In a room full of 50 strangers on a humid Wednesday night, it was clear to Brian Hamlin he was not alone. As the opioid epidemic tightens its grip on residents across the state, many in the Attleboro area share the pain Hamlin has carried every day since his son died in 2014 after months of drug use.
Those who gathered at the Murray Unitarian Universalist Church for a vigil on opioid addiction showed him that much.
But as he spoke to the church pews before him, the Plainville man wondered out loud: How do we make our loved ones know that they, too, are not alone — even as their addiction consumes them?
For Hamlin, who introduced himself as a “proud father of an addict,” the answer was clear: Do not let it define them.
Hamlin’s son’s journey with opioids began with a Vicodin pump, inserted into his shoulder following a shoulder surgery in 2003. The Hamlins worried about what this would mean for their son but were reassured that the drugs were necessary and that Brian Jr. would be fine.
“We weren’t aware of the fact that once it releases into your body, it continues to ask for more,” Hamlin said.
His son was many things in life: Outgoing, athletic, successful in his career, empathetic. An addict wasn’t one of them, but eventually Brian Jr. needed something to take the edge off. And once he got started, it was hard to stop.
But for Hamlin, his son was still his son. When people consider an addict, they are generally filled with negative imagery of toxic human beings. The stigma hits hard for those who are using, but it also hits their families.
Hamlin said his goal in the months he worked with Brian Jr. and his son’s friends during their recovery was never to make them feel different.
“I’d rather know more about who they are than about their addiction,” he said.
When his son moved into a sober house in North Attleboro, they saw a familiar light. Brian was eager to help others succeed, carpooling his housemates to addiction recovery meeting, putting together house events and organizing a softball tournament.
During one visit home, he brought some of his roommates who were shocked when Hamlin had one request: That each of the 12 friends make themselves at home.
“He said, ‘My mom doesn’t even want me in her house, and you’re telling me to make myself at home,’” Hamlin said. “They need to have a feeling that someone supports them. That someone feels good for them.”
That support likely kept Brian Jr. sober.
He died early on a Wednesday morning after what medical examiners later diagnosed as a fall caused by a seizure. Hamlin said his son, then 33, had never suffered seizures — it was just one of the detrimental lasting effects of his drug use.
On Wednesday, residents from across the state gathered to pay vigil to Brian Jr., the 2,069 confirmed victims of opioid use who died last year.
But they also came in support for those on the path to recovery.
Dan Foley grew up in Attleboro. While there’s parts of the city he loves, he said unfortunately he found a darker side of it too, falling into addiction with several friends. It took enormous will to get clean, but unveiling a recovery drop-in center formed by Attleboro police, Arbour-Fuller Hospital and the church, Foley said he hopes that journey will be easier for others.
The monthly drop-in clinic and resource center will serve those affected by substance abuse and mental illness, and will be open at the Murray Unitarian Univeralist Church at 505 North Main St., on the last Wednesday of each month from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Clinicians will be on hand for those seeking treatment and free training and doses of Narcan will be available.
Foley said the resources are tremendous.
“It’s not a one stop shop,” he said of recovery. “You really have to figure out what’s going to work best for one individual. You have to keep trying.”
But lucky for them, and much to Hamlin’s delight, they won’t be alone in that fight.