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Victim-blaming: Do addicts deserve their scarlet letter?

Maine set a record breaking high in the number of overdoses in the state, totalling 418 deaths in the year 2017. According to the Maine Attorney General’s office, fatal overdoses have increased 11 percent since 2016, making it the worst public health crisis since the AIDS outbreak of the 1980s. Kenny Miller, executive director of Health Equity Alliance expressed his concern in an interview with Portland Herald Press about Maine placing too much importance on treating drug abuse as an illegal act, as opposed to a disease: “Although we continue to arrest people, there continues to be no impact on rates of drug use … Today, letting people hit rock bottom is the equivalent of a death sentence.”

Megan Gregory was allowed to hit rock bottom, and done an extreme injustice as a direct result of the belief that addicts are to blame for their current state of life. For Gregory, the state of her life remains unknown; she has been missing since June 5, 2017. In a public opinion survey by The Guardian, “the majority of people regard drug addicts as dangerous, unpredictable and, crucially, having only themselves to blame for their predicament.” Gregory’s mother told the Portland Press that “[Megan’s] biggest hurdle seemed to be herself.” Due to this attitude, Gregory became estranged from her family. However, when one door closed, another opened and she quickly became the light of a close friend’s life when she moved from New York to Maine in January 2017 in search of sobriety and a fresh start.

Dan Wentworth met Gregory on her first day of work at King Eider’s Pub in Damariscotta. “The first thing anyone notices about Megan [Gregory] are her eyes, brilliantly bright and blue,” he told me. “Her look was sweet, but not vulnerable. Tough, but not at all hard. I knew right away we were going to be friends.” Though he admits that his biggest fear was that she would relapse into heroin use, it ended up being a fraction of the nightmare that lied ahead.

“I know that she scored drugs from and often drove for men from New York, and it is a strong theory that these same men got her involved in escorting. She was homeless and jobless, the perfect victim,” Wentworth said. Not to mention the fact that Gregory was also a known addict, which is perhaps why many people in the surrounding area blame her for her predicament. One witness came to Wentworth in confidence, describing having seen Gregory being beaten to death behind the Edwards House Inn on Water Street in Augusta on the morning of June 7; the authorities originally dismissed the statements because, like Gregory, the witness was also a known addict.

Sean Paschal writes in The Odyssey: “Everyone has something that makes them feel good and alive. Something to escape the dread of separation, of consciousness. All humans fear death and have anxiety, but the way in which everyone copes is not the same.” So why do we continue to judge, discredit and blame addicts simply because they have a disease?

If society were to discredit and blame every individual who has walked into a dangerous situation because of an error in judgement, so many stones would be cast that we would all face the same fate as the 418 addicts who lost their lives in 2017.

As for Gregory, it is coming up on 10 months since she has last been seen. Her friend Wentworth is working diligently every day to fight the growing idea that addicts deserve the cards they have been dealt, and he has a message for the girl with the brilliant blue eyes: “Meg if you are out there, come home. I still message you every Thursday, and I leave my #, in case you can not remember. You know I will come and get you, no matter where, when or how, and no matter who stands in the way, I will be there. Come home, prove me wrong, end this sadness. We can still fix it, we can get to the next step, the one where your life will truly start, I promise Knuckle-Head, we will make it better.

Come home, love Dano.”

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