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State’s opioid epidemic hits home for Townsend family

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TOWNSEND — Opioid addiction is a chronic disease, which like other chronic illnesses, cannot be cured — but can be effectively treated and managed.

The statement in a June 2014 report by the Opioid Task Force and Massachusetts Department of Health expresses that reality, one addicts live and sometimes die by.

Christopher Geanacopulos did not successfully manage his addiction. He died on Feb. 2, the day after the Super Bowl. He was 32.

His younger brother, Peter, 30, is an addict, too. He has been clean for two years, their mother, Lauren Geanacopulos, said. Even after finding his brother’s body, Pete was able to stay off the drugs.

“(Chris) had a long battle,” she said. “It got the best of him.”

Families are not alone in the fight against opioid addiction. It has been taken on by state and local officials.

Gov. Charlie Baker filed new legislation on Oct. 15. addressing the prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery for individuals with substance use disorder. Among other tactics, it calls for limiting an opioid prescription to a 72-hour supply when a patient first sees a doctor. In addition, clinicians would be allowed to request a 72-hour involuntary commitment for a patient posing a danger to himself or others.

Pepperell police met with local stakeholders and other police departments during December. They joined the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative to create a program to help addicts get treatment.

The West Townsend family was once like any other family. A mom, a dad, two sons.

Then came drugs and addiction.

In 2008, Chris’ best friend died. He couldn’t handle it and became very quiet, his mother said. A year later, he scored some Percocet, buying it on the street in Fitchburg.

He liked the pills, but at $30 or $40 a pop, it got expensive. He switched to another, cheaper drug.

“Heroin, that’s pretty cheap,” she said.

Because his addiction did not begin with a prescription for pain medication after an injury or surgery, he was in the minority, she said. Between 70 and 80 percent of opioid addicts start with legal prescriptions, she said.

Even while using drugs, Chris was a working, tax-paying citizen, Geanacopulos said. He went to college and became an HVAC technician.

He bought a car, rented a house. He grew up, got a dog, entered into a relationship.

“Opioids changed it,” his mother said. “It’s just a really strange thing.”

Chris was arrested. He did 90 days, but it did not change his course.

His relationship ended; she was an addict, too. He and his dog, Hunter, moved back in with his parents.

The family coped and looked for help.

They hired an interventionist to work with Chris. He was too far in denial to participate, his mother said, but their younger son, Pete, took his brother’s place.

The difference was in their attitudes, she said. “Chris was a typical addict: Lying, cheating, stealing,” she said.

Her younger son was open. He told her, “Mom, I have a problem.”

Pete is thinking about getting ready to go back to college, Geanacopulos said.

Her involvement with mothers groups showed her that her family is not unique. “It is amazing how many people have more than one addict in the family,” Geanacopulos said. “When you have one in the house, you tend to have more.”

Despite his addiction, Chris accomplished at least one of his life’s dreams.

“When they’re not in the middle of an addiction, (addicts) are just regular people like you and I,” she said. Chris loved the movies and even worked in movie and television production for a while. He worked on “Black Mass,” she said, but not enough to get a credit.

With addiction, the good times are not every day. When it’s bad, it’s bad, she said.

“It’s overwhelming to me as a parent,” Geanacopulos said.

“Chris said to her, ‘Mom, I’ve tried a lot of drugs in my life, but these drugs call my name every day,'” she said.

At one point, Chris was clean for maybe seven months, his mother said. Then the scales tipped again when his relationship ended and he couldn’t resist those calls.

“See, it’s always those emotional things,” his mother said.

After he died, she did not want to have the funeral in town.

“Chris sold a lot of drugs in his early days,” she said. She was afraid other drug-addicted individuals would come to the service if it was held in town. The service was instead held in Lexington. He is buried there with his grandfather.

In the midst of sorrow, her healing process began.

The priest who did the service, a recovering alcoholic, put things in the simplest of terms.

“He said Chris wasn’t able to make his own choice, so God made it for him. It’s time to come home,” Geanacopulos repeated.

Since then, she has good days and bad. “You never know what’s going to strike you. You never know what’s going to hit a nerve,” she said.

She goes to work. Her husband, Harry, is retired.

Joining an online support group, The Addict’s Mom, has been a big help for her. They provide information and positive thoughts when she gets overwhelmed.

She wants her son’s story to be known.

“I can talk about this. I really can,” she said. “I can talk about the good. I can talk about the bad.”

“You’d be surprised how many people want to talk,” Geanacopulos said. People talking about addiction should not be afraid to use the word heroin, she said.

She mourns while still going to work, dealing with daily life, bumping into friends who are sometimes reluctant to say anything about her son’s death. She is learning to deal with the loss.

She and Harry visit the grave. Chris had no children, but she takes care of Hunter, his 6-year-old Staffordshire terrier mix.

When she spoke about the dog, her emotional bond to her child’s pet was plain.

“He just wants to be taken care of,” she said. “His life was chaotic.”

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.

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