Six months, seven overdose deaths.
That grim total is more than Jay Eastman has dealt with in the past 10 years as owner and director of Norton-Eastman Funeral Home in Wellington.
It prompted him to work with First United Methodist Church to arrange for Grafton Correctional Institution inmates to speak Friday on the direct and indirect consequences of addiction, as well as ways to combat stigmatization.
“When I am sitting with a family after a loved one’s death, the loss is the same, no matter how it came about,” said Eastman. “I am a child of the 80s and 90s. Like many others, I grew up being told that all drug users were lowlifes and junkies. The reality, though, is that these men and women are not monsters in need of labels. They are fellow community members — brothers, sisters, parents, sons, and daughters.”
Paul Fitzpatrick, who is serving an 18- to 50-year sentence for aggravated robbery, arson, and burglary, said more normal, working class people are falling victim to addiction than ever, most notably and dangerously with heroin.
“We owe it to the community, and to our victims to try and turn our situations into ones that can eventually help others. We’re here to let the public know that addiction can happen to people of any walk of life or of any age. I am a decorated Marine and father who let addiction cause me to make bad decisions that led me to this point.”
Fitzpatrick pointed to specific moments in his incarceration that changed his outlook on life, from almost committing suicide in his cell the night of his Feb 20, 1998 sentencing, to a friend who died of an overdose just seven months after being released from prison.
Fellow inmates Jason Casey and Timothy Ropchock were introduced by Fitzpatrick. Both are serving sentences for taking lives in drunk driving crashes.
Ropchock is a Wellington native whose two-year sentence was set to end April 16, just 12 hours after speaking at First United Methodist.
“My bad decisions led to the death of an innocent man who was making the good decisions to deal with his own struggles that I should have, like going to support meetings, and heading home for his anniversary dinner instead of to the bar,” he said. “His family and anyone else has every right to look at me with contempt. But I hope that doesn’t stop people from looking at every possible root cause of addiction or to think that only certain types of people can end up this way.”
Casey took responsibility for his bad choices but wants others to know about the factors in his life that planted those seeds.
“My older brother was the man of the house, and the primary male figure in my life,” he said. “Not having much parental supervision opened the door for me to pills and alcohol at a young age. I was in and out of juvenile detention centers and dropped out of high school at 17. No one ever told me that it was all right to ask for help. Three kids later, the depression of feeling like I would never be able to give my family the life they deserved consumed my every thought.”
“It’s a matter of education and humanizing the issue,” said Wellington police chief Tim Barfield. “We’re trying to get the message out that death is death regardless of how it happens.”
Police Lt. Jeff Shelton was also in attendance, and summed up the unique challenge law enforcement faces when dealing with addiction.
“When people need help, they call us. When we need help, we call the SWAT team. That doesn’t help with problems like this, though. Anyone’s body is susceptible to addiction. No one is immune,” he said.
Fitzpatrick also stressed the importance of reining in those who profit from writing irresponsible prescriptions.
“I wish that I could count on one hand the number of doctors-turned-felons that I have encountered while serving my time,” he said. “Beginning to end those practices has to start at a grass roots level before it flows upwards to big pharmaceutical companies.”
Eastman added his own story of addiction creeping up on an unlikely victim — a college friend who suffered a back injury and had to attend rehabilitation in order to end his dependence on pain killers before it grew into something more dangerous.
“Absolution on this subject is an easy veil to put up,” said Eastman. “A war on drugs is not the answer, because all it treats are the symptoms, rather than looking for underlying causes and means of prevention. We all need to come together as a community and treat this as the public health crisis that it is.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise Jay Eastman, owner of Norton-Eastman Funeral Home in Wellington, was prompted to help with addiction awareness by the tragic increase in overdose deaths in the area.
File Prisoner Paul Fitzpatrick says he was a bully and a drug addict. Now he is serving up to 50 years for aggravated robbery.