An interview with Eric Spofford
After years of struggling with addiction to opioids and heading straight for the grave or incarceration in his early adult life, Eric Spofford got sober in 2006. Two years later, he founded Granite Recovery Centers and embarked on a mission to help people kick for good.
Now, with 12 rehab facilities including two inpatient residential programs in his network, Spofford is among the most successful people in his field in New England—not only in business, but also in results.
He’s one of the most controversial figures in the national recovery community as well, and in December 2015 Spofford testified in front of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about the dangers of using addictive drugs in the service of getting people off of drugs.
“Granite Recovery Centers operates a lot differently,” he says. “We’re not going to put them on Suboxone.’”
In a time when everybody from the FDA commissioner to politicians in Mass are pushing for more medication-assisted treatment for people in recovery, Spofford says, “The doctor and the pharmacist are going to tell you that these drugs are the only way that people can get better from opiate addiction, and I’m just here to tell you that that’s not true.”
F.I.G.H.T. founder and filmmaker Johnny Hickey sat with Spofford for an in-depth discussion about problems that are getting worse as the government pours gas on the fire. Here are some highlights…
On the old days…
JH: When we were getting high and doing things, of course you could overdose, but it wasn’t like the fentanyl level of like a two out of three chance that you might fucking die.
ES: Back in my day, heroin was heroin. If you relapsed, and you used … you’d rob your family, end up homeless, catch a couple charges from running out of a Walmart with stolen shit, you’d go to jail, you’d burn your life to the ground, but chances were you were going to live to your next detox.
I had done Vicodin here and there, and I thought it was cool but it wasn’t really my thing. I wanted to sniff Special K and eat ecstasy and do all that. The point is I had no idea I was doing pharmaceutical heroin. As opposed to now.
On the dangers…
JH: It’s recognized across the board, state to state, especially here in New England. Governors, attorney generals suing the pharmaceutical industry. So you know where it’s at now. You know how bad it is.
ES: It used to be I’ve lost so many people to overdoses. Now it’s like, literally, I’ve lost fucking all of them. Everyone I know now are like newer friends. Kids that I shot dope with in 1999 are all gone. Not a single one left.
The story about messing around with drugs and prescription painkillers and then heroin, they’re still telling that narrative, but it’s gone. Kids are going like … trying drugs, doing fentanyl. It’s crazy. The game has changed entirely.
Now it’s like someone relapses, and you’re like, “He’s fucking dead.”
ES: What I’ve seen over and over again is people just kind of going, “Oh yeah there’s an opiate epidemic and people are dying at scale, let’s throw it on the back of the governor or on the back of the president.” My response to that is like, dude, addiction is the largest public health epidemic and most confusing thing we’ve seen. This is worse than the Black Plague, Ebola, cancer, all of it. The government created the DMV. Have you ever been to the DMV? That’s one of their best creations. And you expect those fucking people to solve this? You’re out of your mind.
I don’t know if this is a government problem to fix. But stop making it fucking worse. Right?
On the use of recovery drugs like Suboxone…
JH: When you’re putting something on the street that’s so simple—little Listerine strips … it’s like they figured out the subtle way to creep up with the pill to get you hooked without killing you right away.
Suboxone, maybe [if] used … for short-term detox, which is how it was pitched—just like how Oxycontin was pitched, that it wasn’t going to be addictive, same thing—has now turned into people being on it for five years, or however long they’ve been on it. It’s a currency in jail to get high. It’s a currency on the streets to trade.
ES: I got people telling me, “Yes, I’m in recovery, but who the fuck are you to tell somebody how they should recover? Who the fuck are you to tell somebody that they aren’t in recovery because they are on medication?” And I’m like, “Because they’re fucking not! What the fuck are you talking about?”
ES: If you live in Massachusetts, you can get into detox like that. It’s not like how the politicians talk about it, [saying] we need more treatment. We have plenty of fucking treatment. Everybody goes to treatment. It’s the social context of it, because we have to start asking hard questions that nobody wants to answer.
Everyone comes to me and goes, “Eric, why don’t you open up in Massachusetts? We need a place in Brockton. We need a place in Southie, Quincy, fucking Western Mass.” In Massachusetts, by regulation, as a treatment center, you have to offer somebody medication-assisted treatment.
[Ed. note: Unlike in Massachusetts, where hospitals and treatment centers are required to offer medication assistance to those seeking treatment as of 2018, in New Hampshire there is still enough discretion allowed by state law for abstinence programs like Spofford’s to operate.]
Over the summer I had lobbying firms and lawyers and I spent a fuckton of money because I had problems with these [proposed New Hampshire] regulations. [Lawmakers] snuck one line into the regulations that was brand new: “All clients must be offered medication-assisted treatment.” … It’s still there but it reads differently. It has a couple of words added: “All clients will be offered medication-assisted treatment when clinically appropriate.” That “when clinically appropriate” cost me a hundred-fucking-thousand fucking dollars.
ES: Eventually it’s going to come to a point where even going to treatment doesn’t get you off of Suboxone; detox becomes almost obsolete, and it becomes more of a stabilization.
One of the problems I’ve encountered is that even the recovery community, the prevention community, and the harm reduction community—10 years ago, eight years ago, that time period, when [drug companies] were trying to push this Suboxone agenda, everybody in a uniform voice was like, “Fuck you.” … Now I’m fighting with people that used to be on the same team.
On new trends …
ES: At a larger scale it’s really an addiction epidemic. In the last 12 months I’ve seen a big shift into crystal meth, which, like a year ago, if you called us saying you were using crystal meth, we’d be like, “What are you from, Kentucky?” … Now what we’re seeing is this new breed. The up-and-comers, they’re shooting fentanyl and they’re shooting crystal meth … because they’re scared of overdose and they think this is safer. …
On drug companies…
ES: They’ve done such a good job lobbying and advocating and so many different avenues of shit that people don’t even realize. They’re paying people to do their own research and write white papers and paying people like they’re actors to talk about their success stories. There’s such a disconnect between that and what’s actually happening. Motherfuck you. I’m on the ground. I am literally surrounded by hundreds of addicts every single fucking day.
I come out of the trenches to make a video for social media and then go right back into the cave with all these people. I know what’s going on. I don’t see barely fucking anybody even just taking Suboxone successfully, let alone call that recovery. It’s a fucking miracle if I ever see anyone who’s like, I’m on Suboxone, dude, and I haven’t used an illicit drug in 12 months, and I’ve been taking my Suboxone prescription as prescribed. Fuck you and your studies, because that shit barely ever happens ever.