Opioids in New Hampshire - (Ms. Jodi Newell)

Opioids in New Hampshire - (Ms. Jodi Newell)

Opioids in New Hampshire - (Ms. Jodi Newell)

Opioids in New Hampshire: A survivor’s story.

Jodi Newell watched her partner struggle with substance use while dealing with her own demons.-

By Anthony Tone Payton/Nashua Digital

Jodi Newell and her husband Kory met in their senior year of high school in North Weymouth, Mass. Their families were connected and lived in the city.

“Oh my God — our relationship was a saga,” Jodi said.

She smiled as she recalled him picking her up “in his big boat of a car.”

They fell for each other hard and fast, she said.

“Apparently, Kory told friends back in the 9th grade that he’d marry me,” Jodi said.

Initially, it was hot and heavy, which scared Jodi off a bit. They wound up going their separate ways but never really lost touch.

“Every year, even if he were dating someone else, I’d get a Valentine’s Day card. I still have the proof.” Jodi said.

Kory became best friends with Jodi’s brother Marty and moved out to California with other friends from Massachusetts.

After visiting from California for her birthday, they both decided that they’d come full circle and would be together.

Three months later, Jodi moved to California. After 2-1/2 years, she became pregnant with their first son, Corado, (named after Kory’s grandfather)

Jodi and Kory decided it would be best to move back to Massachusetts for the sake of their children’s relationships with their families. They felt that the support and bonding would be good for their child. But they made plans to move back to Oakland once Corado was ready for pre-K.

Substance use

In California, Jodi and Kory would experiment with drugs. They connected with someone who was prescribed OxyContin, and they jumped right in.

“Then I got pregnant with Corado—and the biological imperative kicked in. I don't judge anyone who’d continue to use while pregnant. I just knew that recreational drug use was over for me. I didn’t want my baby to ingest any of that.” Jodi said

Jodi went back to Massachusetts while Kory stayed in California. During that brief separation, there was no accountability, and Kory kept using Oxy.

When Kory returns to Massachusetts, he hides this Oxy habit from Jodi. In California, Kory would get his Oxy from a friend at discounts, so returning to Massachusetts was a reality check for him since he couldn’t afford his habit anymore.

“Now, mind you, we were recreational drug users, but there are some things that aren’t recreational. Heroin and meth fell into that category.” Jodi said

Kory made the transition to heroin due to its cheaper prices.

The transition from the pill form of opioids to heroin and fentanyl is a slippery slope. The affordable alternative makes sense to someone who can no longer pay the high prices of pills. Look around long enough, and you may find local dealers with $20 hits of heroin and fentanyl. Someone desperate enough may cut that heroin with powerful fentanyl or worse. And then your loved one, who’s struggling with this brain disease, ingests it.

In 2008, Kory was pulled over by a state trooper and found with both Oxy and heroin.

He was facing a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence. Corado was only a month old.

The incident really opened Jodi’s eyes. “I knew Kory wasn't being truthful with me and that something was happening. In my mind, my instincts as a woman made me think, ‘Oh, he’s cheating on me.’ To put this into context, I was a bit naive. Looking back, I realize, “My God, he was nodding off at family events.” Jodi said

After finding a syringe in their house, Jodi moved out. As the parent of a baby, Jodi didn’t want her child around that lifestyle. Kory moved to his grandmother's, which was down the street.

“DCF (The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families) was at our house within a week. I believe, to this day, that I suffered from PTSD because of their visits and threatening to take my children. I was green for the entire process. In my mind, I think that they should be able to see how well taken care of my kids are. My parents live upstairs; the in-laws are nearby, and there’s food in the house. You name it.” Jodi said

Despite that evidence, they felt Jodi must have known about Kory’s business and lifestyle. They assumed that she was complicit in one way or another. She was even given a drug test.

"The thought that someone would take my infant child away from me based solely on their judgment of external factors was devastating. Unsubstantiated claims made against me. I’d lose my mind and break into tears,” Jodi said

Jodi was in New Hampshire – where she had moved in 2014 – when DCF called her again. She had been exhausted by their hostility, so she exploded on the caller.

However, she soon realized that this worker was calling to support her. This time, they weren’t trying to criminalize her; they actually wanted to help.

Kory’s death

On Christmas Eve in 2008, said Jodi, “I gave all of our families photo albums. Around 10 a.m., I vacuumed as Kory used the bathroom. I told him my story of getting the pictures done due to a glitch in the store’s computer system. It was my Christmas miracle story.” Jodi said.

She went to ask Kory a question, but the door was closed, and there was no response.

“I initially thought he was mad at me for waking him up with the vacuum. Then, my son knocked on the door, yelling, ‘Dada.’ He still didn't answer- I knew something was wrong.” Jodi said.

Pregnant and scared, she kicked in the door but couldn't get it all the way open. Kory’s unresponsive body blocked the door. Jodi called for her brother Marty to try CPR while she took Corado to his grandfather’s next door.

When they finally brought Jodi to the hospital room, she didn't understand what was happening. She remained hopeful but soon realized that he was dead before he left the house. And when the priest said the last rites, Jodi knew it was real. Kory was gone.

Their second child, Benny, was born three weeks later.

In a town where everyone knew everyone else, there was a lot of stigma associated with addiction and overdose. Kori’s death came as a shock to many people because he came from a well-respected family. His grandfather was a state representative and also the head of a union. Residents began to realize that if it could happen to Kory, it could happen to anyone, says.

Jodi saw that stigma affected how neighbors treated her. Corado was about to enter school, and she didn’t want her kids to experience any of that. So, just as Kory and Jodi planned to do, she moved back out to California. She enrolled her boys in school. All the while, she never let her boys know how their father died. She knew what it would do to them.

But being a single mom in California didn’t benefit her or her kids. Her rent was raised to an unaffordable price, and she felt no progress, so she headed back to Massachusetts, where her support system was.

Still, she said, “I love Massachusetts, but I didn’t want to live there. I came back with the idea of home ownership in my head.”

Wanting to experience a skiing vacation, Jodi brought the boys to the Granite Gorge ski area in Roxbury, New Hampshire, five miles from Keene. Keene was a breath of fresh air for Jodi.

Nine years later, she said, moving to Keene was the “best decision I ever made.”

“People were kind,” said Jodi. “I didn't feel judged or under a microscope. We found a house, and I’m still here.”

Moving on

Jodi has spent years telling her sons about their dad. From the start, she wanted them to clearly understand who their dad was before the world got to tell it. She favored open communication and finding the wonderful things that came from this.

“There came a point where my boys were asking family members how their father died.

Someone told them that their dad died of a heart attack. I didn't feel good about that,” she said.

“I’ve never lied to my kids. I may say it in a way that's more appropriate for children. But I never outright lied. That gave me the nudge to tell the boys what happened. We started talking about bad habits. I told them that, sometimes, you really get stuck in something, and when that happens, it changes you as a person.”

“My brother, their uncle Marty, struggled with alcoholism. When he thought he was being the best uncle, he was drunk. He was Uncle Marty, happy and funny.” Jodi said

But one day, her son told her he didn't like being around Uncle Marty when he was drunk.

“How hurtful that would be to Marty if he knew that,” Jodi said

In 2018, Marty died from the effects of alcoholism.

A new role

Jodi was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2022, giving her and her very particular point of view a seat at the table when it comes to writing policies

relating to substance use issues, since she not only dealt with Kory’s substance use issues but her own as well.

“I was someone who had to navigate this myself,” Jodi said.

She is also a longtime advocate for people who experience homelessness, and her biggest contribution is that she can connect with them on a level where most people can’t.

“Some people have the best intentions and are the nicest, but it's hard for them to understand why people act the way they do. They have inherent biases.” Jodi said.

Jodi will also get a chance to bring her point of view to the national level. She just received a fellowship from the National Conference of State Legislatures, which has a rich history of policy and legislation.

“I will be working on an opioid policy template that other states can use. I can contribute to the conversation and encourage people to see things differently. Changing hearts and minds and the impact of policy are very important.” Jodi said.

One way for the average citizen to get involved is to vote for local politicians who are enacting policies and procedures that will help those struggling with substance use.

Prevention, education, and harm reduction are some of the starting points.

Jodi also believes that the criminal justice system impacted Kory’s ability to be successful in recovery, and that affected their family.

“He called me from the police station, and it was the voice of a broken-down human being. He told me how he was treated in custody. The next day, I saw him at the courthouse, and he didn't look like himself.” Jodi said.

He took her hands and stopped. He crumpled down into a ball and begged for Jodi to forgive him. For him to be in that position said a lot to Jodi.

“They treated him like a piece of crap. Because he used substances, he wasn't worthy of dignified treatment.” Jodi said

After that, Kory went to meetings and tried putting his life together to be there for his family. But stigma runs deep, and even some people close to him would say things that would strip away his dignity. He crossed a point where people felt he wasn't a good man, Jodi said.

Jodi believes society needs to demonstrate to this population that they matter. Many government policies, however, convey the opposite message. Jodi says they must be cared for as human beings, and the words that we use matter.

Jodi also understands that social, institutional, and internalized stigma are very real. She believes that these stigmas can compound on top of each other, leading to feelings of worthlessness.

“How do you expect people to do good and care enough about saving themselves to take those difficult steps? Our system is designed to push people further into despair.

Then we wonder why they struggle,” said Jodi. “Let’s normalize enabling people to live.”

Jodi hopes people share their stories of navigating harm reduction and recovery in New Hampshire. By hearing about the experiences of those who have lived it and identifying where they could have used more support, resources can be allocated accordingly, she said.

“Unfortunately, what makes them experts also erodes trust between them and those who need to hear them. Rebuilding that trust takes intention and bravery, but sharing stories also helps break down stigma.” Jodi said.

“When we see ourselves in others, they don’t feel so much like an ‘other.’”

This story, part of the series, “Opioids in New Hampshire,” was made possible by a grant from the Center for Rural Strategies and Grist. It is produced by Nashua Digital in partnership with The Granite State News Collaborative.

Images Descriptions

Jodi Newell and her "big handsome man," Kori, her late husband who died of an overdose in 2008. (Courtesy photo)

Jodi Newell: "When we see ourselves in others, they don’t feel so much like an ‘other.’” (Courtesy photo)

Jodi Newell, right, was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2022, with colleague Rep. Wendy Thomas of Merrimack, center, and state Sen. Debra Altschiller of Portsmouth.

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