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Addicts, family members share stories at Springfield recovery banquet

In March of 2016, Cole Sowards walked into McKinley Hall, a local treatment facility, for the sixth time.

MORE: More prevention needed to curb opioid epidemic in Springfield

The 29-year-old Springfield resident had been to treatment eight times previously, but it never stuck. Today, he’s been clean for 18 months.

“I’ve never lived this good a day in my life,” Sowards said.

Sowards was one of the speakers at the sixth annual Recovery Works banquet, held by local treatment facility McKinley Hall as part of National Recovery Month, held annually in September. About 150 people attended the banquet, including recovering addicts and their family members and local government officials.

When he went to McKinley Hall 18 months ago, he didn’t think treatment counselors would let him stay for the appointment – but he knew he had to try again.

“I was smoking crack all day, and I was late,” Sowards said. “I hadn’t showered in a week, and I stunk pretty bad.”

RELATED: Springfield native living clean, successful after prison, addiction

After a tough discussion, Sowards was admitted into treatment for the ninth time a week later.

He was introduced to treatment at the West Central Community Correctional Facility at 18 after being charged with aggravated burglary, he said.

“I didn’t really pay attention,” Sowards said. “I thought I had it figured out.”

After later finding McKinley Hall, he was told to attend meetings and get a sponsor, he said.

“The first time I didn’t do anything,” Sowards said. “I said, I’m cool. I got this.”

MORE: ‘Perfect’ Springfield couple battles addictions, finds recovery

Slowly, he found his way to recovery. He has a sponsor, attends meetings and is still in the Vivitrol program, a medication that blocks blocks opioid receptors in the brain for one month at a time.

“I’ve just been doing what I was told to do,” Sowards said. “My way didn’t work.”

He’s currently attending Clark State Community College and has been able to get his license back and hold a job, he said. He’s also rebuilding his relationship with his children, he said.

“Life’s good,” he said. “It’s great.”

While more than 80 people have died this year due to the opioid epidemic in Springfield and Clark County, many more have found their way out of active addiction, McKinley Hall Chief Executive Officer Wendy Doolittle said.

RELATED: Springfield ex-addicts: Recovery possible

“I get to see people get better every day,” she said.

Clark County is one of the best counties in the state for its collaboration to end the drug problem, Doolittle said. The community is working hard to fill the gaps in coverage, including multiple new programs such as the warm hand-off and a $213,000 safe house program, she said. The Families of Addicts group also recently received at $28,000 grant to operate a support center, while the Springfield Police Division also received a $100,000 grant.

“All these different sectors are fighting,” Doolittle said.

Keynote speaker and McKinley Hall board member Carey McKee spoke about how she coped with a family member who struggled with addiction. Until the Springfield resident understood how the brain worked, she didn’t understand the problem, she said.

“Addiction is a disease and those affected need support and treatment to get well,” McKee said.

Addicts are survivors who deserve respect similar to people who have battled other diseases, she said.

“(Addiction) is life-threatening also,” McKee said.

Addiction should be a priority similar to mental health, she said.

“I only ask that we support those suffering with addiction, educate ourselves and do the right thing,” McKee said. “Society will be a better place for it.”


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