Struggling to find resources for her son as he battled his heroin addiction, Patti Scalesse decided to start the group Everett Overcoming Addiction. It brings together parents and patients who are learning to manage substance abuse disorder. (Hadley Green for WBUR)
Patti Scalesse says she never saw it coming. Even when she found a syringe cap in her car three years ago and called her son, Francis Kenney, to tell him not to let his friends get high in her car. When Kenney then told her they needed to talk, Scalesse never expected to hear that her boy was addicted to heroin.
“Not my kid, my kid would never use drugs, he was a Marine,” Scalesse remembers thinking. “Well guess what, he did.”
Kenney, then age 21, was discharged from the Marines with a prescription for pain medication. Within a year of his release, Scalesse says, he had switched to heroin and was asking her for help.
“I thought, OK, I’ll pack him a bag, give him a pillow, bring him to detox, five days later he’ll be home and everything will be OK. No one tells you that the next two to three years of your life is just pure chaos.”
– Patti Scalesse, speaking about her son's battle with addiction
They met in a park, down the street from a pizza joint where Scalesse learned her son routinely went into the bathroom to get high. Scalesse absorbed the shock and started figuring out how to fix the problem.
“I thought, OK, I’ll pack him a bag, give him a pillow, bring him to detox, five days later he’ll be home and everything will be OK,” she says with a dry laugh. “No one tells you that the next two to three years of your life is just pure chaos.”
Chaos, because Kenney relapsed several times, and Scalesse realized she didn’t know what to do.
“I went to the police station and city hall to see what sort of information I could get to get my son some help. Nobody had anything. They gave me a 1-800 number with a Post-it note,” Scalesse says.
So she started a group, Everett Overcoming Addiction, that brings together parents and patients who are learning to manage this chronic illness. Her son, now 24, spoke at a rally. Kenney has been off heroin for 10 months and has a job. But as Scalesse was building a website, planning events and reaching out to other families, the disease hit her family again.
“My nephew was just 17,” Scalesse says, sighing. “We did not know he was using, and we got the call that he had died.”