How the Smallest State Is Defeating America’s Biggest Addiction Crisis

Politico Magazine

By Erick Trickey

By the time police caught Paul Roussell with heroin last summer, the 58-year-old lobster fisherman had been addicted to the drug for almost 10 years. He’d gone from sniffing two bags of heroin a day to 10, then as many as 17. He was running drugs for dealers to afford his habit. “I had already planned that I was going to die,” he says.

He went to prison first. That may have saved his life.

Inside Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institutions in this Providence suburb, while facing a felony charge of drug possession with intent to deliver, Roussell was offered a chance to break his addiction through a groundbreaking new program. “I was very surprised to find out that I was able to have methadone in prison,” he says.

Every day while locked up, Roussell drank a 55-milligram dose of methadone, the medicine doctors have used for 50 years to help people get off heroin. “It was very comfortable, very helpful,” says Roussell, a sandy-haired man with deep blue eyes and a handlebar moustache. “I started feeling like my recovery was kicking in.”

Released from prison after three months, Roussell spent eight months in residential treatment. Now he’s living with his parents in Tiverton, his seaside hometown, and working as a landscaper and maintenance man in a business park. His case will be dismissed after his graduation from drug court this month. Every morning, on his way to work, he stops by an opioid treatment clinic for a daily methadone dose. “That keeps me stable,” says Roussell during an interview at Rhode Island’s government campus in Cranston. He’s gone a year without taking heroin. If not for his methadone regimen, he says, “there’d be a good chance of me using.”

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