Anne Ford 2017-07-19 16:29:37
A New Hampshire Lion who lost his daughter tragically teams with Leos to curb drug abuse Doug Griffin knew his daughter Courtney, 20, had problems—doing drugs, getting poor grades, sometimes disappearing for days at a time. But he never thought the worst would happen. Despite her family’s desperate efforts to get help for her drug addiction, Courtney died on Sept. 29, 2014, after overdosing on a combination of heroin and fentanyl. It was the tragic ending of a long attempt to help a bright, talented, loving young woman get her life on track. “We were never mad at her. We didn’t love her any less,” Griffin says. “But there was so much anguish.” Now Griffin, a member of the Kingston Lions Club in New Hampshire, is turning that anguish into efforts to save other teens and young adults from the addiction that ended Courtney’s life. He was the driving force behind the chartering of the Sanborn Leo Club, which is dedicated to drug prevention efforts. He also joined the board of directors of the Washington, D.C.-based Addiction Policy Forum; helped the initiative to designate Jan. 29 as a National Day of Remembrance of those who have died from drug and alcohol addiction; and helped make naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opiate overdose, available in New Hampshire. None of it, of course, will bring his daughter back. “But we still keep working,” he says. DEADLY FENTANYL A town in rural New Hampshire with fewer than 7,000 residents, Kingston is the kind of place where the community faithfully turns out for pancake breakfasts and meat raffles. “A quiet country town,” Griffin calls it. “A place you’d never expect to see drugs.” Courtney graduated from high school there in 2012. A smart kid with poor grades, she wasn’t ready to go to college, her parents thought. “Work for me, take some classes and show me you can be a student, then I’ll send you to college,” Griffin remembers telling her. “Those kids will still be Leos after they graduate, and then they’ll be Lions. They’ll be functioning members of the community.” At his urging, she joined him as a member of the Kingston Lions Club. He also put her to work for his company, Seacoast Digital Computers, where she shone. “She could handle my inventory; she did my shipping and receiving. She was just the smartest kid,” he says. “But she liked to get high.” He knew she’d smoked pot in high school. But at some point she moved on to much more dangerous drugs such as heroin. Prescription medication, credit cards, money, and jewelry all started disappearing from the house, while inventory started disappearing from the company. Things got even worse when something called fentanyl hit the town, and hit it hard. Invented as a form of general anesthesia and as a treatment for severe chronic pain, fentanyl—which killed the musician Prince last year—is an opioid 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 25 to 40 times more powerful than heroin. Its potency means that it’s potentially fatal even at very low levels. When Griffin was a teenager, “doing drugs” meant smoking a little marijuana now and then. “But nowadays, these drugs are so powerful that they’re just not to be played with,” he says. “Fentanyl swept through and took several kids in 2014, and it’s still going on. These kids don’t even get time to be drug addicts, because fentanyl’s a killer. It just kind of snuck in the door and took over.” A stint in rehab didn’t work for Courtney. Still, “she knew she had a terrible problem,” her dad says. “She decided she wanted to live, so she joined the Marines. This kid weighed 115 pounds, and she was 5-foot nothing. She worked six months to get in good enough physical shape to get in, and after a month in boot camp, they realized that on her entry urine exam, she had tested positive for pot, which stays in your system a long time. So she came home and she was pretty dejected. She just couldn’t get a grip on things again.” He knew things were bad again when he began finding needles around the house, even in the clothes dryer. Courtney’s parents’ health insurance wouldn’t cover another attempt at rehab, saying it wasn’t “a life-or-death situation.” In desperation, and on the advice of local police, Griffin and his wife, Pam, kicked Courtney out of the house and canceled her insurance, so that she would be homeless and therefore eligible for treatment in Massachusetts. It worked—or so they thought. Courtney moved into her boyfriend’s grandparents’ house and prepared to enter treatment at a Massachusetts facility. Only a few days before she was to start, she overdosed and died. When Griffin got the phone call, at first he couldn’t believe it was true. LEOS GET BUSY People react to the loss of a loved one in different ways. Griffin reacted by turning his grief into action. Within two months of his daughter’s death, Griffin organized a memorial in Kingston, attended by about 200 people, to honor her life and to speak openly about his family’s experience with addiction. That soon led to other, bigger efforts, such as testifying before the New Hampshire House and Senate Health and Human Services Subcommittees to encourage passage of NH House Bill 271, which increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. At the behest of then-U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, he testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee about opiate addiction. Griffin wanted to target his anti-drug efforts to young people in particular. In his view, teens are uniquely suited to fighting addiction among their own age group. “When my daughter was in school, I knew she was getting her drugs in school, but I never did find out who she was getting them from,” he says. “But the kids know. The adults can’t get drugs out of the schools. The kids have to get ‘em out. “It just seemed like the natural thing to do, to form a Leo club. Kids are our future, and if we mentor them properly, then we can have a good future. But if we don’t, these drugs are here. They’re here to stay till we get ‘em out.” Griffin started by meeting with the principal of Courtney’s alma mater, Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston. “I said, ‘Every club you have in your school ends the day the kids graduate. But the Leos program continues,’” he says. “‘Those kids will still be Leos after they graduate, and then they’ll be Lions. They’ll be functioning members of the community.’” “I like that the club gives me a purpose,” she says. I know that I’m helping people, and I like the feeling that gives me. And I like that it brings a lot of us together.” The club chartered this year with 14 members, at least one of whom is in recovery for substance abuse herself. “These kids are so smart,” Griffin says. “I enjoy working with them so much. Our president wears a tie to the meetings, and our secretary brings her laptop and gets the minutes out within a couple hours of the meeting. Just so professional. I try, as a Leo adviser, not to make their decisions. They always want me to say what we should do, and I say, ‘It’s not up to me; it’s for you to think about.’ And they think of things I wouldn’t think of.” Such as? “One of the kids had the idea to buy some drug-awareness books. So we’re buying 10 different books for elementary school kids and donating them to the local library, and the Leos are going to take the books and go to the elementary school kids and read the books to them. I think that kids listen to kids and idolize those high school kids a lot when they’re in the younger grades.” But that’s just one of the Leos’ efforts. The club has also hosted events such as an open-mic night and a pasta dinner and created an initiative to help residents safely dispose of unwanted prescription medications. Nick Frost initially joined the Leos because “I was like, ‘All right, this is going to be a club that looks good on my college applications,’” he says. But then a close friend of his died in a drug-related car crash, and he became truly passionate about helping stem the tide of addiction. “I think that it’s a big problem, and I just want to help prevent it,” he says. “Kids getting involved—that’s how we’re going to fight this thing.” Another Leo, Jazmin Alvarado, has seen addiction in action as well. “You don’t find a lot of people at our school that don’t drink or do some form of drugs,” she says. She calls working with Griffin “a very eye-opening experience,” saying, “It makes me realize how much of a problem the drug crisis is, and it gives me more of a drive to fix it.” She enjoys being a Leo for its own sake, too. “I like that the club gives me a purpose,” she says. “I know that I’m helping people, and I like the feeling that gives me. And I like that it brings a lot of us together. Most of the people in the club are people I don’t think I’d normally talk to because we don’t do a lot of the same activities. But we’re all friends now, and it gives you a good sense of community.” The club hopes to raise enough funds to build a couple of local teen centers. “High school kids are bored,” Griffin says. “They’ve got nothing to do. They sit on their phones, and they do nothing. They go home from school and sleep, and mom and dad both work so there’s nobody there to push ‘em to do something. We want to have after-school mentoring programs, so we can teach them how to cook and do music and art and keep things going in a fun way.” Eventually, Griffin hopes to establish more Leo clubs in the area. “My goal is to try to get Leos clubs going in every club in our zone,” he says. In two years, when he retires, he’d also like to get Lions Quest, a social and emotional learning program for schoolchildren, established in New Hampshire. In the meantime, he’ll continue to make sure that his own Leos thrive. He speaks warmly of their recent sponsorship of an anti-drug speaker at a middle school. “To see these 15- and 16-year-old kids be proud to be doing something, to give them that feeling … . ” He trails off. “That’s what a Lion feels like.” Extra Digital Content Read how Lions teamed up with Nancy Reagan to curb drug abuse.
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