A father's fight for his son's survival

Emery tells his side of the story
By Bane Okholm | Feb 07, 2013
Photo by: Bane Okholm Bob Emery Jr. works on an engine in his Route 1 workshop Feb. 5.

Warren — Bob Emery Jr.'s Route 1 building has the high, peaked roof of an airplane hangar, but a solemn silence pervades the oil-scented air. The 15 people that were once employed here have dwindled to five. Emery's son Robert Emery III — who was 26 years old when the tale of the town of Warren and CRC Health Group began — is now almost 30.

Emery absentmindedly plays with slips of paper on his desk, his gaze intense as he relates the events of the past three years.

“I’m a type of person that [wants to] get down to the basics and figure it out," he said. "That’s my life. I love to fix people’s problems...and I said, ‘I can fix this.’”

A living hell

Emery grew up in Warren, raised by a father who was a licensed electrical, plumbing, and heating expert; trades Emery himself began learning as a teenager. Throughout the years, Emery has been a franchise dealer in multiple businesses, including snowmobiles, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, and the restoration of muscle cars.

“I loved anything with a motor, anything that moves,” he said Jan. 25.

Emery said he saw relatives and friends die from alcohol and drug abuse throughout his youth. By the end of Robert Sr.'s life, Emery was forced to watch as his father, a man who had told Emery to never use any drugs, increasingly medicated to the point of taking 32 pills a day.

"I despise drugs," Emery said. "I thoroughly, thoroughly despise drugs."

Following his divorce, Emery obtained full custody of all three of his minor children — Tiffany, Bobbi, and Robert III — of whom he said he is "very proud." At the same time, Emery assembled a small empire of businesses, even realizing the decades-long dream of constructing the Route 1-adjacent building that houses his automotive and construction businesses.

But everything changed in 2010, when, following a series of back ailments, Robert III became hooked on prescription painkillers.

Emery said he realized something was wrong as Robert's work habits, ethics, and emotional health deteriorated shortly after the younger man moved into his new home, a project that had taken the father and son 14 months to construct.

One day Emery caught his son stealing from the car wash that Emery owned and where Robert worked. "He had stolen money...to buy more drugs after his prescription had run out. So I knew I had a problem."

Emery's daughters were furious that he didn't have his son arrested for stealing, "but it was hard for me as a father to look at him as a thief," Emery said. "I wanted to fix him, and I thought I could. I thought I could fix anything.”

The ensuing months were "just an absolute horror show," Emery said, and came to dominate the tight-knit family's every waking hour. Emery called counselors, doctors, friends, and anyone he could think of that had experience with drugs to ask what he could do to help his son.

As Robert struggled to bring his addiction under control, "I was scared to death every day," Emery said. "Was he going to take something he shouldn't have taken, was he going to wake up in the morning, was I going to get that phone call that every parent is so scared to get — that your son has overdosed, that your son is dead or your daughter is dead?”

Emery said he was in "a living hell" as Robert spiraled toward rock bottom. "I was trying to keep up a good attitude, a good presentation to the public, but yet I was worried every minute of every day that he was going to make a mistake and he was going to go down and I could lose my son.

"That was my fear. I lived it every minute of every day...and I couldn’t fix it. The worst realization that I’ve ever had in all the things that I’ve tried to accomplish in my life — I’ve always been a problem-solver, and I couldn’t fix this. It was horrible."

The two men got into physical altercations over Robert's drug use. "I’m a very, very strong-willed person, and so’s my son," Emery said, "[and] we have physically argued and fought, bloody.

"Bob Emery Jr. — me, the father — was not going to fix Robert until he was ready to be fixed. Until he had hit the bottom, rock bottom, and he was ready to be fixed."

It wasn't working

Robert began attending the Turning Tide clinic in Rockland, and within a few weeks "he was almost my son again," Emery said, adding the turnaround made him "so, so, so happy" to think Robert was well on his way to recovery.

The situation again turned toward the dire in 2010, when Turning Tide was shut down following clinic founder Angel Fuller-McMahan's arrest for cocaine possession. Robert told Emery that he didn't know what to do.

Robert and the more than 270 other patients that had been attending Turning Tide were reassigned to the seven other methadone treatment facilities in Maine, the closest of which were located in Scarborough, Portland, Waterville, and Bangor. The change meant beginning paperwork, counseling, and medication anew, as well as enduring a four-hour commute every day.

“It’s really tough for these people to live and maintain a normal life when they’ve gotta spend five to six hours, typically, each day [in treatment]," Emery said, "and then try to have a job.”

Robert "faltered, and made mistakes,” which resulted in transitioning from centers in Portland to Waterville and then to Bangor, starting over at each clinic. Each day Robert would get up at 3:30 or 4 a.m., drive to a clinic, undergo counseling, and then return home, making it difficult for him to make much-needed money to pay for heat, electricity, and food.

Emery said he thinks financial considerations are “one of the biggest obstacles” to those seeking methadone treatment. As Robert III had neither insurance, MaineCare, nor gas vouchers to aid him, the entirety of the monetary burden fell squarely on the Emery family.

“It wasn’t working," Emery said.

Eventually Robert was able to transition into the care of a private physician, where he was still able to receive the counseling Emery thinks his son needed.

Being able to "talk with other people that have done the same things that these guys like my son have done," Emery said, "it’s sharing their heart out and...with counselors listening, they get a chance to lay it out on the line.”

Since he began methadone treatment, Emery said, his son has markedly changed. "You can see it in his eyes, you can see it in his complexion, you can see the difference in his attitude, you can see the difference in the way he conducts himself toward other people."

The ability to receive care locally has also made a difference, Emery said. Robert receives a 30-day prescription, and is subject to random pill counts and drug screenings to keep him on track. If anything were to be amiss, Emery said, Robert would lose his ability to have the methadone prescription.

“It’s really a great thing, because what it’s done is it’s given my son back the time to get to work, do a good day’s work, be normal, function normal," Emery said, adding that the sense of normalcy is "absolutely" contributing to Robert's ability to get his life back on track.

"It gives him that sense that four, five days out of the work week, he knows he can get up normal, eat his breakfast, come to work on time, work an eight, nine-hour day and go home just like everybody else. And it’s been huge for him, mentally and emotionally. It’s been huge for all of us."

As of early 2013, Emery said his son is doing "exceptionally well." Robert's dose has been lowered to 5 milligrams of methadone per day, and Emery said that according to counselors, Robert will soon be off the medication entirely.

"He's one of the success stories," Emery said.

"What can we do to get this?"

During the weeks after Turning Tide closed in 2010, Emery began calling state representatives, acquaintances, and anyone he could speak with about helping Robert and the others left stranded in the wake of the clinic's collapse.

After several weeks, Emery received a call from Guy Cousins, director of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse. “I offered my help, my assistance in being a local construction man, a local businessman, a local public person, a real estate dealer, a licensed plumbing inspector, a licensed plumber, a licensed heating guy, [and] a licensed electrician."

Emery said he asked Cousins, "'Is there anything I can do so that these kids and these people can go back to getting healthy again?'"

Weeks passed before Emery received another phone call from Cousins. "'Bob," Emery recalled Cousins asking during their next conversation, "'would you try to help a company that we’d like to have come into the state known as CRC Health — would you try to find them a location, because you offered?'"

Cousins connected Emery with Joe Pritchard of California-based CRC Health Group, a company that specializes in behavioral health care services. When Pritchard told Emery the company wanted to set up a facility in Knox County, Emery took him to Rockland City Hall and met with Police Chief Bruce Boucher in a closed-door session.

At the time, Emery said, Rockland citizens were still "up in arms" about the Turning Tide situation. Though Emery did not divulge what was said during the meeting with Chief Boucher, he recalled Boucher saying, "The fox is not going to run the hen house again in my town."

Emery took Pritchard through Thomaston, Rockland, Rockport, Camden, and Union during Pritchard's several trips to the Midcoast, but no facility they could locate "made any sense." Finally, on the way back from another failed expedition, Pritchard asked what was available in Warren.

Emery and Pritchard visited Warren's Brick School, where Emery had attended eighth grade, overshadowed by the Baptist church where Emery was baptized.

"I can remember him grabbing the dashboard of my pickup truck, and I think the fingerprints are still there. He said, ‘Oh my gosh...look at this,'" Emery recounted. "[Pritchard] said, 'This is perfect. This is absolutely perfect. What can we do to get this?' And that’s how it started.'"

It wasn't our decision

After failing to find an investor for the potential CRC Health Group clinic, Emery decided to broker a purchase and sale agreement for the brick school himself.

Emery set up a meeting with select board for Pritchard, who "wanted to fly in, he wanted to talk to them, and he wanted to make sure that if it was OK, if there was no ordinance or no rules against it. They just wanted to know before they attempted it, was it OK"

Emery said the select board's decision to hold an executive session — during which no recordings or notes may be taken — to discuss the matter is "why, I think, the people in town think that somebody was trying to dupe them.

"Looking backwards in a mirror, I wish — I would’ve never had the meeting, I would never have allowed it had there not been able to have the public, [the media], or anybody else that wanted to be there, because then they would’ve known," Emery said.

Emery said the perception that he and Pritchard lied is inaccurate. "We didn’t ask or offer for an executive session where the public can’t be there...we didn’t request that. We came to just simply go and say, 'Look, here’s what we do, and we found this location in your town after looking through all the different communities, different areas in Knox County, and this is the place where we’d like to be. Do you have any ordinances or any reason why you say we couldn’t go here or come here? Because if you do, then we’ll seek somewhere else.'"

According to Emery, former Warren Selectman John Crabtree said during the meeting that Warren was not a NIMBY — or Not In My Backyard — kind of town, and that everyone seemed agreeable as Pritchard related exactly what sort of clinic was being proposed: one that would deal with methadone use, but also deal with counseling for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities, obesity, opiates, barbiturates, and alcohol.

"All of those services would've been offered by CRC had they been allowed to come, but the only word that’s ever been spoken... it's never been anything but it’s been methadone, period," Emery said.

"That’s all it’s been. One word, one person, one deal, it doesn't matter who. If you’re methadone you’re bad, as far as Warren’s concerned."

Pritchard next set up a meeting with deacons of the Baptist church, Emery said, but a latecomer to the meeting drew incorrect notions. After that person disseminated incorrect information to other neighbors, "that’s where it all started."

Appalled and embarrassed

Emery said allegations that CRC is motivated purely by profit should have been countered by Pritchard's personal experiences with alcohol and barbiturate addiction.

But Pritchard's story was overshadowed by the reaction of irate townspeople, Emery said, who "screamed and hollered and kicked and fought, [and] Guy Cousins almost got into the fisticuffs with one of the town residents."

Emery called it "the most embarrassing meeting I [have] ever attended."

"There was a lot of people that were nice enough to at least admit to me a few days later that they were absolutely appalled and embarrassed for us," Emery said. "They had never seen anything so shameful, the way people treated us."

Emery said he is proud to have taken a stand, but that many people have since scorned him, or told him that they have to stay away from him in public.

"They weren’t proud enough, and staunch enough, and independent enough to say, 'I believe in you, and it’s O.K.," he said.

The backlash included a loss of business, protests, and gossip that Emery and his children were all druggies, he said. "[People] didn’t want to do business with Bob Emery’s businesses anymore," Emery said. "They had already made their minds up."

Numerous town officials and board members have resigned during the past few years, many likely due to the ill will surrounding the potential methadone clinic, but Emery said he strove to avoid conflict. "I tried everything I could to avoid a lawsuit. I tried. Nobody would listen to me."

Regardless of his feelings with regard to the federally-mandated Americans with Disabilities Act, Emery said he thinks the town has "made a huge mistake" in trying to block CRC, and believes the attempted moratorium is illegal.

"Unfortunately, I think they made a huge, huge mistake, and they had many opportunities to fix it...I don’t think there’s any way that these townspeople can avoid the consequences of what’s gonna happen because of the federal court.

"That’s just my opinion. That’s how I see it," he said.

They’re already here

Despite the controversy, Emery said he still thinks a methadone clinic in the Midcoast area will help the local communities. People still involved in methadone rehabilitation programs may still be driving several hours each day to receive assistance, but Emery suspects the financial burden may be too great for some.

Emery said Cousins told him several months ago that of the nearly 280 people involved with the Turning Tide clinic at the time of its 2010 closing, 110 are no longer involved with rehabilitation.

"So when he looked at me he said, 'What do you think they’re doing, Bob?'" Emery recalls. "I said, 'I figure they’re probably back on the streets.' He said, 'Exactly.'"

As for the suggestion that methadone clinics — or Emery himself — could bring methadone users to the Midcoast region, Emery said, "They’re already here in our everyday life."

Emery cited the prevalence of recent drugstore break-ins and holdups as evidence of the active drug culture in Knox County, and said he and his employees have frequently found syringes in their portable toilet in Warren's Payson Park.

"The people that are trying to get help, that were going to the clinic, are... trying to get help," Emery said. "They’re trying. They may not succeed — not everyone’s gonna be a success story, like not everybody gets straight A’s in school — but they’re trying."

The right thoughts

Emery said that as his Route 1 building gives the perception of success, he doesn't think people realize "how hard I've really worked and how many payment coupons I've had to pay to get where we’re sitting at this moment in time."

"I love to work," he added, but noted that the tough economy, and loss of business due to the clinic fiasco have made it "even tougher for us."

In wanting to provide a resource for his son and the community, Emery said, "I had the right thoughts in my heart."

After a half-million dollars in planned renovations and the $225,000 purchase price for the brick school, Emery said the revitalized building would have been on the town's tax roll for approximately $750,000.

"I just thought it was a good business move. I never thought it would become so horrible of a mystique about methadone," Emery said Jan. 25. "I just never thought, I never realized it could affect the family so [heavily].

"I feel like I've been tried, convicted, and thrown away. I’m in a life sentence. And there are some people that’ll never, ever, in any shape, form, or matter, give me any respect again."

Despite his "disgust" with picketing outside his business and the constant snubs from former friends and colleagues, Emery said he has no plans to leave Warren.

"There was a time period after I had my stroke, that I put every single thing that I owned, every single thing that Bob Emery has under his name, I put a 'For Sale' sign in front of. I didn't want to be in Warren."

But Emery said he changed his mind after realizing that he doesn't want to let public scorn force him out of a community he has been part of for his entire life, a town where his three children and 82-year-old mother still live.

“I’m not going anywhere," Emery said. "If we can make it, we’ll be right here."

CRC Health Group Inc. and CRC Recovery Inc. has filed a lawsuit against Warren, which is pending in federal court.

Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or by email at bokholm@courierpublicationsllc.com.

Comments (16)
Posted by: deborah R Davis | Feb 09, 2013 09:09

There are always two sides to every story. Perhaps if the reporter had interviewed a few of Mr. Emery's past employees some light could have been shed on the situation.



Posted by: Elaine Abel | Feb 08, 2013 20:21

I've done business with Bob for about 7 years and have always found him to be a stand up, hard working, honest man.   It's apparent he has strong reasons for wanting to pursue the clinic, just as others have reasons to oppose it.  But attempting to ruin his business and disparage his character isn't the way to oppose a land-use issue.  And vilifying the man because he has done well in various business ventures is just plain ridiculous.



Posted by: Catherine L Leonard | Feb 08, 2013 16:14

Wow Hatfield and Mccoys!! Some people need to get over themselves. I do not pay much attention to who has what for money! I don't care. What I do care about is my children. If I had the money and ability to start a business adventure that would help my child you can bet I would. I have friends and even family members who have perscriptions for methadone and have never had a drug addiction! Granted methadone is used to help addicts but there are many people out there that do take it for pain. I think people should give Mr Emery a break. So he went for a venture you did not approve of. Get over it many people will do things you don't approve of. Ruining the man and his business will not send the problem away! You will just be out maybe one good friend.



Posted by: deborah R Davis | Feb 08, 2013 12:00

Why don't the clinics make a client bring a designated driver for those who take their dose on site? Methadone is a OPIOID. Have you ever see how impaired a driver can become shortly after ? I would think legally you could hold the clinic liable for any and all injuries that may occur.



Posted by: Reade Brower | Feb 08, 2013 11:04

Thanks for humanizing this story Bane. I don't understand the "ins and outs" of running a clinic but I do have empathy for Bob Emery, as a father and as a man.

If I were to approve of a clinic, I would want someone, like Bob, who understands the problem, is deeply committed to the problem, and is a business man, step up to help me out of it. Society is very quick to judge and this story has always had a strong component of "not in my back yard" - of which I understand and also empathize with.

Tough problem, but ruining a man's life and livelihood seems harsh. as well as polarizing him by withholding friendship and fellowship (as well as business).

There are lots of villains in the war against drugs, not sure that putting Mr. Emery as its' face is fair. (Just my opinion and I do not have any inside info or knowledge, just what I read here.)

Hope we, as a community, can find solutions rather than blame.



Posted by: deborah R Davis | Feb 08, 2013 10:37

If methadone is so good for the people receiving it - and it gives them releif from their "suffering" why do so many of the clinic's population sell their dose to other addicts ?  Maine Care pays for it - then they sell it.



Posted by: Sandra Overlock | Feb 08, 2013 09:33

Why does a metadone clinic have to me administered by a national company?  Can't it be done by a  Maine Company with the profits staying in Maine? 



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Feb 08, 2013 08:33

We are too quick to criticize and too slow to empathize. Then wonder where the help is when WE need it. Thank you, Gloria, for your insights. They mean a lot.



Posted by: GLORIA l. BAGLEY | Feb 08, 2013 08:02

We don't really ever know what is in anothers heart. I have followed this story from the beginning with great interest because I lost a grand daughter from a combination of one pill, prescribed by her medical doctor and a therapeutic dose of methadone diverted from a clinic. I have always been against the clinics but I have recently changed my mind. If one hundred people get the help they need to get off street drugs and one hundred of them take advantage of the program and miss-use it, my gut says we should help the ones that are help-able, the ones who want to go back to work, be good parents, husbands or wives who want to repair their broken marriages and lives, then we should do all we can do to help them get their lives back, just as we would if they had a disease like cancer. If it works for half of the people, it's worth it. The way Turning Tide was operated by Angel Fuller MacMahan sure left a bad taste in our mouths but that's just one example of someone who shouldn't have operated a clinic in the first place. What were they thinking? I don't know Mr. Emery but I do believe him and I feel bad that those who do not are so sure they are right. They don't know his heart . So what if he makes money from it. I don't care and why should you?



Posted by: Dale Hayward | Feb 08, 2013 07:50

Financial burdens are upon many of us. It is tough to meet obligations in this stressful economy. However, Mr. Emery has many pieces of real estate and what appears to be a fortune of porta potties, a building full of antique and collectible cars and a beautiful home and top notch facility on Rt. 1, I assume from the rewards of his labor.The company proposing the clinic has much, much more money, a field of lawyers and will pursue this for the $$$$$$$$$$$$$. Putting the son into the picture is a bit over, even though his health is important, a parent can only do so much for their child and that seems to be the major thrust of this article. The people that are upset may be past customers or people who have created such a dislike for the proposal that they are willing to get very personal as some postings elude to. Unfortunately many people do not understand or want to hear the whole story, or they are NOT allowed to hear the entire story. I do not know the entire story so I do not write this for or against the clinic's situation, I just think that at some point people have to become responsible, period, for themselves. It appears as though the son is the focal point of the entire event, not right. Big money follows big money, that is the motive. Bob, call the whole thing off and work on another alternative. Respectfully, Dale Hayward



Posted by: douglas barnes | Feb 08, 2013 06:34

thiss is the last appeal



Posted by: Edward Myers | Feb 08, 2013 02:46

Step #1:

  • We admitted we were powerless over the addict — that our lives had become unmanageable.


  • Posted by: penny sanborn dostie | Feb 07, 2013 19:19

    I had a sister on methadone, how by the way is dead due to a drug overdose when i would go see her after she had a treatment she was always out of it and even set her apartment on fire after treatment so all it does in subsitute one drug for another and a high the tax payers pay for,, sorry not in my back yard!!!!!

     



    Posted by: George D. Benson II | Feb 07, 2013 17:16

    Whether you are for or against the Methadone clinic - ask yourself this question - What would you do to help people you care about who have a drug problem?  At least this man is trying to do something he believes will help.....



    Posted by: Laura Libby-Campbell | Feb 07, 2013 15:34

    I don't and never will believe any of this farce. 



    Posted by: tammie michaud | Feb 07, 2013 14:02

    After reading the story......All i got was,

     you Just thought it was agood business deal........and good business deal means money.....just say

     



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