Stanciu Book Explores Opioid Misuse
by Hal Gray
GREENSBORO – Former Woodbury librarian Brett Stanciu explains in her 2021 book “Unstitched”how she sought to educate herself on opioid misuse. Her presentation about her book on June 21, at the Greensboro Free Library revealed her quest resulted not only from the desire to learn about the after-hours intruder in her library, but also about her own struggle earlier with alcoholism.
The book is an exploration of addiction and how to deal with it. She interviews many people, including people in recovery and medical professionals we know at the Hardwick Area Health Center like Shauna Shepard and Katie Whitaker. Stanciu relates her growing understanding of addiction as a disease and not simply bad behavior. She describes “medication-assisted treatment” (MAT) as a way to taper people off of narcotics while also seeking to address the “whole person” with job training and counseling.
MAT is a piece of Vermont’s harm reduction approach and involves doing everything possible to keep an addict alive today until they accept more intensive treatment later.
The book describes Stanciu’s interview of Hardwick police chief Aaron Cochran, who described how someone suffering from a sports injury can get a prescription for pain pills that hooks him on opioids, which leads him to black market purchases. When this supply is cut off, the demand switches to heroin. The chief noted that three state highways in or near Hardwick lead to a lot of questionable visitors from out of town.
In an interview of then-U.S. Attorney for Vermont, Christine Nolan, Stanciu was told being an addict isn’t a crime, it’s what people do to maintain their habit that may be illegal. Nolan told her that the more we understand addiction, the better we’ll be able to deal with it. Nolan also said dealers can drive an hour north up I-91 from Massachusetts and double their money.
During Stanciu’s interview of Sam McDowell, who was years into sobriety after abusing opioids, he related that many people assume addiction “always has sinister roots, like childhood trauma, mental illness, or overprescribed opioids” for pain. But Sam said drugs were just fun for him. He left college because of his habit and became a drug dealer so he could fund his addiction. He wonders if he would have gotten clean without the threat of prison. Sam said that people who want to get clean have only three outcomes — get clean, go to prison, or die.
Stanciu writes about the difficulty of recovery: that it has no end, no peaceful place of respite, but requires living day by day in a flawed world. She ended up getting a different job, walking out of a marriage, selling her house and moving to another town.
Asked at her library presentation what she would do differently about the library intruder she passed by years ago without acknowledging, Stanciu said now she would go up to him, i.e., relate to him as a complex person who might benefit from human interest and compassion. This led to a discussion of how our society hasn’t really constructively addressed mental illness.
Despite the awkward theme of the book, it is always interesting to read about people and places with whom and with which one is familiar. Stanciu is now Greensboro’s treasurer and zoning administrator, as well as an ex-officio member of the development review board and non-voting member of the planning commission.