ROCKVILLE – For two hours on June 7, an 800-pound, 10-foot long solid cast-aluminum spoon held center stage in Rockville Town Square.
People who walked by either did a double take and continued on, or stopped to learn the significance of a gigantic spoon decorated with purple writing throughout.
“The spoon guy. I get that a lot,” laughed Domenic Esposito of Boston.
He has taken his utensil artwork creation on a 10-state tour to help bring awareness to the opioid crisis that has preyed on so many, including his brother.
While most people take opioids in pill form, some crush the so-called tamper-proof pill onto a spoon to ingest it, Esposito said.
“Instead of a slow release, it gets faster,” he said, explaining the significance of the large spoon.
Also, he noted, 80% of heroin users started their drug addiction with opioids and use a spoon to get a high from heroin.
Esposito’s brother has “been struggling for 12 years” with drug addiction, going clean and relapsing numerous times. He currently is on a downswing.
During his worse times, his family quickly learned, “You call around. You can’t get a bed. You can’t get a detox place. All the people that help are community people.”
Therefore, Esposito is hoping his spoon will spread awareness and convince politicians, doctors and the pharmaceutical industry to stop pushing addicting pain killers on unknowing patients.
“There’s not a lot being done at the federal level,” he said.
Greg Hill of Gaithersburg knows exactly what Esposito is talking about. At 15, a broken leg followed by a prescription for opioids led to his addiction.
“I am a grateful recovering addict,” who has been clean three years, six months and 17 days. However, Gill said, “I lost a great many friends.”
“Don’t think it can’t happen to you, or anyone you know,” he said. “It could be anyone, judges, attorneys, I have met them. It’s everyone.”
His mother, Laura Mitchell, who chairs the Montgomery County Council of PTAs’ substance use prevention committee, agreed.
“The three most-dangerous words a parent can say are ‘Not my kid,’” she said.
Nationally, so many people succumb to their addiction, “that’s like a plane crash every day,” she said.
As Esposito traveled with his spoon, he “met a lot of people whose lives have been destroyed. It’s just heartbreaking,” he said.
To each one, he offers a purple pen to sign his spoon.
The most common inscriptions read “Rest in Peace,” “I love you” and “I miss you.”
Attending his Rockville event were several local, county and state politicians, who spoke of what several referred to as the “opioid crisis.”
“In Maryland, it’s my understanding there are six deaths every day. This is an absolute epidemic, by any definition,” Montgomery County Councilman Sidney Katz said. “We need to turn this thing around.”
While deaths from overdoses decreased in the county by 30% this year, the number “is still horrible.” Rockville City Councilmember Beryl Feinberg agreed. “We lost so many people to opioid addiction. I just think we cannot keep enough attention on it.”
“With awareness, people will realize what community resources there are,” she said. “The idea is to save a life. That is the most important thing.”
Fellow Councilmember Virginia Onley called the problem a local, national and worldwide one.
“I think as elected officials, I think it’s our responsibility to partner with leaders” and help solve the problem.
“It is a disease,” she said.
The county is working to curb the problem, noted Phil Andrews, director of crime prevention initiatives at the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Many officers are trained and carry Narcan, which can revive someone who overdosed. The county has a Good Samaritan’s Law, which enables someone calling for help on behalf of a dying addict not to be arrested for their own use, noted Andrews.
“Speak up. Save a life,” he said.
Esposito’s The Opioid Spoon Project has traveled to those he called “the architects” responsible for the crisis, including Purdue Pharma, Rhodes Pharma and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.