A Good Guy Speaks Up

By on February 1, 2017
Recovery coach Jack Pacewicz shares his struggles with addiction and his optimism about the battle against heroin at a community meeting in Denver. Photo by Kimberly Marselas

Recovery coach Jack Pacewicz shares his struggles with addiction and his optimism about the battle against heroin at a community meeting in Denver. Photo by Kimberly Marselas

Heroin addiction does not discriminate, community learns

Gavin Maser grew up with loving parents who provided everything he needed — maybe more he says — and still he started smoking pot and stealing cars in middle school.

By the time he slammed into the back of a tractor trailer in 2011, high as usual, he had worked his way through most legal and illegal substances and been arrested for selling drugs.

Doctors prescribed opioids for pain related to his badly broken femur, and then Maser’s life really spiraled out of control. He tore through a bottle of pills meant to last two and a half weeks in just four days.

When he couldn’t afford refills, he switched to heroin.

After nine failed treatment attempts, the 28-year-old finally has his life back in his own hands with more than 17 months sober.

Though he grew up elsewhere in Lancaster County, Maser’s struggle with addiction resonated with more than 125 community members, clergy and local leaders who gathered in Denver Tuesday night, Jan. 24, for a community conversation on heroin.

Hosted by Cocalico High School, Adamstown and Denver boroughs and East and West Cocalico townships, the forum was the latest in a series launched by the Lancaster County Anti-Heroin Task Force.

Maser was joined on the panel by Jack Pacewicz, a certified addictions counselor and recovery coach who has been sober 37 years.

Despite a staggering epidemic that claimed the lives of more than 100 Lancaster County residents last year, Pacewicz said it’s an “exciting” time to be in the drug treatment field.

“People are finally paying attention,” he said. “We have to shatter the myths and the stereotypes people have about addiction.”

He reminded the crowd that there is no typical drug user, especially when it comes to heroin addictions that evolve from prescription drug abuse. Putting faces to the stories of addiction and recovery will help dispel the stigma and make treatment more successful and sustainable, Pacewicz said.

Presenters Amy Sechrist of Compass Mark and Scott Theurer of T.W. Ponessa also discussed family support, prevention campaigns and challenges to treatment.

More than a dozen community organizations and non-profit groups shared information on treatment and outreach options before and after the panel presentation.

Sechrist refers addicts’ families to appropriate care providers, emphasizing that the best ones help patients re-learn self-care in combination with therapy. She agreed with Maser’s assessment that the treatment system is broken, to an extent.

“It’s broken and being rebuilt,” Sechrist said. “There are more and more resources in Lancaster all the time. It isn’t like rehab or nothing. There is treatment for people without insurance (but) there’s not enough.”

Theurer works at one of the county’s two state-funded “Centers of Excellence” treating Medicaid patients with opioid addiction. He also serves the Lancaster County Recovery Alliance by responding to addicts “in the field.”

“We go to them and ask them, ‘How do they picture themselves recovering?’” he explained. “They’re surprised when I tell them, ‘I’m here to learn from you.’”

Maser encouraged those whose loved ones are struggling with addiction to connect them with others who’ve experienced addiction, rather than just medical experts. They might offer solutions that traditional rehabs haven’t.

He either left or started doing heroin again after being accepted at nine treatment centers in a year’s time. What eventually got him clean was a stay at a recovery house in Levittown, Bucks County, where he sweated the drugs out of his system during unstructured withdrawal. He later used the controversial drug Vivitrol to help sustain his sobriety.

“I’m no first-time winner,” said Maser, now off all medication. “I still fight every day….You just don’t give up.”

 

Tips to fight the heroin battle

Speakers implored residents to get involved in the fight against heroin.

Recommendations included:

* Preventing misuse. Cocalico graduate Matt Null is the referral development manager for treatment provider Gaurdenzia. He asked the crowd to discard unused prescription medications at secure take-back sites, including events hosted by the East Cocalico Township police. Null also urged parents to talk with their children about keeping any prescription information private because kids with access to pills sometimes become unwitting suppliers.

* Asking for help. Cocalico School District offers drug prevention and outreach programs from elementary school through high school, according to Superintendent Ella Musser. She said the district’s counselors are trained to look for signs of drug use, and the district has added outside experts to help support families in crisis. “We have vastly increased our services over the last 10 years,” she said. “But if you know someone needs help, call a counselor. “Let us know.”

* Welcoming recovering addicts into the community. Recovery coach Jack Pacewicz said rejoining a community you had alienated-finding a job, a supportive church, a safe place to go between therapy appointments-remains a challenge because of stereotypes about people who abuse drugs. He said listening to those who share their stories and understanding how drugs affect the brain structure help reduce stigma.

* Attending community events. Faith-based Global Addiction Recovery Partners has organized a two-part, free workshop on heroin and how it affects behavior and the brain. Local ministerium and community members are invited to participate as the team looks for ways to support recovery locally. The first workshop is from for 6:30 to 9 p.m., Feb. 7, at Muddy Creek Lutheran Church, 11 South Muddy Creek Road, Denver.

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