Fighting the Drug Scourge

By Seth Daniel

When Father Jim Ronan took the microphone Monday night at the Knights of Columbus to address more than 300 people who had gathered to see a provocative new movie on drug abuse and to hear a new call to fight harder against the scourge, he was quick to point out that he believes in miracles.

After all, such belief has been needed as he has had to watch countless young people buried way too soon due to drug abuse, particularly opiates. He’s had to sit with parishioners after conducting a funeral for their children.

And like many in the Town – particularly the hundreds that gathered Monday – he has had enough of it and believes a miracle can happen to end it.

“It’s something that is affecting everyone in the community whether man, woman, child, parent, young or old,” he said. “All of us. Right now, the problem of drug abuse is a crippling plague on our Town…This will not be a meeting where we hear personal testimony from others. We want to do that at times, but we want to move to a distinctively different way of talking – not just about what we can do to fight the struggles of drug abuse. That’s not enough. We want to move to talking about how the Town can have a plan where we eliminate drug abuse. That may appear to be a huge, impossible idea, but I believe it can be accomplished.

“We can’t do it alone,” he continued. “It can only happen when a community comes together. We can’t do it alone and we can’t do it without God…I’ve buried those who have died. I have sat with you during these troubled times.”

Following that call, Ronan asked for a moment of silence to remember those who have died as a result of the disease of addiction.

In that moment, not a sound was heard in the Knights hall.

There was absolute, complete silence among the 300 people who had – minutes before – been talking and dining quite loudly. It was profound and sad silence, with the only sound being made by a ticking computer in the corner of the room – a small sound typically drowned out by a far-off furnace or the passing of a vehicle outside.

Monday’s meeting will likely be seen as a new turning point in the long battle with addiction in the Town. It brought together many people and players in the community, including the churches, the hospitals, the organizations and the service providers.

Those organizations included the Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition (CSAC), Ronan’s St. Mary’s-St. Catherine’s Church, CHAD, Charlestown Adult Education Center, Charlestown Boys & Girls Club, Charlestown Community Center, Charlestown Recovery House, Charlestown Mother’s Association, First Parish Church, the Kennedy Center, MGH Charlestown, NEW Charlestown, St. Francis de Sales Church, Charlestown District Court, 76 Monument Street Counseling Center, the state Department of Public Health, Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR), among many others.

The big pull of the night was a 30-minute short movie ‘If Only,’ produced by Mike Yebba and Jim Wahlberg of Dorchester. Wahlberg is the older brother of Hollywood stars Mark Wahlberg and Donnie Wahlberg and mainly runs Mark’s foundation – in association with the Boys & Girls Clubs.

However, he is a man who has seen the worst, he said, having been in prison and having been an addict. He said he is in recovery for some time now, but recently took on the project to produce a movie about how kids so quickly and innocently get hooked on opiates these days.

“I usually show this film and give this talk in the suburbs,” he said. “Tonight I’m in Charlestown and that’s different. This isn’t new here. We’ve been dealing with this problem for many, many years. We’ve been burying people for many, many years. Now, it’s front page news and presidential campaign material. We’ve fought it many years before any of that. Nobody cared when it was just happening in Charlestown, Southie, Dorchester and Roxbury. Now it’s happening in places where people have more means and it’s become a big deal. I’m sorry, but I have to say that before we get started, because it is profoundly obvious.”

Wahlberg said he grew up having a very difficult life, going in and out of prison and youth offender facilities. Some 27 years ago, though, he changed his life through a recovery program in prison.

However, three years ago, when he learned his son was using drugs, he experienced a pain he had yet to feel.

“I thought I had a difficult life and then found out my son was doing drugs,” he said. “All that pain in my life was nothing compared to the pain I felt at that point.”

He announced that his son did get into recovery and has been sober three years now. His other son, 19, is also doing well.

Both young men, along with his mother, and his brother Robert Wahlberg, all appeared in the movie. However, he said many others appeared in the movie as well, and their stories were reminders of the stories without happy endings.

“There are a lot of people in the movie who lost their children to overdoses – a lot,” he stressed.

The movie chronicles a young man – played by Jim Wahlberg’s son – who is a straight-laced kid with good grades in a single-parent home. After starting to spend more time with a new girlfriend, he and his long-time best friend begin to go to parties where pills are passed out.

One memorable scene shows a teen party where a bowl of various pills – most having been taken from the family medicine cabinet – were passed around and consumed like potato chips.

Soon after that, the boy and his friends are taking the pills every day.

His mother detects something is wrong and has him tested for drugs. When the startling results come back, she enters him into a rehabilitation facility away from school.

The mother also tries to talk to the mother of her son’s best friend, to let her know that her son is also mixed up in the opiate scene. She, however, does not believe it and turns the mother away.

Soon, though, her son is found upstairs, having overdosed on heroin and died with a needle in his arm.

At the funeral, the main character notes during his friend’s eulogy, “We think we’re invincible, but we’e not.”

The night concluded with a panel discussion.

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