Hope Not Dope: Ending the Spate of Overdoses with Awareness

When 54-year-old Billy Carriere stepped onto the bricks of Bellingham Square Monday morning, it was with a new set of eyes; eyes that weren’t blurred by the illusions of heroin and the daily grind of living to satisfy the cravings of addiction.

Just nine months earlier, and for a per

Billy Carriere, a former addict now in recovery nine months, shares his personal story to help spread awareness on International Overdose Awareness Day.

Billy Carriere, a former addict now in recovery nine months, shares his personal
story to help spread awareness on International Overdose Awareness Day.

iod of several years, he was a regular in the Square – getting high every day, going back and forth from the Methadone Clinic on Crescent Avenue and constantly looking for a way to numb the pain that started when his girlfriend overdosed and died three years ago.

It was then that he slipped and became a regular user.

However, on Monday, he was celebrating upon his return, celebrating the fact that he had been sober for nine months and was enjoying his life again without drugs.

“I used to use up until nine months ago almost every day,” he said. “Life was utterly hopeless and meaningless. Now I have hope. Hope is a big thing. They don’t see there is hope – that it is possible. Regardless of the circumstances, we can recover…I really didn’t get a decent pitch to hit; I really didn’t. However, I can deal with it without drugs.”

Carriere and about a dozen other folks in recovery from the Meridian House in East Boston were in the Square Monday with City Navigator Rev. Ruben Rodriguez to spread the word about International Overdose Awareness Day – commemorated with purple ribbons and part of the kickoff of September’s Recovery Month events.

Part of that awareness case was simple – a dry erase board and markers.

On that board, those from the Meridian House and many passers-by were invited to write the names of friends or family who had overdosed.

Within an hour, the board was completely full of names, and there was no longer any room to write anyone else. It was a stark reality of how severe the problem is in Chelsea, as well as the surrounding communities and their residents that often congregate in the Square and, sometimes, overdose in the City as well.

“The position I hold is very tough because I deal with all the overdose victims out here every day,” said Rodriguez. “I wanted to raise some awareness today to those in the public. I also wanted to bring the Meridian House people here so those in the Square could see that recovery is possible. We have people here today in recovery three months, six months and nine months. I also wanted to bring those in recovery here so they could see how much they don’t want to go back to this life. I want them to see what they don’t want to be again.”

Donning purple shirts and purple ribbons, several folks in recovery and concerned citizens not in recovery blanketed the City Hall side of the Square and talked to folks, asking them in English and Spanish if they knew anyone who had overdosed. They talked to folks who were in the midst of addiction and were using. They talked with passers-by who weren’t aware of how serious the problem is in Chelsea.

“I’ve been in recovery one year on Sept. 1,” Ralph Rizzuti told a man passing by. “It’s hard, but a day to day battle. I have a wife, four kids and grandchildren. I finally see them for how great and valuable they are. I finally see that it does no good for me to lie to all of them about whether I am using or not. If I lie to them, and then go use, that’s only hurting me. That sets me back. I’m glad to not by lying anymore and to be sober for one year.”

Rodriguez is currently the only Navigator working for the City, and there is another position opening soon.

“It’s a lot of work and we have a spot for another person to help,” he said. “We are trying to make a difference out here.”

The event on Monday was sponsored by the Winnisimmet Regional Opioid Collaborative.

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Billy Carriere, a former addict now in recovery nine months, said he used to come to this very spot in Bellingham Square nearly every day to use heroin and hang out. With fresh eyes, he and other from the Meridian House returned to their former haunt next to City Hall to help City Navigator Ruben Rodriguez spread awareness on International Overdose Awareness Day.

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Suzanne Bittrolff writes down the name of a loved one that has overdosed. The board for such names was quickly filled and left with no room for others.

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Gladys Guzman held a sign for passers-by to see, reading ‘Say Nope to Dope.’

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Jamie Quigley, Rev. Ruben Rodriguez and Ruben Walter helped coordinate the International Overdose Awareness Day in Chelsea.

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A large group of folks in recovery from the Meridian House returned to the Square on Monday to talk to folks who are still using and to be an example of hope.

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