From Hell to Hope: One man's journey from opiate addiction to recovery through state prison's pioneering treatment program.
By G. Wayne Miller of The Providence Journal
Published June 10, 2021; Photo Credits: The Providence Journal
A street drug, ecstasy is a psychoactive substance that alters mood, increases energy, and can have hallucinogenic effects. In the neighborhood of Taunton, Massachusetts, where Perito grew up, it was but one of many illicit drugs that were easily available.
“From there, I went to acid and marijuana,” Perito said. He began selling drugs, too, and as he grew older, he began using opioids, including Percocet, a drug that includes the painkiller oxycodone.Perito found employment, fathered several children and moved to Rhode Island — but he was addicted, the painful prospect of withdrawal keeping him hooked.
“About the most god-awful feeling you can imagine,” is how nationally renowned addiction specialist Dr. Josiah D. “Jody” Rich, of Miriam Hospital and Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, describes withdrawal. “Opiates, once you’re on them, physically you need them,” Perito said. “I’d try to get off for two or three days and I’d end up sweating — my bones aching, my body aching, my muscles aching.”
Perito’s life changed in the fall of 2018, when he was incarcerated at the Adult Correctional Institutions. That’s where he enrolled in a pioneering program created by Rich and others that provides medication-assisted treatment for addicts during incarceration — continuing, critically, after their release back into the community.
Nearly three years later, Perito remains off illicit drugs. He is employed and, he says, close to his young children. He shares his story, he asserts, in hopes of helping others.
Record-setting year for overdoses in Rhode IslandPerito spoke with The Journal during an interview at a Thrive Behavioral Health center on Health Lane, near Kent Hospital. Thrive and CODAC Behavioral Healthcare, a statewide provider of addiction treatment and services, are partnering on a program to expand medication-assisted treatment in Kent County. The CODAC component is called CODAC Health Lane.It comes during a period of severe crisis.According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, there were 384 accidental drug overdose deaths in the state in 2020, more than any year on record to date, the department says. Data current as of June 3 indicates 100 such deaths this year.
Deaths hit close to homePerito is intimately familiar with this: unbeknownst to him, a dose of Percocet he bought one time on the street was laced with fentanyl, and but for the prompt response of EMTs, he said he might have become a statistic. He remembers many who did. “I’ve had a lot of people in my life that have been addicted to drugs,” Perito said, “and during this fentanyl epidemic, like just about every other week somebody’s died, whether it was my mom’s lifelong friend, or my uncle's lifelong friend, or a friend of mine, a friend of my sister's, a family member. It got to the point where I couldn’t even go to services anymore.”
Perito daily takes buprenorphine, sold under the brand name Suboxone, one of three medications the FDA has approved for treatment of Opioid Use Disorder (the others are methadone and naltrexone, sold as Vivitrol).
He also relies on a therapist, Jaimie Guiterrez, who is the program director at CODAC Health Lane. Listening and talking during counseling are key, he said. “You can’t hold back. If you hold back, it’s just like being an addict.”
Tipping point to addictionJoining Perito for the interview was Linda Hurley, CODAC president and CEO. She described opioid addiction not as a moral failure or character flaw but as a disease, recognized as such by leading organizations, including the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, which gives this definition: “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”
“There's a choice in the beginning, somewhere along the line,” Hurley said. “When it's medication for pain, it's a choice most people would make. Other times people use it recreationally. And then there is just one day that it's not a choice anymore and that's when the disease begins.”
Linda Hurley, CODAC President &CEO