A father's fight for his son's survivalEmery tells his side of the story
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.