News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 15, 2019
Local mystery writer shines spotlight on opioid crisis

by Tina Oddleifson

Award-winning mystery writer Katherine Hall Page has written her 25th book featuring fictional amateur detective Faith Fairchild. In her latest murder mystery, The Body in the Wake, dead bodies start piling up on the island of Sanpere and Faith is on the hunt to find out how the victims are connected. But Deer Isle residents will quickly discover that Sanpere sounds very familiar. With a wedding planned at Edgewood Farm, descriptions of Eggemoggin Reach, and a body floating in the Lily Pond, it’s clear that Deer Isle is the inspiration for her book.

Katherine Hall Page has been a summer resident on Deer Isle for over 60 years and her latest book “is a love letter to the island,” she says. (See separate story on the book on page 9). She has received the Agatha Award for traditional mystery writing, typified by the work of Agatha Christie. Before becoming a writer, Page was a high school teacher and administrator, spending the latter part of her career working with at-risk youth. The subplot in her latest book draws attention to the opioid crisis.

While on a book tour this year, Page says that it is the topic of opioid addiction that has resonated the most with her readers across the country. On Deer Isle, the book has helped facilitate discussion in the community, including an event held on August 9 at the Reach Performing Arts Center. The event was sponsored by the Island Health & Wellness Foundation and the Stonington Public Library. It featured a panel discussion with local physician Dr. Charles Zelnick, licensed clinical social worker David Harlan, and author Katherine Hall Page. It offered the community the opportunity to ask questions and learn about treatment options, prevention, addressing the stigma of opioid dependency, and other topics.

When asked what they would most like people to understand about dependence disorders the three panelists had an array of responses. “I get really tired of hearing other people ask why someone can’t just stop (opioid use)” said Page, “it reflects a real basic lack of understanding of what is involved in treatment,” she said. Dr. Zelnick said he wished people understood that there are now medications for both opioid and alcohol addiction that were not available before. “People who have a dependency have had their brains hijacked, there is a lot we can do medically to stabilize them so they can begin to help themselves,” he said. David Harlan said he wants patients to know they should never give up. “Relapse is part of the process and we help people wherever they are,” he said. “I never give up on anyone.”

When asked what the community can do to help, Dr. Zelnick told the audience to be empathetic and realize that people with substance dependency are all around us. David Harlan said that people in recovery are very proud of the fact that they are working on getting better, “it’s important to give credit where credit is do,” he said.

Audience members asked about prevention efforts and how to reach younger people. “I am at a loss, it just feels like we are losing,” said one participant. A local fisherman asked how employers can help. “Without a job they have no future,” he said, but pointed out that he has had to fire people because of opioid use.

Panelists responded by saying that everyone who has a dependency needs community. “We have to look at the values of our community and to give a message to young people that alcohol and drugs are not their friend,” said Harlan. They also pointed out that we have to take a hard look at our own use of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs and ask ourselves if we are modeling the behavior we want to see in others. Making sure people have the skills they need to have a job, good schooling, and supportive community institutions is also part of the solution, said Dr. Zelnick.

Anne West, Director of the Island Health & Wellness Foundation, said they are working closely with other nonprofits, especially the Opiate-Free Island Partnership, and progress is being made. The Stonington and Deer Isle public libraries are also raising funds to stock up on books and other resources to help people learn more. For more information and to learn about ways you can help, contact West or stop by her office at the Island Medical Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or visit islandhealthwellnessfoundation.wordpress.com/.