PHOTO BY ALENA KUZUB
An audience reacts to a showing of the short film “If Only” at the Marblehead Veterans Middle School Performing Arts Center.
By ADAM SWIFT
MARBLEHEAD — One of the keys to battling the opioid epidemic is bringing the struggle of addiction out of the darkness and holding a conversation about it.
That was one of the key messages heard by about 100 parents, students and community members at the Marblehead Veterans Middle School Performing Arts Center Tuesday night during a showing of the short film “If Only.”
The film was donated to the town by the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and was introduced by James Wahlberg, executive director. The screening was followed by personal testimonies from those touched by drug addiction and a panel discussion from local experts about what can be done to address the issue.
“I’ve done hundreds of these events, and this is a really nice turnout,” said Wahlberg, who is Mark Wahlberg’s brother and in substance abuse recovery himself. “It can be extremely difficult to get folks to come out and talk about this issue.”
“If Only” stars Wahlberg’s son and depicts how young people can easily fall prey to the dangers of prescription drugs.
Wahlberg said the 38-minute film was made two years ago, and since that time, has been shown to nearly 250,000 people across the country.
“We are in the midst of an absolute epidemic the likes of which we have never seen before, and we need to continue to spark the conversation,” said Wahlberg.
The film’s powerful ending included the title song by New Kids on the Block member Danny Wood playing as photos of those who died because of opioid addiction were shown, many of those photos held by parents and other family members.
But perhaps even more powerful than the film itself was the testimony given after the screening by Robyn Houston-Bean, who lost her son Nick at the age of 20 to a heroin overdose in 2015.
“I look back now and see all the little signs, at the time I didn’t see them,” said Houston-Bean.
She said her son was always there for others, but suffered from a depression that he began to self-medicate with marijuana, and then harder drugs. As he continued to spiral into addiction, Houston-Bean said Nick came home from college and admitted that he was addicted to heroin.
“It finally became too much for Nick,” she said. “He broke down and told us that he was addicted to heroin. He tried to stop on his own, but he couldn’t do it.”
Nick went into recovery and was doing well, but seven months after he stopped treatment, he had a relapse and died of an overdose of a combination of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.
“I’ll never know what caused him to relapse that night when everything seemed to be going so well,” Houston-Bean said.
Well devastated by the loss of her son, Houston-Bean said she wanted to make sure that Nick did not die in vain and founded The Sun Will Rise Foundation, a grief support group.
“If anyone sees any of the risk factors, act on them, do not brush them off as normal teenage stuff, ask questions,” Houston-Bean said.
After Houston-Bean spoke, a panel that included Andrew Petty, Marblehead health director, Maureen Cavanagh, founder and president of Magnolia New Beginnings, Kristin Fraher of the Essex County District Attorney’s office and Michael Duggan, founder of Wicked Sober answered questions about the opioid epidemic and how to talk about issues surrounding opioids and other drugs.
“We have to make it OK to talk about it,” said Cavanagh. “It is a disease that lives in the dark because people are afraid to talk about it because there is a stigma involved, but it is a disease that needs to be talked about.”