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for_kindness

This site is devoted to sharing pictures, letters  and poems of Sean Blake. He was a young man who loved kindness.  He enjoyed giving and receiving love. A gifted poet and writer. He was an amazing chess and card player.  Sean showed his love by cooking for family, friends and strangers alike.  You may have seen him reading palms on Church St. in Burlington, VT.  He touched many lives with his wit, charisma and love of life.

The site is maintained by Sean’ s family. We hope to show that Sean was more than his disease. We share our stories and many stories of families affected by substance use disorder. We hope there will be less stigma and shame with mental illness and substance use disorder. We hope to raise awareness of the dangers of opiates and risk of death from their use. We advocate for compassionate treatment and harm reduction.

As anyone reading this can understand, Sean wanted to live, he wanted sobriety. It takes only one moment of  weakness with an opiate to cause serious consequences. The message is don’t start. No one intends to grow up to be a slave to a substance.

Sean initially began with high dose THC products, this caused mania, psychosis and even a suicide attempt. It ended his career in the Navy.  Unfortunately, he developed polysubstance use disorder. He began use of opiates in addition to cocaine and marijuana. Sean used Oxycontin and eventually heroin.  Sadly, he transitioned from opiates to marijuana. He attempted to treat his OUD with marijuana and alcohol. While he survived five years after his OUD was “in remission”, he eventually, used something that turned out to be fentanyl. We aren’t sure if he had any idea what he was using. He still, at times, when manic,he used cocaine. However, he did have needles in his bag and we can’t say for sure what was in his mind.  He was impaired with marijuana and alcohol in addition to the small amount of fentanyl.  I wish he had been on some type of MAT, instead of trying to self-medicate.

The poems and letters were written, mostly during periods of good health.  The writings and posts chronicle his struggles with love, bipolar disorder, substance use and life.  Hopefully,  what he has left behind will help another to choose life over addiction or at least show more kindness to those struggling with this disease.

SB died at age 27 from an overdose of alcohol and fentanyl, combined with marijuana.

We will miss him forever.

Incarceration, where is the “care”?

Some of the most difficult memories are those of jail, incarceration was a constant threat for Sean, whether in the Navy, during a relapse or even in his home state of  Vermont.

As I write this I keep misspelling incarceration, I keep trying to put “care” in there. No, there isn’t “care” in incarceration…

This is one of Sean’s first letters from Riker’s island. His life was saved here, an abscess in his ankle was treated. At the time of his arrest, he could barely walk. He was caught stealing soap and toothpaste from a Walgreen’s in midtown. He couldn’t run due to the condition of his leg. Sadly, instead of being sent to a hospital, he was sent to jail. Detoxing on the cold floor of the Manhattan holding center. When he got to Riker’s he did receive methadone and treatment for his abscess. I just have to wonder if, life might have been better if he was able to go to a hospital and treatment instead. As a family, we tried to get him to treatment, however, the DA would only allow transfer to a six month 50,000.00 facility, which we couldn’t afford…

July  from Riker’s Island

Hey Mom:

Well, this sucks a little bit. I don’t understand why this happened yet. Maybe, I’m not supposed to but, after I do my time, will get most of the Fall to hike together and get ready for ski season. Train with Ned, find a job, start contributing a paycheck to my family, rather than stealing your time, love and money.

Maybe, I can learn to give a little bit.

I’m going to miss you. I hope my cases in the Bronx hold a lighter sentence. If all goes well, I will be ready for detox in 50 days. I am going to try to get off the methadone. I only got it to make the hell of jail a little easier.

Whatever happens I know will have Christmas together. Somehow, I just know. We might miss Five Guys day, if I get more time but, I’d like to go to lunch with you on October22nd. I’ll put it in my DAY PLANNER.

After, I make a DAYPLANNER, something to count down the days.

I’m sorry I’m putting you through this. I’m sorry for everything right now.

Love, Seanner T

Many of Sean’s writings are lost. I have many cards, and many letters from jail….Seanrikersjulypg1Seanrikersjulypg1Seanrikersjulypg2

Recovery Advocacy Project

RAP_vermont_FB

From Recovery Advocacy Project:

“Congratulations!

You have been selected as a volunteer State Lead of the Recovery Advocacy Project (RAP)! Many states have a team of Leads and we will be sure to introduce you to your other State Leads in separate communications.

We are in a very exciting time in the recovery advocacy movement and are encouraged that you will be an integral part of that.

The application process was very competitive and we are happy to be working with you moving forward to build a foundation to support recovery grassroots advocates all across the country. We are confident in your ability and we will be providing ongoing trainings to you to instill a Leaderful Recovery Movement that is working cohesively to think and act locally towards community and legislative solutions. “

I am grateful to have this opportunity, meeting many of the other participants at Mobilize recovery was so inspiring.  I don’t have much experience but, I am so grateful for the calls and emails of support from people with experience, reaching out, wanting to help. So, Vermont, we will get ready for our next steps, people in recovery and people who love them, families of loss, concerned professionals we will all need to work together to obtain recognition and respect.

#StandUp4Recovery

Take the pledge at

https://actionnetwork.org/forms/this-recoverymonth-i-pledge?source=direct_link&

Thank you:  Kim Blake

Time for a change.. MAT in corrections.. SAMHSA blog post

For persons with an opioid use disorder who are in the criminal justice system, the process of transitioning from jail or prison back to the community can be overwhelming. Within three months of release from custody, 75 percent of people who were in prison or jail with an opioid use disorder experience a relapse to opioid use. It is also alarming that incarcerated persons who are released to the community are between 10 and 40 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than the general American population—especially within a few weeks after reentering society. As we observe March as National Criminal Justice Month, I’d like to call attention to SAMHSA resources and grant programs that are tackling this issue head-on.

As a society, we face the difficult challenge of preventing people with opioid use disorder reentering the community from relapsing and overdosing on opioids. However, it is possible through the use of medication-assisted treatment within the fabric of the criminal justice system. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder that uses FDA-approved pharmacotherapy in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders. Jails and prisons have been slow to offer this form of treatment, despite the overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness of MAT. However, in reaction to the current opioid epidemic, the criminal justice system is increasingly considering the use of MAT in drug courts, incarceration, reentry, and community corrections.  

For the past decade, SAMHSA has supported MAT and other forms of treatment for mental and substance use disorders, and trauma-related issues for people involved in the criminal justice system through discretionary grants, programs and resources. SAMHSA recently published two new guides, “Medication-Assisted Treatment in the Criminal Justice System: Brief Guidance to States” and “Principles of Community-based Behavioral Health Services for Justice-involved Individuals: A Research-based Guide.”

The SAMHSA brief, “Medication-Assisted Treatment in the Criminal Justice System: Brief Guidance to the States provides guidance to state governments on increasing the availability of MAT in criminal justice settings. By including the criminal justice system as a path to treatment, states may see an increase in access to and maintenance in treatment, and lower rates of overdoses, re-offending, and re-incarcerations. In this brief, states are provided an overview of the issue, the challenges to incorporating MAT, key considerations for establishing MAT in criminal justice settings, and existing standards and guidelines.

SAMHSA’s “Principles of Community-based Behavioral Health Services for Justice-involved Individuals:  A Research-based Guide” aims to assist community-based providers in their clinical and case management practice with the justice-involved population.  Intended for direct service providers, agency leaders and program developers, the principles articulated in this guide provide a foundation for achieving a quality, community-based behavioral health treatment system that is responsive to this population.  Eight key principles – reached by consensus – are described, followed by frequently asked questions, a table of evidence-based practices for substance use treatment for justice-involved individuals, and key resource materials. 

During fiscal year 2019, SAMHSA also funded 43 adult drug court grants, 12 family drug court grants and two reentry program grants and encouraged these programs to utilize MAT, as appropriate, with their program participants.  

It is always encouraging to hear personal success stories from SAMHSA grantees. Such an example was provided by a Project Director of a SAMHSA-funded drug court in Arizona. She recently shared the story of Patrick, one of her program graduates, who is now successfully working as a recovery support specialist for their MAT service provider. Patrick described his early struggles with anxiety and depression, becoming addicted to prescription drugs and later, heroin.  His addiction led him to several stays in jail and ultimately was sentenced to state prison. After release and new charges, Patrick was eligible for, entered and graduated from a drug court program. He offered that the source of his success was being able to participate in substance use treatment, and addressing his mental health issues through intensive counseling, job training, and receipt of MAT, which Patrick says “allowed the obsession for heroin to be lifted from the nooks-and crannies of my mind, heart, and soul.”

Treatment works and recovery from opioid use disorder is possible. If you or someone you know is looking for an opioid treatment program, visit

Purdue Pharma and other drug cartels..In Vermont

As a physician in the 1990’s in Vermont, I heard the sales pitch for Oxy Contin. I am an Ob/Gyn and didn’t think the medication applied to my patients. It seemed like a strong drug for patients dying of cancer. I never wrote a prescription for it.

I did note that many colleagues wrote for it, as well as, many other opioids.  I would hear of people going home with 40 oxycodone pills for a wisdom tooth extraction. A fellow Ob/Gyn, was chastised for crusading against over prescribing. People were given pain meds for headaches, menstrual cramps.  A local physician was known for just writing a script for the most minor complaints, mostly to poor patients who didn’t have access to yoga, massage or physical therapy.

I trained in an urban center, Buffalo, NY.  Many rotations were at the ECMC trauma center. Physicians there warned me of the risks of opioid pain medications. Oxycodone for back pain was just going to create a worse situation, it might be great for a few days but, in the long run the price was too high.. I often thought, we are creating use disorder for the patients being prescribed. What I never saw coming, was that the medicine cabinets in Vermont would be filled with these powerful dangerous drugs, often just kept on hand, just in case. That the victims, would actually be, the curious adolescents in the home.

My husband broke his ankle in 2010. It was pretty bad, he needed surgery. My husband was given three large prescriptions for a powerful opioid, #120 pills , three separate doctors wrote prescriptions. He took one tablet, and threw the rest away.

After all, our son struggled with substance use disorder and was fighting hard to stay sober at that time.  He ended up relapsing, not on any of the medication my husband was given (we kept it in a safe), just knowing the pills were in the house triggered him. He stole a bank card and ran away. he went missing for several weeks. We didn’t prosecute him, we offered treatment instead. It was one of the happiest days of my life, flying home from Minnesota, with Sean safely enrolled in a inpatient treatment program.

Sadly, most people I know with SUD have started with oral pain meds, prescribed sometimes, sometimes taken at a party.

The research by Sam Quninones for “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” is an excellent resource for the absolute, reckless marketing of the new “pain vital sign” and ensuing campaign to coerce physicians into prescribing these dangerous drugs, all the while telling us they weren’t addictive.

I am grateful, I didn’t write for this medicine. I just wish my colleagues would have been more judicious. They wrote the scripts that are killing our kids. Most didn’t mean to create an epidemic. They just believed what they were told by the marketing campaign. Then, there are a few who knew darn well what they were doing and created the pill mills that added fuel to the fire.

There are complex issues at hand, reasons people become dependent, of course.  Many pharmaceutical companies do develop useful drugs for cancer, or heart disease. I just have to wonder how differently the situation might be if we didn’t have massive flooding of our communities by a pharmaceutical companies looking to make a buck, or a few billion

 

End of Summer

For our family, summer was a time of chaos and stress. In the beginning of cooler weather in Vermont, the quest for sobriety was real. No longer could nights be spent in a park or on the beach. the reality was homeless shelters, rehab or sometimes even jail.

Fall is a favorite time of year for me, maybe because I sought the stability that might come with it, the end to worry and frustration.  Oh, how I loved rehab, or a hospital stay. Not that I wished any frustration on my kid, I just wanted him to be safe, alive until he could figure it out.

I worked with German Lopez on a piece for Vox last month. As a followup, I was asked to do a podcast. Well, that was rough, revisiting the story, sharing voicemails and videos. I sure do miss my son’s beautiful voice. I always thought he would be great, sharing his poems in person, his voice resonating with all the emotion and feeling that sometimes words on a page cannot convey.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/9/3/20750587/rehab-drug-addiction-treatment-sean-blake-opioid-epidemic

Speech by Michael Gaffney, Sean’s Best friend

This is the text of a memorial speech by Sean’s best friend, Mike. He gave a shortened version at the “OurStoriesMatter” event. I agree with his honesty and how we could have done better for Sean. I agree with his push for harm-reduction and medically proven therapy.

Introduction and spiritual well-being hopes.

As some of you know, Sean has been a close friend of mine for years, since Spanish at South Burlington High School. When I think of Sean, I am reminded in ways of St. Mark Ji Tianxing, both because of his patronage of opiate addicts and because of his complicated relationship with the Divine. St. Mark Ji Tianxing was unable to receive conventional Catholic salvation, due to an immature understanding of the nature of addiction on the part of his Confessor, but he pressed on towards Heaven, faithfully begging God daily for martyrdom, since he felt so ensnared by narcotics that freedom felt impossible but he knew that that death for Jesus would seal his fate for the good.

It is clear to me that God has been with Sean throughout his life. On the one occasion we broached the Eternal, attending Mass together, he promptly deposited the last dollar he had. Despite worrying before that he would “burst into flames” from having been far from the Church for so long, he was almost immediately rewarded with shelter and funds, bearing true the parables of Jesus in dramatic fashion. [Parable of the Widow who gave her last funds, amongst others] Of course, Sean had a much more convoluted walk than did St. Mark Ji Tianxing, but nonetheless the general direction of his path was clear to me. I thank the Lord that though Sean was unable to attain martyrdom as far as I know, and I’m uncertain even about his Last Rites, I was at least able to recite prayers in his presence which in our belief ought to hopefully help usher him to Paradise. Providence surely played a role at multiple levels. While his hobbies might’ve contributed to the early demise of his body, … compared to much of this town … , I worry little for the life of his soul. Ultimately, and fortunately, since my prayers have surely grown slack, he is now fully in the hands of the Most Merciful. We can be better, we must be better, and we will be better!

Memorializing and APPLAUSE Sean might best be remembered for his heroic sacrifices as a submariner. As anybody acquainted with the operations of a nuclear Navy is aware, a career path aboard submarines can easily lead to deployments on what constitutes a perpetual Schrodinger’s sentence of suicide. This is maddening for even the strongest of souls, and so in this light, the struggles of Sean can be seen as a continuing contribution to the defense of our very lives as Americans.

He made friends worldwide, one of the most remarkable things to me in the weeks after his death was the number of our friends I realized were impacted by his life, including individuals from countries a world apart. One of my fondest memories is eating at a Chilean restaurant in Midtown with two of our friends, along with the time we made a salad following Mongolian norms, off of Shelburne Road. He was of course known for his culinary capabilities. I’ll always remember his innovations—an egg in the Marinara. And a plate of quail wings he invented still makes my mouth water. His generosity extended to the table. I recall that during fatter times he provided me with enough healthy food to shed significant weight in a few months. His big heart extended to the many women in his life. While they sometimes fell head over heels, this was rarely reciprocated though they were always treated with respect, since Sean tried to keep his eyes fixed on greater things. I am reminded that at a point he perhaps managed to wed a beautiful lass though there were few accommodations made for the couple. I’m also reminded of St. Maximilian Kolbe, both because he is a patron of addicts, and because at Auschwitz [FACT-CHECK] he sacrificed his own life to save another’s. Somewhat similarly, Sean made known his organ donation wishes. And so shared the fire of life. Lamenting and accusing; sorrows section Of course, there were stressful times with Sean, and those must be discussed.

Let’s be truthful, we cannot blame beer or bud, we can’t even blame heroin, and while he can accuse himself, we certainly can’t blame Sean. We can, however, blame our collective inaction when it comes to the well-established covert Chinese chemical operations aimed at a disruption of our national vigor. And we can blame a need for action on one of the only proven solutions: potency-based sentencing, wherein the incentives of Chinese collaborators are aligned at least with the interest of honoring human life, by prosecuting in accordance with the potency and so the risk of fatality of seized narcotics. These same networks have been run by the Communists since the days of Korea and Vietnam, and as recent Congressional testimony has shown, they have continued at least in essence and adapted to turning Americans against our country by shipping synthetic opiates en masse to the desperate and the greedy and practically for free. It is necessary to stop or defang this flow, and in the interim, muzzle its public health bite.

We can also blame the “recovery” industry, in whose greedy modalities Sean was snared at times. While there are far more effective and scientifically proven treatments available, the 12-stepper’s promote a revolving door of recovery, rather than true improvement. That said, the programs are better than nothing, and are intended to provide a free sober socialization setting, which is a good and the hijacking of which for wanton profit is despicable. I bear much blame. Despite seeing one of my best friends forced to rely on drughouses and pushers for shelter because of the selfishness of his supposed loves ones, I was equally selfish, rarely offering him shelter in Vermont though I had every reason to trust him situationally. In New York, he was a reasonable houseguest, until our mutual poverties brought us to blows. Given an equitable economic distribution, he could’ve easily obtained employment and housing along with the many friends he earned each time, and even indulged his vices a bit—Lord knows some consume ten times the narcotics with a tenth the consequences. But most importantly, given each and every one of us having mercy on the addicts in our lives, we can ensure that our loved ones live.

I’m reminded of one time when Sean stormed out of a car with me and a few other men, bellowing “I just wanted my friend Mike,” and it was only much later, when I was leaving a bus and passed by someone I suspected might’ve been a distressed Sean, failing to offer him help, followed up by holding his dying body in a hospital bed, that I realized he was likely referring to myself. Adding to this accusation is the fact that I failed to send a letter intended for him during his imprisonment, despite being obligated by Conscience to do so, and I remain acutely aware that that letter could’ve perhaps saved his life. With Sean opening his eyes to these circumstances of neglect every single morning, his murder might’ve been mercy, and that horrifying conclusion must motivate us to change, to love, to actually care. And we must keep in mind that so many more are still suffering the same struggles, since Sean is both a statistic and a soul, so both symbolic and conclusive of the problem. Anything that would’ve worked for Sean we must offer to all those so afflicted, and anything that would’ve worked for anybody we have a duty to make available. STATISTICS Call for prosecutions, or explicit mention of mercy? We can be better, we must be better, and we will be better!

Call for action; anger/actualization We do need thoughts and prayers. Of course, we must do more. At a policy level, we want: A comprehensive evaluation of the factors and components of the drugs crisis, for example, housing policy. An ombudsman and office to serve as a voice for those suffering from the drugs crisis, e.g., in encounters with bureaucrats distributing thwacks and treats. Potency-based sentencing, with stiff penalties for negative outliers. The exploration of a short-term blanket amnesty (perhaps with reporting requirements) followed by a stark sharpening of penalties. At a philanthropic level, we want: • Memorial efforts • Hope for addicts, in the form of jobs, investment, and education. • Inclusive recreation and community centers; there’s a reason Vermont has among the highest rates of cannabis and alcohol use, and it’s shocking we have so few open community centers to alleviate this environmentally-induced ennui. And at a personal level, we must: Whatever you do, no money for the status quo, instead for things of relevance: musical library, lobbying, scuba, skiing, wildlife, etc. I promise you, had my friend been given a private bed, a spliff, and a sixer to go with his meals, so, a saner society, he would be speaking in my stead right now. We could’ve done better. We can be better, we must be better, and we will be better!

An Appendix: Props and Publications Sources: • Source for Chinese chemical warfare claims • Source for submarining claims • Source for VT drugs statistics. • Open with Ecclesiastes? Props: • Photo of quail wings