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Heroin: Thoughts from a Recovering User

March 14, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari and Sam Tarplin 

As reported in the media, our region of the country has been especially hard hit by the increasing number of heroin overdoses and deaths. The Risky Business column will continue to focus on the heroin and opioid drug (OxyContin®, Percocet®, fentanyl, and Vicodin®) addiction problem.

I recently met Sam Tarplin, a young Falmouth resident and a heroin user in recovery. Sam has taught me a lot about the human side of opiate addiction and the daily struggle to stay clean. Sam is in the process of producing and directing a documentary film about the drug addiction problem on Cape Cod. I asked Sam to share some of his thoughts about preventing substance abuse. In response, he sent me the following:

An Open Letter to High Schoolers and Their Parents

Based on my own experience, the most important and disturbing trend in our community is the switchover from prescription opiates to intravenous heroin use among younger drug abusers. Heroin is a loaded, stigmatized word, and for very good reason. It's the last stop on the bus for anyone with an opiate problem (opiates being the most common class of 'hard' drugs used in our region), is responsible for several deaths every month on the Cape, and a huge amount of crime.

I'm writing this short open letter to talk about prevention; how to spare our youth from the personal hell that is drug addiction, and how to spare our community as a whole from the immense loss that comes with it. As a recovering heroin and crack user myself, I'm hoping to pass on any advice or opinions that I can give to keep this new generation away from what's taken such a strong and brutal hold on many of my peers.

Sometimes even the best parenting and community support cannot prevent the inevitable. It's my belief that there will always be addicts in the foreseeable future, just as there always have been since man first made wine from grapes. This is because addiction is not an issue of moral deficiency. I think that the best way to treat addiction (just like any disease or brain disorder) is to catch it early. Keep a close eye on yourselves and on each other. If you think that you or your loved one has a substance abuse problem, please don't be ashamed or afraid to ask for help, our community is absolutely filled with helpful resources. 

Something else to consider is whether you're part of the solution or just contributing to the problem. If you're a parent, and you let your kids and their friends 'party' at your place, it would be very wise to rethink your stance. Not only is it hurtful to our youth by warping their social norms and giving them a 'safe place' to get loaded, it's also illegal. 

If you're a high school kid around here, maybe try and encourage a new and very real trend of abstinence from drugs and alcohol among people your age. I know personally so many people who didn't get high and drunk either until they were legally allowed to, or ever. Our neighbors over at Mashpee High have started a Project Purple chapter of high schoolers who don't use, similar to the Jack PACT’s program at Falmouth High.  

Why is this important? Well, obviously you can't get addicted to something you've never used, but studies show that the younger that someone is when they first use a substance, the more likely they are to become addicted to it. Remember how much of an impact you have on those around you. Now remember that “with great power comes great responsibility.”

When I was first asked to write this piece for The Enterprise about substance abuse prevention, I almost told Dr. Bihari that he had asked the wrong guy. After all, given my own history what could I offer about prevention? After thinking it over, I realized how wrong I was. My story also started in high school with weekend and summer partying on the golf course, or at someone's house. You need to know that getting high and drunk at such a young age translates into Russian roulette a few years down the road. I understand that this 'is the way it's always been', but look where it's brought us. Maybe instead of looking at 16 year old weekend warriors as 'just kids having fun', or as some backwards 'right of passage', we can look at them as being at risk and vulnerable when we send them off to face the world. 

With sincerity and hope,

Sam Tarplin, FHS Class of '07, 

Director, Producer: “What Happened Here: The Untold Story of Addiction on Cape Cod” www.whathappenedherefilm.com

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