Editorial: Shining light on the opioid crisis

  • Cory Stafford and his mother Barbara Messinger of South Deerfield hold a picture of Angela Sweeney, who they recently lost to complications from intravenous drug use. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 6/21/2019 6:00:27 PM

She was there for her daughter’s first breath and her last. On March 10 at 7 a.m., Barbara Messinger of South Deerfield received a phone call that no mother should ever have to answer: her daughter, Angela Nicole Sweeney, wasn’t going to make it.

Sweeney died at 40 years old from a heart infection caused by years of drug use, which she was introduced to following a car accident when she was 14, leaving behind family including her mother and brother, Cory Stafford.

“She literally died of a broken heart,” Messinger recently said for a news story that in the Greenfield Recorder and Gazette. “Now, I’ve got one, too.”

Sadly, theirs is a story that’s retold often on these pages by different people from diverse backgrounds. Last year, an estimated 2,000 people statewide died from drug use. In the first three months of this year, 497 people, or more than five a day, have died of confirmed or suspected opioid overdoses, according to the state Department of Public Health.

How long must we as a society carry this burden of grief? Too long — despite the laudable efforts of many, spanning the public and private sectors.

State lawmakers have set aside millions of dollars to support prevention and recovery programs. Local organizations like Hampshire HOPE county opioid prevention coalition based in the Northampton Health Department and the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region tackle the problem head-on through community initiatives.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts construction companies and labor unions held stoppages at work sites to raise awareness about the high rate of fatal opioid overdoses among its ranks. Construction workers represented about 25 percent of all fatal opioid overdoses in the state from 2011 to 2015, according to the Department of Public Health.

Shining light on the crisis is a step in the right direction.

Those who are addicted try to keep their habit in the dark. According to Messinger, while she was alive, Sweeney asked her family not to speak of it — isolating herself from the help she needed.

“She saw it as a sign of weakness. She didn’t want to be seen as weak. She’d even distance herself from us on occasion. But, we knew, especially during those times. We were always scared,” Messinger said.

Messinger and Stafford are taking a different approach to their grief. With broken hearts, they’ve been vocal about their experience and have started a support group called “Angie’s Place” (in memory of Sweeney) as a way of connecting with and supporting others carrying similar burdens.

This transparency cannot be easy and we commend them for their bravery. By speaking up, perhaps others can be saved.

Angie’s Place meet for the first time this week, and is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, July 2, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Polish American Citizens Club, 46 South Main St., South Deerfield.

Messinger said the group will decide from there when and how often it meets. For information, call Messinger at 413-320-3282 or email Stafford at: stafford.cory@yahoo.com.




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