Hufnagle, Jim Kane and Jennifer Burns, all of whom work at local recovery centers.