MANCHESTER, NH – Chris Hickey has tended to our children in the worst of times. He’s released the life-saving aerosol Narcan into your daughter’s nasal passages and brought her back from heroin-induced clinical death. He’s listened intently for your son’s pulse, his body splayed on the sidewalk, a telltale needle on the ground next to his wounded, needle-pocked arm.
He’s had to transport the bodies of our nearly dead to emergency rooms around the city.
And all too often, he’s the one who has seen our loved ones before we have learned the devastating news, that they are lost for good.
Hickey, a Manchester firefighter and EMT training officer, wants to get to your children before it’s too late, while they are still eager to learn why using heroin, even once, can be the beginning of addiction.
On Thursday Hickey stood in the Hillside Middle School gymnasium and educated parents in the same way he would like to educate their children. He narrates the slide presentation, titled “Not Even Once,” with a voice of authority.
He says he is mindful that any given child in the district may already have some first-person understanding of heroin’s devastation. That’s because he knows too well that it’s in every corner of the city, says Hickey, as he moves to a slide that shows a heat map of the city, lit up wherever Narcan has been used, to underscore his point.
In fact, following Thursday night’s program, a mother raised her hand during the Q&A and asked Hickey whether he thought the presentation might be too much for a child who has lost a parent to the drug.
“My children’s father died of a heroin overdose, and so I’m wondering if you think this would cause stress or PTSD – some of the images, of people overdosed and laying on the ground – I’m worried my kids will see that and wonder if that’s how it was for their father.”
She was not the only parent who bore the weight of a personal question. Although it was meant as a way to prepare the parents of middle schoolers to broach the topic of heroin, many who came spoke candidly about their own situations – like the father whose 19-year-old dropped out of West High School due to her addiction.
“Maybe if we’d had something like this a year ago, we would have known the signs. We would have realized she was smoking heroin, and not pot,” said the dad.
Or another mom, who had questions about whether her daughter could become sick from taking suboxone, a synthetic opioid used to wean addicts from heroin.
“I’m not sure if what she tells me is the truth, but because she is taking a large amount of heroin, she’s deathly afraid of detoxing. She tells me if she takes the subs on top of the heroin it will make her sicker,” said the mom.
Another woman asked Hickey what effect methadone – another synthetic drug used to get addicts off of heroin – would have on an unborn baby.
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” Hickey said. “I’d like to say that if the mother is weaning off of heroin, that the baby would be, too.”
School superintendent Debra Livingston said prior to the meeting that it’s certainly a tough topic to have to deal with, but it has to be dealt with.
“It’s too serious to not do it. We have to do something,” Livingston said. “At the end of last school year Chris came in and did a presentation for all the principals, and at that point we said we have to do this when school starts.”
However, the roll-out has been slowed down due in part to concerns about the content – making sure it’s age appropriate, making sure parents sign off on it, or have the opportunity to watch with their students, if they wish.
It’s new and unfortunate territory for the district, but Livingston says once all the details have been worked out, middle school students will see Hickey’s presentation, beginning after Christmas break.
The hour-long presentation was comprehensive – Hickey described addiction and how genetic predisposition to the disease is impossible to predict, but that early and swift treatment is essential.
He showed the origin of heroin and described how it is harvested from poppy plants and dried into hardened clay-like material before it’s distributed, divided, and often contaminated with an array of additives – from flour or baby formula to deadly fentanyl – and then sold by the bag to addicts.
Hickey expanded on the topic of fentanyl, which has proven to be a particular issue in New England. It’s far more powerful a high and deadly a drug than heroin, and extremely cheap, and because it can be made synthetically, it’s often used by drug dealers to supplement the heroin they sell, for their profit.
Hickey also walked the parents through the short- and long-term effects of heroin use on a body, and then opened the session up to questions. There were statistics and visual aids and some graphic images of drug-ravaged arms, and herion-addled brains.
The images are meant to stick with students, he said. The information is meant to prevent them from ever using heroin – not even once – and allow parents to be educated, as well.
Jessica Deleault and Lianne McNamara both have kids at Parkside Middle School. They said they came to to see the presentation after getting an informational flyer, and were curious about the content. Afterward, they both agreed that it was an educational and valuable program.
“Oh yes,” said Deleault. “I’m not sure if my kids would want to watch it with me, but I am all for it.”
Hickey said the program will likely be previewed at the city’s other middle schools for the benefit of parents and the community before it launches in early 2016.
For more information and help:
Click here for a list of various resources in the state of NH.
- Hope for NH Recovery, a peer-to-peer recovery and support center.
- TAM NH – an online support community for parents of addicted children.
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Families Sharing Without Shame
- Find a Celebrate Recovery Meeting
- FASTER:Families Advocating Substance Treatment, Education & Recovery
- The Yoga of 12-Step Recovery