Thursday, September 11, 2014

Zach Gys Team Foundation Tackles Addication

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Zach Gys Team Foundation gathered at Four Oaks Country Club in Dracut for the Links Fore Recovery Golf Tournament Monday to fund scholarships in Zach’s memory to help those addicted to opiates. It raised more than $50,000. Members include, from left, Roselyn Flood of Lowell; Colleen Fenlon, of Salem, N.H.; Sue Doherty of Lowell; Sarah Lyons, of Wakefield; Mickey Gys and Louise Griffin, Zach’s parents, with Mary Jo Sudol, Bobby Alongi and Deme Gys, all of Dracut; Taylor Gys, Katelyn Gys-Shaughnessy, Peggy Sarmento and Madeleine Griffin, all of Lowell; Ruth Dubey of Tyngsboro and Tara Sarmento of Lowell.

Foundation In Memory Of Lowell OD Victim Tees Up To Help Others
By Robert Mills

DRACUT — Zachary Gys was a good student at Lowell High School. He was funny, well dressed, and he excelled at baseball and hockey until he twisted his ankle while playing hockey during his senior year.

“A wellmeaning friend offered him a Percocet to control the pain so he could continue playing,” said Gys’ mother, Louise Griffin.

That one pill set Gys on a path of addiction that would claim his life by age 21.

“By the time we realized he had a problem, he was well into abusing pills,” Griffin said.

Zachary Gys died of a heroin overdose on July 19, 2013, while in rehab in Florida, where his family had sent him in one of many attempts to overcome Zachary’s terrible disease — opiate addiction.

Zack Gys’ picture is the centerpiece of a poster at the entrance to the Four Oaks Country Club in Dracut where the fundraiser was held Monday.

Now, with help from sponsors such as Arthur T. Demoulas, Gys’ family has started the Zach’s Team Foundation, which will soon begin offering scholarships to help others with addiction pay the costs of rehabilitation.

About 250 golfers hit the links at Four Oaks Country Club in Dracut on Monday for the Links Fore Recovery Golf Tournament, and then settled in for dinner and a silent auction that helped raise more than $50,000 toward getting the scholarships started. The fundraiser was scheduled in September because it’s National Recovery Month. Zachary’s parents, Louise Griffin and Mickey Gys, of Lowell, hope to pay the full $8,000 cost for about four addicts per year to enter a five-week rehabilitation program at Plymouth House, in Plymouth, N.H.

“The program is run by recovering addicts, so everyone who counsels them has walked the walk,” said Mickey Gys.

The family is working with Plymouth House to develop an application for the scholarships, and hopes to start helping addicts within 30 to 60 days. They plan to establish a website once the program is up and running.

Aaron Shepard, a former heroin addict and program coordinator at Plymouth House, spoke at the event to announce that Plymouth House would match every dollar raised by the fundraiser Monday night.

“We believe in supporting the family just as much as the drug addict,” Shepard said. “It was way harder on my mom than it ever was on me.”

Louis Griffin said she and her husband warned Zachary about everything they thought they were supposed to warn him about, including drugs and underage drinking. But they simply weren’t aware enough to warn him about prescription pills. After all, they’re usually prescribed by doctors.

Percocets quickly led to Oxycontin, but prescription opiates cost vastly more than their fellow opiate heroin, and before long Zachary was using heroin to feed his disease.

Gys’ parents had resources. Griffin works at the University of New Hampshire and Mickey Gys works as a procurement manager for a medical device company.

Gys and Griffin said they also chose Plymouth House because the programs there include both detox and rehabilitation, while many programs in Massachusetts require addicts to find different facilities and navigate a complex system to get both types of treatment.

They also praised Plymouth House’s focus on helping families in addition to the addict.

“Addiction is a family disease,” Griffin said. “It affected (Zachary’s) siblings as well as his parents.”

State Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell, also spoke. Golden has long sought to raise awareness of opiate abuse since about 9 years ago when a friend of his family was struck by the disease.

Golden dismissed those who label addicts as scumbags or losers, noting that there are addicts at every socio-economic level and in every community. “I grew up with people saying ‘that’s them — those people,’ but that’s not the way it is today,” Golden said. “I don’t know what we were thinking, quite frankly, because those people are our friends, our family, and people we love.”

Golden encouraged all those afflicted by addition to stop being embarrassed.

“We need to continue to talk about it,” Golden said. “We need to not be embarrassed about it, and we need to support the families, like all of you are today.” Griffin said that when her son died, she realized she could either collapse emotionally, or she could start to work to ensure her son’s death was not in vain.

“The unfortunate thing about this disease is that many of us hide in shame, but I don’t, and I won’t,” Griffin said. “What we’re trying to do here is save some lives, because recovery is possible.”

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