GARDINER — Penny McKinney says her extended family has been whacked hard by drug addiction.

She came to Thursday’s opiates forum in Gardiner looking for information. With two teenage boys, she is concerned that not enough is being done to demonize opiates. In school settings, she’d rather see children who are achieving and drug-free be held up as examples.

“I have no tolerance for it,” she said, referring to drug addiction. “I guess I should be more understanding.”

But she came to the forum, the second in a series in Gardiner, to get more information.

Andrew Kiezulas gave her some. Kiezulas, a member of Young People in Recovery, described for the nearly 100 people attending at Gardiner Regional Middle School how he ended up an addict who, even as he was heading to a detoxification center, announced to his sister he was going to get high after that. Two suicide attempts weren’t enough to shift his addiction, but eventually, he said, he has become a person in recovery.

“We’re doing great with our intentions,” he said. “But people are shooting themselves in the foot with the language they use. We are people in recovery. We are people with substance abuse issues. It’s a human condition and it’s diagnosable and treatable.”

The focus of the event was to give those who attended information to understand how illegal drug use has made its way into central Maine and what they can do to start to halt its spread and to help support people who are in recovery.

“I learned that the people who run these gangs have master’s degrees,” said Lyn Traver, of West Gardiner. They run the gangs like a business, and they use the trappings of business travelers — such as rental cars — to obscure their trail.

Lisa Cote, also from West Gardiner, learned that language matters. “With the best of intentions, the words I use are not always the best,” she said. And to call someone an addict can be considered bullying.

The next forum in the series, about drugs in schools, tentatively scheduled for March, will bring McKinney, Traver and Cote back, because they all have children in school, and they want to protect them.

McKinney has ideas of her own. She thinks doctors who prescribe opiates, often the first step down the slide to heroin addiction, should let their patients know as clearly and directly as they can of the dangers of the painkillers they are prescribing. And more treatment should be available to people who want it. If possible, she’d like to see treatment options that would allow addicted mothers to keep custody of their children.

“You have to scare them,” she said. “You have to do something, because whatever we’re doing is not working.”

The forum was organized by the Rotary Club of Gardiner, Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, School Administrative District 11, the Gardiner Police Department and the Gardiner Fire Department to educate Gardiner residents about what resources are available, what actions they can take and how to best support people in recovery.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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