SALISBURY — Addiction to heroin and other opiods is the greatest public health threat in the Massachusetts and New Hampshire, according to their respective governors, and substance abuse of all kinds has ruined lives for millennia.

As the plague worsens, killing four people every day in the commonwealth alone, public officials struggle to cure an epidemic of such profound proportions there isn't a sufficient supply of resources to combat it. And the stigma of abuse sometimes keeps people from coming forward to ask for help.

Families, social service agencies, the court systems, law enforcement, even the victims of addiction themselves are very often at a loss to find treatment before heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, prescription drugs or alcohol kills and destroys more lives. 

Gary Gastman, the new executive director for Link House, Inc., sees the frustrating every day. The non-profit umbrella corporation headquartered in Salisbury, Link House, Inc. runs substance abuse recovery initiatives for both men and women at facilities in Newburyport, Salisbury and Amesbury, including Link House, the Maris Center for Women, Progress House, the Elms of Amesbury and Moore's Way. 

Established in 1972, the organization's helped more than 5,000, but, Gastman said, there is an expansive need for more beds in light of the epidemic. 

"We have 19 beds at Link House in Newburyport and we run at 100 percent capacity all the time," Gastman said. "We average about 70/30 (percent), drug/alcohol addiction (respectively). Often, I'll get a call from a local official trying to find a bed for someone in need."

Something rarely done in the past, a number of men currently in residence at Link House have made a generous gesture to speak publicly about addiction and the trials of finding help when in crisis. Articulate and concerned, their reasons for speaking openly are to help others and de-stigmatize addiction, so those in need will seek assistance.

To get into a recovery program, Jeff Thistlewood had to come forward in a very public setting.  

"I had to go to court and commit myself through a Section 35," Thistlewood said. "I knew about that loophole."

A state statute allowing an individual, family member or other to appeal to the courts for commitment for those they feel pose a danger to themselves or others, section 35 offers an effective option at times. It depends, however, on whether the court is convinced that the person to be committed is a danger, and not a functioning heroin user or alcoholic. 

Link House resident Steve Huberdeau said Section 35 is one way to go, but it isn't always successful. Recently, when asked by another for advice on how to get help for someone in the throes of addiction, Huberdeau was frank.

"I told them if someone needs help to say the person was suicidal," Huberdeau said.

Housemate TJ Kelly agreed, adding most who find themselves in the middle of a crisis don't understand the stages of recovery.

The first step is detoxification, Gastman said, and although in the past that was a 90-day stay at an approved facility, it's now only a four to six day process, only long enough for the addictive substances to filter out of a person's body.

For Kelly, the next step was continued stabilization at another facility, then transitional support to wait until a bed opens up at an approved residential recovery center. Kelly and John Stanley waited in different transitional facilities for a bed to open up at Link House, a place with the type of structure they believed would work for them.

"People I know in this area who go through Link House's programs do well," Stanley said. "People who come here, stay with it. There were others in transition waiting for a bed. That was three months ago, some are still waiting." 

Gastman believes there is a need locally for at least 30 more beds at Newburyport's Link House. Finding the resources to create them would be a challenge for the non-profit, he said, but he's considering it. 

For those who need additional support services after the six-month program at Link House, Gastman said, there are less structured programs, like Progress House, if there's space.

But in New Hampshire, Link House resident Cory Robare said, there's an even bigger problem, as all of the state-run recovery options were closed, private facilities are too few, and money for substance abuse resources is short.

"I had to move and change my residency to get help," he said. 

The other hurdle to seeking help, Gastman said, is the stigma of addiction, preventing people from revealing their problems at all. The state Bureau of Substance Abuse Service is embracing the problem with a campaign: #StateWithoutStigMA, and everyone can help by avoiding words like "junkie," and "druggie,"' which hurt, damage self-image and standing in the way of recovery.

For more information on Link House, contact Gary Gastman at 978-462-0787

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