NEWPORT CITY – Substance abuse continues to be a major problem in the Green Mountain State. Last Wednesday, the Community Form Coalition, with the assistance of entertainers Wayne Warner and Emily Nyman, presented “It Can’t Happen To Me” at North Country Union High School auditorium. The goal of the program was to create awareness of the impact that substance use and abuse has on the entire community.
Vermont, said Warner, rates second per capita for the highest drug use in the country. Vermont spends more than a $150 million a year on drug-related crimes, which doesn’t include the overflow on child abuse and the need for foster care and adoption.
Michael Lucier, an inmate of the Northern State Correctional Facility, presented the keynote address. Lucier, on Aug. 18, 2009, lost control of his vehicle on the North Jay Road in North Troy, struck pedestrians and a utility pole and continued driving until he crashed his vehicle on Route 105.
One of the pedestrians, Alyssa Burns, sustained broken bones and lacerations. The other pedestrian, Bethany McAlister, died.
Lucier, who showed up to the forum with guards and in shackles, told the small crowd that he started using drugs and alcohol when he was around 16. He never thought he had a problem like the ones he saw on television and locally. But Lucier soon found out that he has an addictive personality.
“It seemed like the more I used, the worse I got, and the more I wanted to do,” said Lucier. “It just became to where it was never enough.”
Lucier’s substance use started as an occasional weekend activity, but then turned into something he did every weekend. At 21, he was introduced to painkillers. Lucier liked the effect of the pills and kept taking them. Taking pills soon turned out to be an everyday activity. Lucier eventually got introduced to heroin.
“It’s something I would never, ever dream I would ever start doing," said Lucier. "As a kid, we never even heard of that (heroin), but it started coming around the area and I was hanging around with the kids that were hanging around with the people that were bringing it to the area."
It got so bad that Lucier started stealing out of his parents' Newport Center Store and ripping off friends. Lucier checked himself into a New York rehabilitation center for 31 days, which helped, but it was not enough and he started using within three months after getting out. It got so bad he lost his job and was kicked out of his parents' house. He stayed at an acquaintance’s camp for a few months when he heard about a bufo/morphine clinic in Springfield. The clinic helped him a lot. He said he got cleaned up from all the other drugs and was going to that clinic for four years. "I was doing good. I got myself into a relationship. I was happy."
Around 2007, he transferred his treatment to the methadone clinic in Newport City. But Lucier got into relationships problems and started drinking, until he was doing that everyday.
"I never got into drinking heavy" before this, he said. "But as soon as I started drinking, it was just like the pills, it progressed and progressed." Friends warned him that he was using alcohol the same way he had used drugs. His world fell apart.
The day Lucier killed McAlister, he went to the methadone clinic and stopped to pick up some pills from a friend, "because I didn't care about my life." During his meal break at work, Lucier bought a fifth of alcohol at noon and drank it by 3 p.m. After work, he stopped at his parents' store to buy groceries and more alcohol while on his way home in Jay.
“After that it gets a little fuzzy,” said Lucier. He left the store and stopped at a friend’s home, but doesn’t remember being there. Lucier’s friend tried to convince him to spend the night. “He knew I was messed up more than I did, but it obviously didn’t work, because I didn’t stay. I ended up driving home, but I never made it home."
On the way home, Lucier blacked out, struck the two women and the utility pole. When Lucier's vehicle hit the pole, he snapped out of the blackout enough to swerve back on to the road, unaware that he had hit the women. He didn’t want to call the police to report he hit the pole, because he was concerned he'd get arrested for drunk driving.
Lucier kept driving but blacked out again and got involved in a second collision further down Route 105, where he woke up for a brief time. Lucier woke up again in the hospital with a police officer on one side and doctor on the other. He didn’t find out he'd hit the women with his vehicle until he was at the police station.
Lucier never thought he would hurt someone.
“I didn’t want to hurt someone like that, but I did,” said Lucier. “Now I have to live with that the rest of my life, knowing I took somebody’s life and I can’t give it back. It’s not a good thing, trust me. It can happen to you and it does. I’m living proof of that.”
Lucier also has to deal with the thought he hurt Burns mentally and physically. Now he has to spend the next four and a half years in prison. Lucier said prison is a place he never thought he would go and he knows very well that he ruined his life.
Lucier would like to see more forums like the one held Wednesday and a helpline, which some users may find easier than meeting someone face to face and admitting he or she has a problem. Lucier said he will never forgive himself for the accident.
“That just isn’t going to happen,” said Lucier.
After Lucier’s presentation, forum organizers played Warner’s "Black and White Rainbows," a very moving DVD that portrays McAlister and other victims of substance use and or abuse.
“We’ve got to get our voices united in this cause,” said Warner. The problem, he said, has reached everyone. The problem was also the empty seats in the auditorium. “We need to fill the seats. This is our village, this is our community and we need to come together. There are too many people who are quite frankly MIA.”
"Everyone needs to get mad, there will be plenty of time to get sad and plant crosses on the side of the road," Warner said. People will have to make time to reach in their closets for the suit they don’t like - the suit they only wear at funerals.
Warner is proud to be sober for 20 years. Many of his friends in the music business warned him that the substance abuse topic and such forums would hurt his musical career, but that hasn't stopped him from spreading his message.
“Before being a recording artist, on top of making records and traveling throughout the country, I am first and foremost a dad," said Warner. "I am so proud to be a dad in your village and your community. I am proud to be your Vermont neighbor.”
Warner, who was born with the "genes of addiction," said he wasted his educational opportunities, wasted what could have been long-lasting and amazing relationships, wasted sleeplessness for people who loved him, wasted his youth and wasted his emotions.
The last time Warner ever used substance was at the town gazebo.
“Too many partied until they laughed - until they cried and cried - until they died," said Warner. "It’s time to get mad….When I say get mad, I don’t mean we need to dust off the lawnmower and go run over a bunch of police whistles, but we need to be united."
Warner doesn’t like the phrase "It’s just pot."
“To all the drug addicts and users, I know you. I am you. I know where you live," said Warner. "It’s a place called hell. Pot is a door handle to that hell. Pot is nothing to mess with.”
Warner urges young people to become addicted to life and the high they get when they reach the top of the mountains of their dreams. He said they should be hooked on hope for the future, drunk on the love they have for themselves and neighbors and intoxicated with the feeling they get when they reach their goal and grab their diplomas.
“Be addicted to life, be a life-oholic,” said Warner. “To those too deep in the swamp, we don’t hate you. Quite often we hate what you do. Come to the shore, dry off. The village awaits you with open arms.”