Sean Merrill is a 38-year-old opioid addict in recovery who has turned his life around. The Chelmsford, Massachusetts native is now a Development Supervisor atTeen Challenge in Brockton, a faith-based ministry program that helps drug addicts and alcoholics into recovery.
Merrill was one of the featured speakers at an opioid awareness rally organized by Trinity Episcopal Church on Wrentham Town Common Saturday. Nearly 150 people attended the rally, where family members shared personal stories of losing loved ones, coping with their addiction, and in some cases, such as Merrill's, celebrating their recovery.
At age 25, Merrill had what would be considered a normal life. He was married, a father, and working as an electrician. One day, after a tough day at work, he says, his younger brother handed him some pills.
"He told me he and his friends were taking pills," said Merrill, noting that they called them "happy pills," or pain-killers. "That day I made a choice, he offered them to me, and in the comfort of my home and in the trust of my younger brother, I tried pain medication for the first time."
Merrill then went down a long, long road of addiction and ultimately overdosed on heroin. An EMT named Kathryn Nelson revived him with narcan, which is a medication used to counteract the effects of opioids. Ironically, Merrill and Nelson attended middle school together, but Nelson didn't realize it at the time she saved Merrill's life. When Merrill wrote about the details of his recovery on social media, they reunited to celebrate his success. Nelson attended the rally on Saturday, where she and Merrill embraced and shared their stories.
The rally was emotional for Merrill for another reason, as well. During the rally, he paid tribute to his younger brother, who died of an opioid overdose in February 2011, a day before he was due to check into rehab. Merrill spoke regrettably about not being able to set a better example for his brother, but expressed his gratitude to Nelson for helping him have his own second chance.
To listen to Merrill's story as reported by WGBH News' Marilyn Schairer and Joe Mathieu, click on the audio player above.