The addicted city

By RIC KAHN  |  April 3, 2008

Murphy wrote: “There’s scant evidence that the prevention of drug abuse is considered a high priority amongst leaders of the city’s major institutions.” (From its $33 million budget, the Daily Times noted, the city of Gloucester that year had contributed less than $1500 to NUVA.) Nor of the community at large. A year before the series, NUVA had organized a public drug-abuse forum. Nationally known speakers. There was a direct mailing to the home of every school kid in Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, and Essex. A preview story on page one of the Daily Times. The forum ended up resembling a Socialist Workers Party political rally, the panel of speakers outnumbering the uninitiated.

The Daily Times' stark black-and-white facts was an elbow to the sleeping city’s heaving belly, a town-wide wake-up call, a smack in the pretty face of Gloucester that helped change the community’s course of hyperactive inaction.

* * *

The call came to Cynthia Cavanaugh’s home on Sunday morning in March, three years ago. As soon as the phone rang, Cavanaugh knew it was about her son, Jay. Turning to her youngest daughter, she said, “I think your brother’s dead.”

According to his mother, Jay Cavanaugh started messing around with pot when he was 15 or 16. “It was part of the scene,” she says. When he was 17, she says, she became aware that he was doing pot and pills. When he was 18, his mother was called to the hospital from Gorton’s, where she worked as a packer. A motorist had found Jay walking around the second Route 128 rotary, defying the cars to hit him. His mother believes somebody may have laced his marijuana with angel dust. “He had a lot of adolescent problems, hang-ups, low self-image,” says Cavanaugh, 47, now divorced. “A lot had to do with his father. When he went to his father for help, he just turned his back on him.”

Jay quit high school in his senior year when he got into a little jam. Broke into some doctors’ offices and pinched some pills. Broke his mother’s heart. “You’re just devastated,” she says. Went to work for his father as a freezer man at Gloucester’s Quincy Market Cold Storage. He seemed to be doing okay. Then one day, in a Quaalude stupor, he broke into a CVS and took some watches. Three months in the county jail. Got his job back. He was also small-time dealing to support his drug needs. And then he was busted for pot and pills. Lost his job. His mother told him “It’s about time you smarten up. It can only lead you down a one-way street. A dead end.”

Meantime, he had married a Gloucester girl. He was going to be a father. Cynthia Cavanaugh remembers the phone call from her daughter-in-law about five years ago. Jay was at Addison Gilbert Hospital, trying to kick his heroin habit. Heroin? Cynthia Cavanaugh was in shock. “I never knew about heroin,” she says. “I didn’t know Gloucester had a heroin problem. Why did he do heroin? I’m his mother and I wonder about that myself.”

Cynthia Cavanaugh spent her next several evenings seeking solace at St. Ann’s Church. Says a close friend, “more than anything else, it’s a disbelief. You don’t want to believe he’s doing it. Or, he’s only doing a little, not one of those shooting two bags a day. You tend not to blame anybody—but you blame everybody.”

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