A refreshing welcome at Community Speaks Out meeting

Since the beginning of the year, we have followed the work of Community Speaks Out, a newly formed grassroots group that has applied for non-profit status to further its work in reducing the stigma of heroin/opioid addiction and helping to get people into treatment.

Many of the same people I am writing about on the court beat are struggling with heroin or prescription pill addiction, and our reporting has provided an opportunity to understand what is driving their criminal behavior.

Several Community Speaks Out members have suggested we attend their family support group meeting, open to all and held one Wednesday a month at the Groton Public Library. I finally went this week, thinking I would listen quietly without taking notes in case the presence of a journalist made anyone nervous. Over more than two decades on the job, I've become accustomed to making people feel uncomfortable.

"Shhh! There's a reporter in the room!"

I've heard that hundreds of times. Sometimes I've even met people off the job who have said, "Uh-oh," when they find out what I do for a living. I've become accustomed to assuring them, "This is off the record."

That didn't happen on Wednesday. The meeting really wasn't off the record, since I'll probably characterize the meeting format and some of its content in a future story. But I didn't want my presence to prevent somebody from opening up about their experience with this terrible scourge. I walked in as the meeting got underway and sat along the wall rather than at the tables arranged in a u-shape in the meeting room.

To my surpise, founding member Joe de la Cruz, who facilitated the meeting in a casual and conversational manner, acknowledged my presence almost immediately and thanked The Day for the stories we have been writing about the opioid crisis. Halfway through the meeting, during a break, I mentioned my hesitation for coming, saying some participants might not like having me there.

"This isn't that meeting," de la Cruz said.

As far as Community Speaks Out is concerned, the more public the conversation, the better the chance that something will be done to curb the over prescription of pain medication, improve treatment options and availability and erase the stigma of addiction.

We will still go where we are not wanted, since uncovering information is an important part of our mission at The Day. But for this journalist, on this night, it was refreshing to be welcomed so warmly and acknowledged for our work.

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