WORCESTER – Between 2012 to 2016, there were more than 250 opioid related overdose deaths in the city of Worcester, according to a report from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health.
Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 13, three friends from Worcester’s Shrewsbury Street area – Dr. James Direda, Jack Maroney, and Robert Pezzella – will co-author a column at ThisWeekinWorcester.com [TWIW] exploring the opioid epidemic in Worcester and informing readers about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and the resources that can be found in Worcester for addiction recovery.
“Locally, regionally and nationally there’s a lot of information out there. Some people have accurate information, others don’t. We are going to write this column to help clarify what’s going on out there,” Pezzella said in an interview on Aug. 28.
Pezzella, who works in the Worcester Public Schools as the system’s School Safety Liaison, said, “We’re all East Side kids. And you can never take the neighborhood out of us, as they say. A lot of our experiences together have been from our neighborhood.”
Additionally, the authors will be sharing their recovery stories and the struggles they each dealt with their own personal addiction.
Growing up together around Shrewsbury Street, Direda, Maroney and Pezzella were involved in drug use and down the road had to deal with the consequences that came with their personal addictions. Even after they all witnessed their friends pass away from addiction at an early age, they still found themselves deep in the thick of addiction.
Their addiction resulted in each of them going their own separate ways for many years.
Nearly 20 years later, the trio would meet again through a 12-Step recovery program. Since then, for more than 30 years, they’ve worked tirelessly to inform and educate people in the Worcester area on addiction and recovery.
“Since that reconvening, all of us have stayed true dear friends through the recovery process. Now here we are 30 years later still in recovery, and we’re all still involved in a 12-step program helping others, but in our professional experience as well,” Pezzella said.
Over the course of the next few weeks, the three authors will also take a close look at how the City of Worcester is handling the opioid problem.
“First and foremost, I give the city credit because they’ve been at the table and have focused on this issue for a long, long time. They have always been grappling with this issue and somehow trying to figure it out,” said Maroney, the CEO and President of Creative Addiction & Recovery Estates, Inc — an organization with the mission of offering opportunities for those suffering with substance use disorders.
Maroney added, “I think the more we come together and the more we join hands and work collabo
ratively, we can move the ball down field around this issue. It’s when we splinter off and either duplicate or replicate work being done, or we’re pulling in different directions, I would love to see us come together and develop a unified front to really make some strides against this.”
Maroney and Direda are co-authors of the book, The East Side of Addiction — a narrative of their friendship and experiences growing up in Worcester, their struggles with addiction and the long road to their personal recovery. The other co-author of the book, Henry Grosse, passed away last November.
“Through my own personal addiction and recovery – 20 years of addiction and 32 years of recovering from addiction – I have been kicking around this issue for a very long time. Central Massachusetts is where I’m from, where my roots are and all of my connections, and where I’ve lived for the past 32 years since I stopped using drugs and alcohol,” Direda, an assistant professor of social work at Anna Maria College in Paxton, said.
Direda also does private practice consulting around substance abuse treatment and education.
“Each job that I took subsequent to that was still in the field of addiction treatment and education. I’ve been working in this field for the last 32 years in a variety of different capacities including detox programs, inpatient and outpatient programs, jails, and schools trying to educate people on addiction and recovery issues,” Direda said.
The TWIW column will run every other Wednesday and will cover several areas of substance abuse and recovery topics.
“We have a long, long history. We grew up together. We have 50 plus years of history coming out of the same neighborhood and community, struggling with the same issues in our own personal addictions, and then in long time recovery over the past 30 or so years,” Direda said. “I try to use that experience and that history in the teaching that I do.”
Maroney added, “We’re going to share what we’ve learned, what we know and what we’ve experienced in our own struggles.”