In a strange way, the heartache of being the parent of a drug-addicted child led Phil Lahey to a life’s calling that has brought him unimaginable fulfillment and purpose. As co-founder of the Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project (MVPASAP), this no-nonsense, 76-year-old has had a direct hand in helping area families through the dark days of addiction and – even better – avoiding that gut-wrenching place altogether.

“When people talk about substance abuse, they talk about treatment and so forth. MVPASAP has helped in the form of treatment, but my biggest accomplishments have been the events we’ve put on, the education we’ve provided, guests that we’ve brought in, organizations and groups that we’ve spoken to,” says Lahey, who started his nonprofit in 2013. “I understand the overdoses are going down a bit, but going down from the numbers they had, it’s not that encouraging.

“What we do, you won’t see in statistics for a few years. But we stop the kids and parents from getting into a bad situation where addiction would be an outcome. If you’re going to solve substance abuse, that’s the way is has to be done. The only cure for addiction is not to get addicted,” he said.

Lahey’s determination to keep guiding and counseling our community recently got a big boost, in the form of a $25,000 check from the city, part of Methuen’s share of a massive opioid settlement with the makers, distributors and sellers of opioid painkillers. While the group usually receives grants, this is MVPASAP’s biggest donation to date.

“The (donation) was a complete surprise. I had no idea on God’s green earth that the mayor wanted to give us a nice chunk of that pharmacy money and I gave my word that he’ll know where it all went,” said Lahey, a former Central District city councilor. “Groups like MVPASAP, we’re a dying breed. The majority of (the money) will go for setting up coffee hours, spreading the word, scholarship funds and so forth. … If we can get (guest speakers) to step up and talk to groups and schools – that’s where we’d like to spend it.”

While envisioning the future, Lahey spoke to MethuenLife from an ICU hospital bed as he battled the after-effects of lung cancer treatments. He is determined to keep MVPASAP going.

Colleen “Cole” Welch is the group’s executive director, and she’s promised him that, “As long as I have breath in me, it’s going to continue,” she told MethuenLife.

“We have a great dynamic team. If there are other people willing to donate their time, we’d love to have you reach out to us,” Welch said. (See box for info.)

She shadowed Lahey for several years, and now oversees the podcast and TV show as well as organizing speakers and outreach events. Welch has nothing but praise for the work Lahey has done.

“He’s not only an amazing human being, but an amazing mentor for me,” says Welch, whose day job is running the city’s CARES (Community Addiction Resource Engagement Services) program.

Welch says MVPASAP’s ability to provide connections allows individuals and families “who might not want to reach out to us, to make the call themselves. It’s amazing, when we host events, how many resources come out so that the community can know what’s available to them.”

When Lahey reflects on the work he’s done with MVPASAP and the impact it has had, he can’t help but get emotional.

“It is the most rewarding thing I can ever remember doing. I get to save people’s lives,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

HELP IS HERE

Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project (MVPASAP) seeks to promote awareness, education, prevention and treatment of substance abuse in our communities. From guest speakers and resource information to podcasts and a cable TV show, the organization is spreading the word on the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and offering help to get and stay clean. Find out more at MVPASAP.com.

“The Empty Chair: Addicts Who Didn’t Know Recovery is Possible” is a podcast and TV series, available via MVPASAP’s website and Facebook page and Methuen Community Television, as well as YouTube, Spotify and iTunes.

Circle of Hope support group meets at the Methuen Police Station on Mondays, 6:30-8pm, led by Fran Lahey.

First Monday of the month, Cole Welch of MPD’s CARES program hosts Narcan training at the police station from 6-6:30pm. Individuals and families can also come in at that time to learn about resources.

TO LEARN MORE OR GET VOLUNTEER, contact Cole Welch at (978) 983 8611, (978) 701-7709 or cwelch@ci.methuen.ma.us.

In May, Mayor Neil Perry presented a check for $25,000 to Phil Lahey, co-founder of MVPASAP, to support opioid education and awareness funding. Local governments across the country received settlements from companies that made, distributed or sold opioid painkillers, and this check came from Methuen’s share. It was distributed with City Council approval. Courtesy photo