Waterford brothers are clean, sober and thankful to Community Speaks Out

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Waterford — Community Speaks Out member Lisa Cote Johns couldn't stop crying Sunday as she watched brothers Collin and Dillon McCarthy greet people they had not seen since they were strung out on heroin.

"They're so beautiful," Johns said of the clear-eyed McCarthy brothers, who no longer have the furrowed brows that their mother, Kelley McCarthy, said was always a giveway that they were high.

"I wish I had this for my own son, and I'm so glad to be able to help somebody make it," Johns said. "I'm so happy."

Collin, 22, and Dillon, 19, who are visiting home for the first time since they went into rehabilitation programs in Florida five months ago, wanted to meet Johns, who helped them get into treatment. They said they are taking their sobriety hour by hour, but that they have acquired important skills they are using to stay drug-free.

Johns has made it a personal mission to help addicts and their families since her own son, 33-year-old Christopher Patrick Johns, died of a heroin overdose on Oct. 2, 2014. Her son didn't want to be a drug user, she said, but he never got the quality of treatment that he needed to stay sober.

Community Speaks Out, a Groton-based grass roots group that helps connect families with treatment programs, was newly formed when Kelley McCarthy reached out to Johns in October 2015. Working with one of Community Speaks Out treatment contacts, Greg Plakias of Advanced Recovery Systems, they were able to get into treatment programs in Florida, leaving on separate planes on Jan. 2. Kelley McCarthy, who had spent months on the phone with insurance providers, had arranged for them to use a cousin's address in Florida so that insurance would cover their treatment.

Johns asked the brothers if they would tell their stories, which might convince other addicts to get the help they need. They said that for her, they would do anything. Kelley McCarthy, who works at Utopia Salon, held a fund-raiser for Community Speaks Out this winter.

Both of the brothers had been to Stonington Institute, a local treatment center, where they detoxed for a week before being released to sober houses where they said they were not closely supervised and were able to resume using immediately. The program works for some people, they said, but for them, it was the geographical relocation, coupled with an aftercare program in a sober house operated by The Recovery Village in Umatilla, Fla., that seemed to take hold.

Their path to heroin use started in their early teens. Dillon said he started drinking and smoking marijuana in middle school. Then he tried Ecstacy and other psychedelic drugs, and that's when, he said, his addict mentality kicked in.

"That's when I started to crave drugs, to think about it all the time," he said.

During his sophomore year at Waterford High School, he tried Percocet, an opiate pain killer, for the first time, It was just another drug to try, he said, but nobody told him he would experience physical withdrawal when his supply ran out. He was still in high school when he tried heroin, the cheaper opiate alternative, for the first time. It wasn't hard to find.

"I had always told myself there was no way I was going to use heroin," he said. "It finally got to the point where I was sick of being sick, and from that point on, I didn't use anything else except for heroin."

He was still involved in school sports, he said. He would clean himself up for wrestling, then go right back to using. His parents knew he was using by then, and said they "dragged him" through to graduation.

Collin's drug use took a similar, but separate path. He started drinking in eighth grade, then tried marijuana. Unlike others who smoked pot, he went too far, using it every day. Toward the end of high school, where he, too, was involved in athletics, he tried Molly, Ecstacy and cocaine. He started selling drugs so that he would get his own supply for free.

In 2012, he enrolled at Three Rivers Community College, where he tried pain killers for the first time. By the time he got into a motorcycle crash in 2014, the 5 milligram opiates he was prescribed, much to the dismay of his mother, did nothing for him. He was used to taking the drug in 30 milligram doses.

Heroin was out the question, he said, until he lost his job due to his drug use and had money problems. Injecting the drug — which is the most efficient delivery method — also was "a big no." But once his money ran out, he started using heroin intravenously. He would do anything to support his habit, including stealing.

"They say the voice in your consciousness is quieted," Collin McCarthy said. "I would rather have dealt with the consequences than being sick."

In the end, the two brothers used heroin together before getting into treatment in January. They have the same sobriety date, Jan. 2.  Though they went to different rehab centers, they are now living in the same sober house, where they said the management really seems to care.

"It's not just about money," Dillon McCarthy said. "They really do want people to stay sober."

They are both working, attending 12-step meetings and focusing on recovery.

"I don't stay sober for the same exact reason every day," Dillon said. "I have to think about what is keeping me sober every day."

One day he might think about his family. Another day he might remember his drug-induced depression and sickness. On Sunday, as he sat in the family's waterfront home as his mother brought out succulent plates of food and friends arrived for a celebratory picnic, it was "the little things."

"I've just been enjoying the smell  of home, being home," he said.

Johns asked the brothers to tell their story to The Day because, she said, with all the tragic and negative news lately, it was important to share a success story. Community Speaks Out has helped get 50 people into treatment, and Johns, who spoke at 20 forums just during the month of May, says her son is working through her. 

"We're making some headway," she said.

k.florin@theday.com

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