The story of a local journalist’s journey with a young man addicted to heroin and the system that failed him


Garrett Brown, then 20, on April 28, 2015, outside the Augusta courthouse before a routine hearing. He was out on bail after being charged with possession and violating conditions of release. (Erin Rhoda | BDN)

As the meeting of the CHLB public relations team got started last week, Erin Rhoda had a somber announcement. For the past two-and-a-half years, she told us, she had been following the life and struggles of a young Augusta man named Garrett Brown. Garrett had lost his battle to addiction.

I gasped, and my heart dropped as I watched Erin deliver this message to us. I quietly asked her if she would help me write a post on the story for this blog. She of course graciously excepted. And on we went with our regular meeting.

Later she sent me the link to Garrett’s story, and this past weekend I read the whole piece and watched the video. It moved me to tears. Tears of sadness and anger.

What follows are the top five things I learned from this article, which also involves a short video about Garrett where you will meet him and some of the important people from his life.

#1. This BDN journalist, Erin, was doing more than just writing a story. She was engaged and invested in this young man and his family. She was learning from him to educate the public and advance the conversation in Maine about substance use disorders.

#2. Addiction is a chronic illness. Because it’s a chronic relapsing disease, it is similar to diabetes, hypertension or asthma. Do we turn our backs on patients who struggle with diabetes? Do we close down treatment and patient practices for people who have heart disease? Do we look at people with cancer and think they brought it on themselves, so they can turn their lives around? Here are the short answers: Yes, we turn our backs on people with addiction, and, no, we wouldn’t for those with other chronic illnesses within the health care system.

#3. Garrett is like any one of us. He could be me. He could be my best friend, my sister, my brother or my coworker. He wanted help but was caught in a place where heroin was easily available and a part of his friends’ lives, too. He loved his mother and wanted to do anything he could to not hurt her. He lived longer than he thought he would because of her. He wanted her to be proud of him — like we all want our parents to be proud of us. He understood himself so much that he wanted to stay longer in the youth detention facility — Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston — because he knew he wouldn’t have access to drugs there.

#4. The system failed him. Deadly failed him. At a time when jail was not the answer, that is exactly where he ended up. At the same time, the community wasn’t able to give him what he needed either. The chemical imbalance within his brain made it difficult for him to ask for help, to reach out to those around him when he needed it.

#5. Together as a community, society and state we have the power and the ability to make changes. If we band together, we can give people who struggle with this chronic condition the tools, treatment, support and services they need to stay alive. You can ask your community how you can help. Attend a support group, or get more information about this chronic disease. Listen to the stories of the people in our community who struggle with this illness. Be cognizant of the language you use, to end the misconception that this illness is a choice.

One small action from you may not seem like it will right the ship. However one small action by enough people will get the ship on course.

Take the time to read the article. You will see yourself and others within the goodness that was Garrett Brown.