LACONIA, New Hampshire – A dozen recovering addicts gathered over the weekend around a table in this small central New Hampshire city ahead of the key Democratic Party nominating contest taking place on Tuesday.
None of them had spoken with any of the candidates who over the past few weeks have toured this northeastern US state devastated by the opioid crisis, but they all agreed when asked about the country’s most pressing need.
“Universal health care,” they said nearly in unison, referring to a policy objective touted by progressive Democrats, especially one of the front-runners in New Hampshire, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
This group of recovering addicts living at a so-called sober house, or long-term addiction treatment center, in Laconia, know first-hand that when people struggling with drug abuse seek help they often are confronted with the reality of a health care system racked by numerous deficiencies.
Those problems include long waiting lists at rehab centers and a loss of Medicaid benefits for suspects who have been booked into jail (a common problem for addicts charged with drug possession, who receive medical care behind bars but can face delays in re-enrolling in that public health care program for low-income people after their release).
Their addictions also have had a devastating effect on their families.
Carissa Moran, who takes part every Sunday in a house meeting along with other recovering addicts at that Laconia residence run by the company New Life Recovery Homes, told EFE that leaving her children behind was not easy but that after years of addiction and relapses she knew she needed to regain her sobriety above all else.
“I got to the point that my daughter was finally saying ‘I hate you mum, it’s your fault that I’m sad,’” she said. “And then I broke down and I didn’t want to live anymore.”
“That was in August and here I am in February. It’s been six months I’ve been without my kids, I had nobody to spend Thanksgiving with, no one to spend Christmas with,” Moran said. “And all I wanted to do was be with them and that was the hardest thing to do to stay sober through those holidays because I was alone and empty.”
The 36-year-old moved into the sober house to continue her long-term recovery process following a 28-month stint in a rehab program and do so in a place far removed from her normal circles.
She said that now that she is finally sober she feels frustrated about being separated from her children.
“Some days are hard and I miss them,” Moran said, adding that she can only speak with her family by phone.
Another resident of the sober house, Eric Smith, is just 40 but is already a grandfather. He has a 16-year-old son who doesn’t speak to him and another 21-year-old son – the father of his granddaughter – with similar addiction problems.
“I want to be a good parent. I just can’t right now, and that’s the worst pain. I want to be there for them,” he said.
After years of relapses, he tried to kill himself with an overdose last summer; but after he survived and underwent a stint of rehab, Smith went to this sober house in Laconia instead of seeking out his drug dealer.
Since he arrived, he has been speaking with his older son via Facebook regularly.
“So that makes me feel good to be able to be there for him when he’s gone through some stuff. Because he needs me right now and I can be there for him today.”
Living in the same house is 23-year-old Skye Bradburg, who has an 18-month-old son.
Bradburg said he remembers hiding away in a hospital bathroom to get high while his girlfriend was giving birth. He then shot up with a needle for the first time on Dec. 20 and suffered an overdose. For him, that was a turning point.
Although he says he is a better father now via videocall than he was living with his family under the same roof and consuming heroin, Bradburg says he plans to return home soon.
“My son doesn’t talk now, but he knows I’m his father even though I wasn’t always there. When he sees me, he’ll smile and start screaming into the camera,” he said.
But other recovering addicts in Laconia say it may take longer until they are ready for that step.
“One thing about addiction is that we want that instant gratification. When we’re hurting, we put the drug in. We stop hurting,” Moran said. “Well, that’s not how sobriety works.”
Smith, for his part, longs for the day when his younger son will speak to him again.
“He probably won’t believe me when I tell him that I’m doing this this time. So I think it’s gonna take some time.”