After seven years of clean living, Springfield resident Mike Rollins was injured in a motorcycle crash in September 2016.
The 41-year-old co-founder of Gemini Reliance — a nonprofit that operates four recovery houses for men in Springfield — was prescribed opiates for pain, which led him back down the path of drug addiction. Despite multiple attempts at rehab, Mike Rollins lost his battle with addiction and died of an overdose in a hotel room in Pittsburgh on Sept. 30.
Between 40 and 60 percent of addicts will relapse, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. The rate is more than people who suffer from Type 1 diabetes and relapse on their treatment plans, but less than people with hypertension or asthma.
The average drug addict will relapse six to seven times, said Tracey Stute, assistant director of programs and evaluation at the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties.
There’s no formula when it comes to recovery, she said. Every situation is different and multiple things can trigger an addict to relapse.
“(Relapse) can be a combination of things and we don’t always have control over it,” Stute said. “It’s this perfect storm that sometimes ends in a major relapse.”
Long-term recovery can’t be addressed in the first 45 days of treatment, said Mike Rollins’ twin brother, Charles Rollins, who has been clean since 2012.
“What I take out of it is people in long-term recovery, they’re not safe,” he said. “Mike had seven years clean, he runs and operates a nonprofit to help other people in recovery, worked for McKinley Hall for a few years and he still wasn’t safe.”
A record 97 people have died of drug overdoses this year, Clark County Coroner Dr. Richard Marsh said. Local law enforcement have responded to more than 1,000 drug overdoses this year, Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson said — including many who have been to treatment but found themselves back in the grips of addiction.
Relapse often shows how easy a person can fall with the illness of addiction, said Wendy Doolittle, CEO of McKinley Hall, a local treatment facility where Mike Rollins worked as a peer support specialist.
“With just an accident, it can literally wipe out everything,” she said.
Why relapse happen
A relapse is a recurrence of a past medical condition, which can typically happen with chronic diseases such as addiction, hypertension, asthma and diabetes, among others. For addicts, it typically means a person will begin using drugs after a long period of clean time, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Triggers — events that can lead to anxiety, anger, panic or despair — can affect people in recovery sooner or later, the administration said. It breaks triggers down into three areas: environmental, re-exposure or stress. The triggers can cause addicts to crave the drugs and can lead to a relapse.
The organization recommends addicts write down a list of triggers and have a plan in place to deal with them, including calling another person in recovery or exercising. It also recommends addicts in recovery be proactive about a possible relapse, including working with a therapists, avoid people and places associated with past drug use and stay away from other abusive substances.
During treatment, addicts can learn coping skills and relapse prevention, Mental Health and Recovery Board CEO Greta Mayer said. They can learn to identify triggers and who can help them stay sober. The coping strategies must also be reconfigured over time as people change, she said.
Addicts can also look at relapse positively, Stute said. There’s always something learned during a relapse event that can be used as a training tool for that person, she said. If addicts understand a relapse will likely happen, they can learn how to manage it.
“It’s an opportunity to shore people up and equip them,” Stute said. “You get closer and closer to long-term remission.”
‘He didn’t make it back’
Rollins had begun overdoing the pain medication after the motorcycle crash, his brother said, which led him to use cocaine to get out of an opiate haze. That then led to heroin to come off of the cocaine use, Charles Rollins said.
“That was it,” he said.
Mike Rollins had recently spent 45 days at the Christopher House treatment facility in Xenia to get sober again, Charles Rollins said.
“He got high the first day out,” he said.
On the last weekend of September, Mike Rollins traveled to Pittsburgh with a friend to work with a local tree service. On Friday evening, Mike Rollins and his co-workers went out after work, Charles Rollins said. The next morning, a co-worker saw Mike Rollins about 10:30 a.m. When the crew gathered together to work about noon, they found him dead, his brother said.
Before the trip to Pittsburgh, Mike Rollins and his brother had a sincere discussion about recovery.
“He just told me he wasn’t done using drugs and getting high,” Charles Rollins said. “He said when he was done, he would come back. He didn’t make it back … I’m sure it was heroin.”
A hero to someone
In the following days, hundreds of people, including many whom Mike Rollins helped recover from addiction, took to social media to show how he had changed their lives.
“It’s what’s getting me through,” Charles Rollins said. “The first day, it was the only thing that got me through. He just helped so many people.”
Rollins’ story is why Springfield resident Jerri Mottor makes a daily decision to not use no matter what, she wrote on his Facebook page.
“Our literature says that a relapse can be that jarring experience to have you work a more rigorous program and I have seen that it doesn’t have to be my relapse to do it,” she said. “Mike Rollins was a huge inspiration to our community and a friend to so very many of us in the recovery community. His legacy will go on.”
Springfield resident Storm Sowards wrote Rollins was always there for him.
“All those times you helped me when I was down and out and had reached the point where nobody would help me, you were there,” he wrote. “Everyone out there still fighting this addiction, keep fighting. There is always hope; don’t ever lose that.”
Mike Rollins’ funeral was held last weekend in Springfield. A group of bikers rode from Indian Lake — where the Rollins brothers grew up — to the UAW Local 402 union hall.
T-shirts made for his memorial quoted one of his longtime sayings: “Just because a man is flawed, doesn’t mean he isn’t a hero to someone.”
A gap in care
Mike Rollins was a role model for other people in recovery, Mayer said. The Rollins’ brothers recovery houses became a model used in other counties, including Madison County, she said. They also opened a recovery support center, Many Pathways.
“He just did so much for so many people and gave hope to individuals who had similar experiences to him or hadn’t made that commitment to recovery,” she said.
Rollins worked as a peer support specialist at McKinley Hall for several years. He positively affected a lot of lives, Doolittle said, both at the treatment facility and the local recovery houses.
“It’s just heartbreaking because he had a mission to help men in recovery, to help them rebuild their lives and become homeowners,” Doolittle said. “He touched a lot of lives and many in a positive way.”
The treatment community must wrap its arms around the prescribing of opiates, including how they’re taken and whether or not they’re safe for addicts to take without assistance, Doolittle said, or a situation similar to Rollins’ relapse may occur in the future.
“Hopefully it’s another wake-up call for some folks in the medical field,” she said. “It’s a gap.”
The treatment community must figure out a way to treat addicts for pain before an injury occurs, Doolittle said.
“We have to help them manage the medication way ahead of the game,” Doolittle said. “You’re always trying to stay a step ahead so that they can avoid a pitfall that can just send them in a downward spiral.”
After living in China for three years making documentaries, local filmmaker Jordan Terrell came back to Ohio. He wanted to show people how the heroin epidemic was affecting his home state of Ohio.
In 2015, he decided to follow the Rollins brothers, who were buying abandoned dope houses and turning them into recovery houses.
“I thought that was an amazing story,” Terrell said. “The fact that they were two big biker-looking twins who had years in prison and changed their lives, it was a nice transformation. They themselves had transformed and they were transforming the community.”
Initially, Terrell thought the documentary would be about 10 minutes long. But after spending time with the brothers, he decided it needed to be much longer. He ultimately began shooting footage for his first feature-length documentary.
Terrell wrapped up filming this month without one of the documentaries’ main characters — who had also become a friend.
“Unfortunately, I’m filming the ending I didn’t want to,” he said. “I never wanted to film something like this.”
The brothers did their best to show Terrell what the epidemic really looks like and that people do recover, Charles Rollins said.
“It’s a sincere look into this for people who don’t know,” he said. “I think that documentary is really going to show the reality of this thing.”
Every day is a step forward
Three days after his initial relapse, Mike Rollins called the filmmaker to tell him what had happened. As part of the documentary, Terrell filmed Mike Rollins during a relapse day, he said. He was now doing the things he had taught other recovering addicts not to do, Terrell said.
“It was really intense to watch somebody go through what they’d been fighting for seven years,” he said.
The documentary can still be uplifting, Terrell said, even with the loss of Mike Rollins. Even though he died from drug addiction, he helped a lot of people choose a better life as a counselor.
“I never expected him to actually be the one who relapsed and died, which is the very essence of recovery,” Terrell said. “It can happen to you at any time. Every day is a step forward.”
Mike Rollins’ story could help people with their own recovery, Terrell said. He hopes to premiere the documentary film next spring, he said.
“When you start these kid of documentaries, you never know what you’re trying to get,” Terrell said. “You try to show real-life and it throws you a left hook. It makes it all that more powerful. I hope that’s what it does.”
SPRINGFIELD’S OPIOID WAR
By the numbers
97: Unconfirmed, suspected drug deaths so far this year, a record number*
82: Confirmed drug deaths in 2017
79: Confirmed drug deaths in 2016
Source: Clark County Coroner’s Office
* Total as of Oct. 10
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about opioid and heroin problems in Clark County in the past five years, including stories about local people in recovery and efforts to expand treatment options. This year, the News-Sun will take a deep dive into the community’s drug epidemic and what local leaders are doing to solve the problem.