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Lynn probation officer of 22 years reflects on opioid crisis

Lynn District Court Probation Officer Kelley Montgomery is assigned to the Recovery Court. (Spenser Hasak)

LYNN — Kelley Montgomery has been a probation officer at the city’s district court for 22 years. In that time, she has worked with more than 500 people trying to fight their addictions in Recovery Court.

Recovery Court is for people who are moved into a special session of court, she said. Those people will get a referral from either a defense attorney, a district attorney, a judge, or a probation officer.

“I have a clinician [Carly Jacobson of Centurion] who will then interview them and find out to make sure that they really need to be here and they’re appropriate, because there are some people we can’t take,” Montgomery said. “If she says they’re appropriate, and they could use Recovery Court, then we start to look for the proper placement.”

For proper placement in the past, the courts in Massachusetts took more of a “cookie-cutter” approach, but now their approach is more holistic, she said.

“[We] decide what do we think the best mode of treatment will be for them, and then we try to match them up with the best treatment that we can get,” Montgomery said.

Working with those in recovery is challenging and rewarding, she said. Recovery Court allows her to become closer with those trying to recover, compared to people on regular probation.

“You know them better. That can be a downside too, because they can come to depend on you a little too much,” Montgomery said. “It’s the more personal aspect of being a specialty-court probation officer is that you get to know them, which can also be heartbreaking.”

Addiction and the attitude toward those struggling with it has changed throughout the years, she said.

When she started in Recovery Court, the drug she saw most was the opiate OxyContin. Then heroin became common, before fentanyl took over.

She noted that the drug of choice in the ’90s was crack cocaine. Powder cocaine was viewed as for affluent people and crack cocaine was seen as an inner-city drug, she said.

“People look down on people like that,” Montgomery said. “But the opioid epidemic has had a way of leveling the playing field. It’s everywhere. It is literally everywhere.”

With the opioid epidemic has come an understanding about addiction that should’ve existed in the ’90s, she added.

“I think that people look at it differently. Suddenly it’s an illness that needs treatment, not just arresting people, throwing away the key,” Montgomery said.

But resources for those trying to recover are scarce, she said.

“It needs to be easier to get treatment,” Montgomery said. “If somebody’s in active addiction, they cannot jump through hoops to get where they need to get.”

She said that what should, but might never, happen is that when someone decides they want to detox and calls a facility asking if it has a bed available, the answer should always be yes.

“We have to make it easier for people, because not everybody has a probation officer or a recovery coach to help them navigate,” Montgomery said.

In order for those struggling with addiction to succeed in recovering, the barriers surrounding recovery need to be moved, she said.

Addiction can happen to anyone, Montgomery said. She added that it can begin when a doctor is not paying close enough attention to how they prescribe a medication or when a young adult away at college takes a pill at a party.

“[It ranges from] kids from wealthy parents in Marblehead to a homeless kid on the street. I cannot think of one person who hasn’t been touched by somebody in their life being addicted to an opioid,” Montgomery said. “Try not to judge, because that could be anybody.”

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