Charlie Baker in misstep on heroin anecdote
Inauguration talk on opiate epidemic cited teen’s death; Source of drugs was friend, not doctor, Easton family says
Turns out the wrenching story Governor Charlie Baker told during his inaugural address about an Easton teen who fell victim to the scourge of opiate addiction wasn’t quite right.
Evan Greene did die last January after consuming a fatal overdose of heroin. But the 19-year-old did not become addicted to the street drug after abusing opiates prescribed by a doctor, as the governor relayed in a speech that identified narcotics abuse as a public health crisis and a priority for his administration.
The route to Greene’s addiction was through a friend who introduced him to prescription painkillers after he started smoking marijuana, his parents say.
The blunder, which was reported by the Brockton Enterprise on Friday, is reminiscent of a high-profile moment during last fall’s race for governor when Baker tearfully recalled an encounter with a New Bedford fisherman that did not prove to be fully accurate.
“The governor regrets the mistake of incorrectly telling the Greene family’s story,” Baker’s spokesman Tim Buckley said in a statement on Saturday. “The addiction crisis’s impact on families across the Commonwealth matters deeply to the governor, and he is committed to addressing the multitude of ways in which sons, daughters, moms, dads, brothers, and sisters from all walks of life fall victim to the epidemic.”
Evan Greene’s father, John, said it matters less to him that Baker flubbed the details of his son’s death than the importance of having the story told and of raising awareness of the problem.
“It’s going up to like 300 people who overdosed this year. It’s an epidemic. That’s the bottom line in this,” he said in a telephone interview Saturday evening. “My story is just one story, you know.”
In one of the more stirring moments of Thursday’s address, Baker stood at the rostrum in the packed House chambers at the State House and told “an agonizing, yet all too familiar story” of addiction, loss, and a family’s struggle to help a loved one.
“Several months ago I met John and Stephanie Greene of Easton,” he said during the speech. “After a routine medical procedure their 19-year-old son, Evan, was prescribed opiates for pain. Slowly and unknowingly, he became addicted to them. When the prescription ended, he turned to heroin.”
“As a parent,” he continued, “my heart goes out to John and Stephanie for their devastating loss. As governor, I intend to tackle this problem head on, because too many families have gone through the grief and pain that John and Stephanie have.”
Evan Greene overdosed on Jan. 11, 2014, while out with a friend. Five days later, doctors took him off life support.
John Greene said he was introduced to Baker last summer, and he believes the mix-up in his son’s story came from Baker inadvertently merging details from a conversation with the Greenes and a separate one with a cousin, Catherine Long.
Long’s son was prescribed opiates after a surgery, John Greene said, but recognized their potential for addiction and declined to take them.
The tale of the mysterious New Bedford fisherman was an incident from the campaign trail, when the then-candidate choked up while recounting the gut-wrenching story during a live televised debate in the fall.
The fisherman, Baker said, did not let his sons go to college on athletic scholarships so they could join him in the family operation. With the collapse of the industry, it was a decision that the fisherman said had “ruined” his sons’ lives, Baker said.
The story left many wondering about the identity of the man Baker described. After reporters could not find the fisherman, the candidate admitted that he got some details wrong but maintained that the essence of the story was true.
In the wake of his misstatement last week, the governor was emphatic with staff members Saturday that mistakes like this “are intolerable,” according to his office.
John Greene, who was in the House chamber when Baker gave his inaugural address, said Saturday that listening to the state’s chief executive give voice to hundreds of families like his was simply overwhelming.
“I just couldn’t stop crying,” he said. “He vowed to do something about our pain. It’s amazing how he was able to use our family.”
After his son took his first shot of heroin, John Greene recalled, the teen told his mother “it was like the most perfect dream.”
While teens might think that “you do a shot and that’s the best the thing you’ll ever get in your life,” John Greene said, they do not have a lot of life experiences to compare that first high against. That’s why he hopes to continue working with Baker, as well as other state and local officials, on the “No First Time” awareness campaign for young people, he said.
Addiction comes with a stigma, Greene said, that can be eased with the governor highlighting its problems.
“Because it can happen to anybody,” he said. “It doesn’t discriminate, and I’m happy that he brought it to light.”