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Your Tewksbury Today

Mother Of Overdose Victim: Our Kids Are Not Scumbags

Jun 12, 2015 08:31PM ● By Bill Gilman
More than 800 people packed Tewksbury High School's McGrath Auditorium recently for the premier of "If, Only", a film which shines a spotlight on drug abuse in general and the growing problem of opiate use among teens, in particular.
Among those in attendance were many families who have lost loved ones to opiate overdoses and had participated in the filming of the movie, as extras in the funeral scene shot at St. William's Church in Tewksbury.
At the end of the film, the names of those loved ones are shown, one at a time, along with their photos, held by their family members. Most of the victims are in their teens and early 20s.
Other scenes in the film were shot at Tewksbury High, with dozens of students used as extras. Some of those students were also in attendance at the premier, along with cast members and the production team.
The film, which has a running time of approximately 35 minutes, was directed by Michael Yebba and produced by James Wahlberg and Tewksbury businessman and philanthropist Marc Ginsburg. The plot focuses on the high school student drawn into a culture of drug use and abuse at his high school.
While not an enthusiastic participant, the teen convinces himself the parties, attended by scores of students, at which prescription drugs are passed around and popped like M&M's, is just a harmless rite of passage.
His views begin to change when he is forced by his mother to go into rehab for his drug use. However, his change of attitude is not in time to save the life of his best friend, who dies of a heroin overdose.
A roundtable forum was held after the screening. The panel included Yebba, Middlesex DA Marian Ryan, addiction expert Dr. Steve Hasak of Millennium Health, David Hanley of Interaction Recovery, Kevin King, Christian Medero and Louise Griffin of the Lowell-based advocacy group GRASP.
According to Hasak, the growth of opiate use and addiction can be traced directly to the increase in opiate prescriptions written by doctors as a means of treating pain.
"One in six teens has used a prescription drug, not his own, in the past year," said Hasak. "We had a problem with poorly treated pain. Now we have a problem of poorly treated pain and an addiction to prescription pain medication."
Griffin, who lost her 21-year-old son Zachary to an overdose in 2013, holds support group meetings at the Riley School in Lowell every Wednesday. She said the growth of the opiate epidemic is reflected by the size of her group.
"They say to keep your group to 8-10 people. But my group has close to 30 people each week," she said.
Griffin also said it was important to remember that most of the victims of opiate abuse are just normal young people, who get sucked into an addiction that quickly grows beyond their control.
"I want to give a thank you to (DA) Marian Ryan and (State Rep.) David Naughton, who had the courage to stand up and not treat our children like scumbags, because they're not."
Griffin didn't mince words when it came to describing the depth of the opiate addiction problem.
"This will become this generation's genocide," she said.
During her remarks, Ryan said she was pushing legislation which would limit the circumstances under which opiates could be given to patients in Emergency Rooms.
"Another thing that would put us in line with other states is limiting opiates provided in the ER's to just a zip packs with just enough for a couple of days. That's it."
Earlier in the day, "If, Only" was shown to more than 1,200 Tewksbury High students. According to school officials, the movie hit close to home with the teens, many of whom have either been directly impacted by opiate abuse or know a family that has.
Also on hand for the premier were Tewksbury Police Chief Timothy Sheehan and Safety Officer Jennie Welch. Sheehan said one way parents can help reduce the problem of prescription drug abuse is to take old, unused medications to Tewksbury Police Headquarters to deposit them in the prescription drug drop off receptacle in the lobby. 
The Tewksbury PD efforts go hand in hand with Drop Them Off, an initiative of Millennium Health and the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation. "If, Only" was filmed as part of the initiative.
If you would like to watch "If, Only", go to and use the Password Ifonly2015.

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