Editor’s note: This story has been updated to change what caused Joey Bernard’s death. His mother, Jill Maiorana, received a call from the medical examiner regarding the cause of died after speaking with the Times.
SANDWICH — At a recent Parents Supporting Parents meeting, members posed for a group photo holding photos of their loved ones who died of an opioid overdose.
In addition to their hands, as they squeezed to fill the frame, they had to use their shins and the tops of their feet to precariously balance 34 images of family members they had lost to a substance use disorder in the past six years.
“We lost three in six months – two of them were less than a week apart,” said Linda Cubellis, president of Parents Supporting Parents. “It was an exceptionally brutal year.”
A Mom’s Gift: Parents launch auction to raise money for sober scholarships
Parents Supporting Parents, a non-profit organization for parents of children with substance use disorders, meets every Monday at the Sandwich Council on Aging.
At this particular meeting, the group was planning its annual “Mother’s Day Online Auction.” The event, which will take place from April 16 to 30, will raise funds for the organization’s memorial scholarship program.
The auction will take place on the group’s website: parentsfightingaddiction.org.
If the auction can reach its goal of $25,000, Cubellis said, about 50 sober living “scholarships,” essentially financial assistance, will be awarded to people living on Cape Cod who are undergoing treatment. Cubellis has started collecting donations, but businesses in the area have already shown generosity, she said.
Continued:Significant rise in opioid-related overdoses on Cape Cod blamed on COVID-19
“Everyone is affected by this disease in one way or another and they want to help,” she said. “They understand that scholarships can lead to the next steps in positive living.”
Teddy Zambelis, owner of seafood restaurant Tugboats in West Yarmouth, donated a gift certificate to Tugboats for the “Mother’s Day Online Auction”. A small token, he said, that helps families struggling with addiction.
“Donating to the Parents Supporting Parents mission benefits everyone and helps end the stigma of drug addiction and supports those in recovery,” he said. “Addiction issues can run into any family and can happen to the most innocent children.”
The scholarships are in memory of all children in Cape Town who have died due to opioid addiction, Cubellis said.
“It’s our driving force,” she says. “People who have been able to get through grief with the least amount of pain are people who find ways to focus their energy. For many of our members, it’s that auction.
Opioid-related overdose deaths have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic
In the first nine months of 2021, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, there were 1,211 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in the state.
Although more recent figures are not available, the department estimates between 362 and 441 additional deaths, giving a total of 1,613 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths. This represents approximately 21 more deaths compared to the first nine months of 2020.
Continued:The number of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts increased in 2020
Statewide substance abuse deaths peaked in 2016, but Cape Cod cities continue to report some of the highest death tolls — with Barnstable and Falmouth each reporting 16 in 2020.
For Cubbellis, whose son Corey McAnney is currently sober, the group has become a lifeline for many families guiding their children down the path to rehabilitation.
When the group was founded in 2010 by Lisa Murphy, Cubellis said parents flocked to meetings despite the stigma surrounding addiction. As group members shared their thoughts on co-dependency, financial burdens and endless anxiety over relapses and substance abuse, they learned coping mechanisms and how to let go with love, Cubellis said. .
Continued:Outer Cape Health Services launches intensive day program for addiction recovery
“I have been part of this group since its inception and have made friends with these women. We are there for each other,” she said. “We all see much more that something needs to be done, not just to help the epidemic, but to make a difference.”
Eight years of sobriety
Maggie Purdy, from Sandwich, lost her son Justin Purdy six months ago after a decade-long battle with addiction. She said the group provided resources and peer support, but also compassion as she tried to help her son.
“He was an IV (intravenous) heroin user, which was a complete shock to me years ago when I found out about this,” she said.
Starting out with marijuana at the age of 16, Justin went back and forth to drug and rehabilitation centers. As he transitioned to prescription drugs such as OxyContin, and eventually fentanyl heroin, she said it was becoming increasingly difficult for her son to beat the disease.
“I can’t tell you how many programs he’s signed up for. It was a revolving door,” Maggie said. “He was crying and saying, ‘I can’t understand this. “”
Eventually, Justin stayed sober for eight years. But when the pandemic hit, Maggie said she encountered difficulties at work and increased stress, causing her to relapse. During the pandemic, Maggie said there were other contributing factors such as reduced access to in-person support groups. After a 30-day stay in a treatment center in Florida, Justin returned to Cape Town for a week to accompany his daughter to her first day of school.
Continued:Cloak to remember those who lost opioid overdoses at Tuesday’s candlelight vigil
“When he returned to Florida, he relapsed again and died on the streets,” she said. “He died right in front of rehab. He almost got it (sobriety), but after eight years it got too much.
Maggie is sharing Justin’s story with individuals and business owners to make it real to those in Cape Town who may not understand the seriousness of the opioid epidemic.
“The word heroine, for me, meant like the tramp in the street. But now he’s your everyday beautiful child,” she said. “People need to know that this disease affects the whole community.”
‘I want to do drugs
Jill Maiorana, from North Falmouth, also regularly attends meetings and helps raise money for the auction. In November, her son, Joey Bernard, died at age 18 of an overdose of synthetic opioids. She said Joey’s path to addiction also began with marijuana, which he began abusing in eighth grade. From there, Joey moved on to prescription drugs such as Xanax, his mother said.
“He was getting Xanax on the street or from his friends. Sometimes I didn’t even know what was wrong with him,” she said.
The use of pharmaceutical drugs prompted Maiorana to place Joey in Motivating Youth Recovery, a Worcester-based 12-bed acute rehabilitation and stabilization program for teenagers aged 13-18. Joey stayed on the program for four months, but left the program 30 days before it ended, she said. He remained stable until his father died of a fentanyl overdose in 2020.
Continued:New mobile clinic in Upper Cape offers Narcan, Suboxone – and hope
“He started using a lot of fentanyl after his father passed away. He would snort it, I guess,” she said. “One evening, I called 911 because he was going crazy. He said he wanted to kill himself because I found his medicine and took it.
As her son’s opioid use increased, Maiorana found herself navigating the complexities of outpatient care and long-term recovery, coupled with the intricacies of health care and health insurance systems, which do not support not always people with drug addiction.
As a last resort, she and her family placed her son in an immersion recovery center in Florida. Throughout his time there, Joey had his moments of success with recovery as well as employment, followed by intermittent setbacks. It wasn’t until his father’s birthday that Maiorana said his son, who had been six months sober by then, was really struggling.
“His father’s 50th birthday was November 3. Joey called me at 2 a.m. and said he just got fired. The tone of his voice was just awful,” she said. “He was crying. He was very upset. He said, ‘I want to use, I want to get high’.
By 11 a.m. the next day, Joey had died from an overdose of synthetic opioids.
Maggie Purdy said she often thinks back to the creation of Parents Supporting Parents.
“At first I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want anyone to see me. Back then, a lot of us were trying to hide that our kids had a problem,” she said.
Purdy has now been with the group for about 12 years and said she has made special friendships and bonds around the tragedy of addiction.
“Even those of us who have lost our children keep coming back – even if we have no hope to share,” she said. “If I can help just one person with information, or if I can listen to someone’s pain, then it’s worth it. That’s what Justin would want me to do.