Early in Brian Daniels addiction recovery, he was told to get himself a suit.
He would invariably have to attend funerals when his friends relapsed. Everyone knew addiction as a lifelong affliction that many do not survive. It is particularly lethal in New Hampshire, which has the third most opioid overdoses per capita in the United States, according to the most recent data from the CDC.
Daniels chose a fitted brown suit, a sort of heirloom, that had been sported at various family milestones his brothers first interview, a friends live television appearance, and, as predicted, many, many funerals.
His best friend of nearly 10 years, Troy Silva, accompanied him to almost all of them. Silva rarely wore a suit.
Early last month, Daniels took the brown suit off its hanger for the last time. Not for an interview or a wedding but for Silva, who didnt have a suit of his own, to wear in his casket.
At age 53, Silvas life was one of a growing number that have been lost to the opioid epidemic, which has accelerated as the coronavirus pandemic has threatened the financial stability of addiction treatment centers and the in-person relationships that form the bedrock of the recovery community.
Silva was like a superstar in Concords recovery community for founding and leading a group centered around meditation at St. Pauls Episcopal Church in Concord.
When he first approached Kristin Dunklee, an administrator at the church, he told her that most of the men at recovery meetings were there because they had to be. He wanted the meetings to mean something to them.
The meetings, and Silvas leadership, were meaningful. Through word of mouth, Silva became a local celebrity in the recovery community. He was who you turned to if you needed a ride to rehab or a paying job for the day. He frequently left dinner dates abruptly to drive young men to a rehabilitation center, often stopping on the way to buy them sneakers or deodorant or anything else they might need.
I think they absolutely adored him, Dunklee said. He befriended so many people who otherwise would be back into their addiction.
But Silva didnt present like the Mother Theresa of the recovery community.
He wore dark Ray-Bans, an earring in his left ear, shirts that barely covered lots and lots of tattoos, and he often had a Marlboro Red hanging out of his mouth. He also swore like a sailor after all, he was a fisherman for several years in Bedford, Massachusetts, before moving to New Hampshire.
A closer look revealed a softer side. Underneath his sneakers, his nails were always painted from trips to the nail salon with his two daughters, and his proclivity for profanity was complemented by an equally extensive vocabulary of unusual words he liked to define for his friends, like chicanery and conviviality.
Silva had an ability to connect with young men struggling with addiction in a way few people understood. They called him at all hours of the night and he always answered.
In the morning, it wasnt uncommon to see him in Cumberland Farms, balancing several cups of coffee as he walked to his car, packed with young men on their way to a job. Silva owned his own thriving construction business in Concord and offered work to anyone who needed it, as long as they followed him to a recovery meeting later that night.
New Hampshire felt like a safe haven for Silva. In Massachusetts, he could find drugs in a matter of minutes. In New Hampshire, he had a community that relied on him to stay sober. Silva kept a small journal, filled with notes of gratitude from men he helped.
When Silva relapsed in 2018, he didnt talk about it much with his friends and family. Daniels noticed he was fading from the recovery community a marker of relapse he had seen time and time again from men struggling with the shame and guilt. Daniels said it could have been even worse for Silva, with 10 years of sobriety under his belt and a prominent role in the community.
From the rehab facilities, Silva told his daughters not to worry about him. But his oldest daughter, Courtney, could tell he was struggling.
You looked at him and you could tell he wasnt doing good, she said.
Dunklee, the administrator he had befriended while running weekly meetings at the church, said the shift wasnt obvious. When she ran into him a couple of months ago in the parking lot of the church, he looked put together and greeted her with a hug as he always did. But she noticed he seemed rushed to leave. He didnt stay to chat as he usually would.
For most of his time struggling with addiction, which was as long as Courtney could remember, Silva had used heroin and alcohol. But in April, he mentioned fentanyl to one of his friends during a casual lunch date. He described it as heroin on steroids.
Four months later, he was found dead in his kitchen. A toxicology report later confirmed he had used fentanyl before he overdosed.
Fentanyl, an increasingly popular synthetic opioid, is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, researchers say. In New Hampshire, the drug was involved in at least three-quarters of the fatal overdoses this year.
Ive always had that thought in my brain that my dad could overdose, Courtney said. When it happens, its an unreal feeling. We didnt get to say goodbye.
Just weeks before his death, Silva had walked Courtney down the aisle at her wedding, which was moved from earlier in the year because of COVID-19. She said shes grateful he was there, but cant help but think about her 20-year-old sister who wont get the same experience.
Daniels has attended many funerals for relapsed friends. Silvas death shook the community in a different way, though. His death has been a frequent topic of conversation at recovery meetings, Daniels said.
Ive lost a lot of people over the last 10 years, he said. For me, and for a lot of others, this has been a really hard loss.
More than 200 people, from the recovery community and elsewhere, attended Silvas wake in mid-August. One by one, they said goodbye to Silva, who wore the brown suit for the final time.
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