In honor of her son, Donaghue fights substance abuse

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In honor of her son, Donaghue fights substance abuse
State Rep. Kate Donaghue, who lost her son to substance abuse six years ago, keeps a dose of Narcan taped to her State House ID card. She is sponsoring a Narcan training in Westborough on May 20. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)

WESTBOROUGH – State Rep. Kate Donaghue keeps a dose of Narcan taped to her State House ID card.

“It’s always with me,” she said.

It’s a reminder about her late son, Brian Donaghue Simpson, who died from substance abuse in 2018, and a hope that others could be saved.

“It puts a face to some of these problems,” she said.

Donaghue, in collaboration with the Greater Boroughs Health Partnership, is hosting a Narcan (naloxone) training on Monday, May 20, at 7 p.m. in the great hall in the Forbes Building, 45 West Main St.

In 2023, in her first year as a state representative, she coordinated with other legislators and Boston Medical Center (BMC) to host the first-ever naloxone training at the State House.

“The State House training was very well attended. It inspired me to host this event for the people in the 19th Worcester District,” said Donaghue.

“We are excited to be partnering with Rep. Donaghue on this important issue,” said Jennifer Sullivan, Department of Public Health director from Westborough. “The Greater Boroughs Health Partnership hosts these events on a regular basis. If the May 20th event is not convenient for people, they can check our website (www.westboroughma.gov/393/Public-Health-Department) for future dates.”

“In addition to learning how to administer this life-saving medication, we distribute kits that contain two doses of Narcan, fentanyl strips with an instructional booklet and pocket mouth barrier,” said Jim Frederick, public health nurse for Westborough.

An RSVP is requested for this event; call the Westborough Public Health Department at 508-366-3045, or go to this link.

“We want people to take part in the program,” said Donaghue. “We’re hoping nobody ever needs it.”

A son’s struggle with addiction

Since her son’s death at the age of 32, Donaghue has staged an annual event to raise awareness of what she called “a public health crisis.”

“We need to treat the opioid epidemic as the crisis it is, and not a moral failing,” she said.

She recalled her son’s childhood – hide-and-seek, flashlight tag, a morning race to the school bus, and even a self-published newsletter on “What kind of psycho does not have a dryer?” This referred to his house being the only one in the neighborhood without a clothes dryer.

“He was one of the nicest young people you can imagine,” she said. “He was generous to a fault.”

Donaghue said she noticed changes in her son’s behavior when he was about 12. Brian was diagnosed with depression; he later told his mother that he began to self-medicate, first with alcohol, then with marijuana.

Simpson moved to Florida, and “became addicted to legally prescribed oxycodone,” said Donaghue.

“We wanted him to come back to Massachusetts,” she said. When he did return, he “connected with heroin.”

Simpson would undergo rehab several times. In 2012, he moved to Texas with his then-girlfriend. It looked like he kicked his drug habit, only to relapse in 2014.

In 2015, he again returned to Massachusetts; the family had difficulty trying to find a program to help him.

“It’s really hard to find help for long-term addiction,” said Donaghue. “It reminded me of an article, ‘Nobody Brings You Casseroles When Your Son Is an Addict’.”

Simpson returned to Texas, and she could tell “he was descending into depression and substance use.”

He tried to get help, only to discover his insurance would not cover treatment.

“He said, ‘It sounds like the insurance company wants to keep me addicted’,” Donaghue recalled.

Simpson tried to commit suicide twice; four weeks before he died, he overdosed. A dose of Narcan saved his life.

The Narcan training is one of several initiatives undertaken by Donaghue, both in and out of the State House. She has filed a bill to support work programs, including job coaches. This was based on her son getting fired from his job at a drugstore after he was unjustly accused of stealing.

“Maybe with support, it would’ve been different,” she said.

Another bill is requesting a study on “administrative discharges” from treatment programs – this stems from an incident in which her son was discharged from a program for smoking in the bathroom.

She supports another bill that would require student IDs to include contact information for a suicide helpline.

To view the list of bills she has sponsored, visit https://malegislature.gov/Legislators/Profile/K_D1.

Watch Kate Donaghue’s video about her son – www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-c_L7BF-NY.

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