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It took nearly four months, but persistence paid off.

Rick Jolly, substance abuse coordinator for Woburn, and director of Mayor Scott Galvin’s Coalition on Substance Abuse, said city and health officials have worked hard over the past year to raise awareness in Woburn. Still, it’s not enough.

From Nov. 1, 2015 to March 15 of this year, the city has recorded 33 overdoses – six of them have resulted in death.

According to Jolly, surveys indicate four of five heroin users began their journey to addiction with prescription painkillers.

Addiction has become omnipresent in communities. Jolly’s own nephew, he told the audience, would be late for the film because he was attending a wake for a man who passed away at 26, the result of an overdose.

“That’s the reality of it,” said Jolly.

Jolly introduced James Wahlberg, who wrote the short film, “If Only,” with Michael Yebba. Wahlberg is also executive director of the Mark Wahlberg Foundation.

The screenplay was written to encourage an open dialogue between parents and children.

Wahlberg said the movie, which was filmed entirely in Massachusetts, with a significant portion filmed in Tewksbury, has been shown in communities across the country.

Wahlberg, who calls himself a “recovering person,” said a number of the film’s characters were portrayed by family members, including his son, Jeffery, who starred as Issac Diaz, a teenager trying to fit in at school.

His reasoning was simple: getting people to talk about prescription drugs and opioid addiction.

“I believe for the most part, it’s starting in people’s medicine cabinets,” he said.

Wahlberg said kids are taking pills from those cabinets – some that parents may have forgotten about – and using them
But his is not the only family involved with the film. A number of families who have lost loved ones to addiction are featured at the end of the film, holding photos of a son or daughter.

“The day we were shooting the funeral scene (at St. William’s Church in Tewksbury), 250 people showed up that had lost loved ones to overdoses,” he said.

The scene was a difficult one as the casket was brought into the church, and he stopped filming, encouraging people to talk or even offer a hug if they needed to.

Wahlberg said the families knew they would relive burying their own sons or daughters.

“They knew this was going to happen, and they knew it was going to hurt, but they needed to try to make a difference in other people’s lives,” he said.

He called the film his, “contribution to a large problem.”

“It’s going to take many people on many different fronts – from education, treatment, proper drug testing,” said Wahlberg.

Referring to a “pill party” that was depicted in the film, Wahlberg said such parties among young people are real.

Lucchese family

Among the panelists were Carmen and Marie Lucchese of Woburn, who lost their son, Justin, to an overdose on Oct. 3, 2014. He was 26.

Marie said talking about the dangers of drugs was nothing new in the Lucchese household.

“I never thought drugs would ever affect my kids, especially heroin,” she said.

Addiction, Marie said, knows no boundaries; not age, social status, upbringing or religion.

“If you think it couldn’t strike you or your family, think again,” she said.

While attending Syracuse University, Justin, then 19, underwent surgery on his knee. His physician prescribed oxycodone for pain. It changed the Luchesse family’s lives forever.

Some 18 months after his death, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that established a 7-day limit on first time opioid prescriptions, for which Marie was grateful.

“What happened to our son, won’t happen to another child after an injury because we feel that is how Justin became a drug addict,” she said.

After taking three to four percocets a day, Justin turned to heroin because it was cheaper.

“I watched my son lose weight. He stole from us; all the things addicts do to get their next fix,” she said.

Justin’s parents never gave up on him. He was doing well after coming out of rehab a second time. It was, however, merely a precursor to darker days. Justin lost his fight with addiction. He death was a result of an overdose of heroin cut with fentanyl.

“That’s what killed him,” she said.

It was a life altering experience, but one Marie and Carmen would not hide from.

Since his death, the Luccheses have spoken often about Justin and how he died.

“If I can help one person, then it’s worth it,” she said.

[tewksbury.wickedlocal.com]

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