Amber shares her story of surviving sex trafficking and heroin addiction.

Drug recovery changing in Springfield, nation, offering hope

People recovering told the Springfield News-Sun they have started to come out of the shadows and services to be coordinated in ways not seen just a few years ago. Common barriers to recovery have become clearer, they said, as have the efforts that are making a real difference.

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Stigma is big part of what keeps some people from getting help, Springfield resident and recovering drug user Brian Lannon said. He initially didn’t attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings because he was afraid of what people would think of him.

But it was at those meetings where he said he discovered addiction doesn’t discriminate — it touches all types of people — and he didn’t have to go through the battle by himself.

“I didn’t feel alone anymore,” Lannon said. “There’s a community that can actually help me.”

During a year of record deaths from drug overdoses in Clark County and across Ohio, glimmers of hope also exist as organizations and local governments have begun to find solutions that might make a difference.

Greg Delaney, outreach coordinator for Woodhaven Recovery in Dayton and the faith coordinator for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Heroin Unit, recently spoke of his own struggles with drugs at the White House earlier this month.

“The climate has changed. The narrative has changed,” he said.

MORE: National group works to unite recovery community in Springfield

And that’s allowed for more connections with faith-based and community groups to support those in recovery.

“It most certainly is a disease of isolation,” Delaney said, quoting Sam Quinones, the author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” “The response needs to be connection.”

More than 30 news organizations statewide partnered as Your Voice Ohio to host forums to discuss how to solve the drug crisis. As part of those forums, Miami Valley residents told the Springfield News-Sun they wanted to hear more stories about recovery.

Tide shift

Recovery is a social justice movement, said Jesse Heffernan, a certified recovery coach who now serves as the Innovative Solutions Director for America’s Rehab Campuses.

“People in recovery are still sometimes seen as second-class citizens,” he said. “When you add on additional barriers like socioeconomic status, race, gender, sexuality and ex-offender kind of stuff, addiction really gets lumped on to all of these other things. It’s slowly making its way and we’re seeing some big strides happen.”

Every person’s recovery is different, said Heffernan, who has been in recovery since 2001.

“There’s as many pathways as there are people and we need to embrace all of those pathways,” Heffernan said.

Recovery can be abstinence-based, medication-assisted treatment, harm reduction or moderation-based, he said.

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

“The idea that someone who was shooting up 15 times a week now just drinks a six-pack of beer — to the old school community, that’s not recovery,” Heffernan said. “But I’d say it is. The thing that I try to teach most is that if someone in their life in one day can move one degree toward having better quality of life, that’s recovery.”

In 2001, a shift happened in the recovery world, Heffernan said. At that point, he said the recovery community started doing its own advocacy outside of treatment and traditional 12-step programs.

“It was kind of this emergence from church basements,” he said.

At the same time, other organizations began training peer support specialists to work with people in recovery, similar to what was taking place in the mental health world, he said.

“We started out with intentional anonymity because our substance abuse disorder was viewed as criminal and it was demonized,” Heffernan said.

In 2013, the documentary “The Anonymous People” shifted the tide further, he said. The documentary featured several celebrities speaking out about long-term recovery, Heffernan said.

“It changed my whole life,” he said. “It seriously just shattered my illusions around what recovery is supposed to be and what it can be. That was powerful.”

Two years later, the national nonprofit Facing Addiction held the first recovery rally on the National Mall. About 30,000 people attended the event, Heffernan said.

“It hadn’t really been done before like that,” he said.

The movement led to more national groups stepping out into the spotlight, Heffernan said, such as Faces and Voices of Recovery, Shatterproof and Young People in Recovery.

‘Took it all away’

Growing up, Shane Keyton’s nickname was Grub. He grew up in a family full of drinkers, he said. As a child, he would drink beers left behind by family and friends while they were bowling, he said.

Keyton, now a Springfield resident, dropped out of high school as a junior, later got his GED and played baseball at Muscatine Community College in Iowa. But once his baseball career was over, Keyton began using hard drugs.

Shane Keyton, is a recovering addict who now operates several recovery homes in Springfield. Bill Lackey/Staff
Photo: Staff Writer

In 2005, he started smoking crack, Keyton said. It led to what he called a false life, including kicking in his own door to steal his own things. He even sold his car for drugs eight times.

“In my mind, all I knew was that crack took it all away,” Keyton said. “I didn’t feel nothing. When the drugs run out, the consequences come.”

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That led to six attempts at treatment over the next eight years. He finally got clean in March of 2013.

Keyton now operates several transitional homes in Springfield for those in recovery, including the Matt Marcy House for men and the Pam Childress House for women through his non-profit organization, the Matt Marcy Foundation.

Residents must be in the process of completing the 12-steps, have a sponsor and live by the house rules, Keyton said.

“My job is to take them through those steps,” he said.

Helping other addicts stay clean is what keeps him clean, Keyton said.

“It’s been working,” he said. “Any addict can lose the desire to use drugs and find a new way to live. … If you’re not helping others, you’re not going to stay clean.”

Recovery first

Springfield resident Cheri Roberts, 33, celebrated one year clean on Feb. 6. She could only describe the feeling as “amazing.”

“I lost my kids to this so I didn’t think I’d ever get past not being a mom or wife again,” she said.

At 25, a work injury led to a series of hand surgeries and pain pills, Roberts said. That progressed to heroin within a few years.

She used for about seven years. Roberts has been in-and-out of jail multiple times, which she said was often the place she could take a break from a life of drugs.

“That’s where I knew I was safe, behind bars,” she said. “I had three meals and I wasn’t getting high. I had structure. It was relief going in handcuffs when you’re really sick and tired.”

In February 2017, Roberts, a Blanchester native, was court-ordered to participate in the Greene Leaf program, a six-month residential drug and alcohol program at the Greene County Jail. Last August, Roberts walked into Safe Harbor House in Springfield.

RELATED: Clark County to educate patients about pain pill alternatives

“I started finding myself and being OK in my own skin,” Roberts said. “I was somebody besides a mom and a wife. … I don’t have to live a chaotic life now.”

She recently left Safe Harbor and moved into the Pam Childress House, operated by Keyton and his wife, Lisa.

“I finally took the steps to get out on my own,” Roberts said.

She attends NA meeting nearly every day, she said. It helps her find peace.

“I love hearing people’s stories,” Roberts said. “There’s freedom in those rooms … It’s hell being an addict on the streets. You’re locked up in your own mind.”

She’s hoping to find work full-time soon but said she must put recovery first.

“I want to take care of my obligations, but at the same time, if I get back into that life again I won’t be able to take care of my obligations,” Roberts said.

‘Getting high was normal’

Craig Vance, a 36-year-old Columbus native, began drinking when he was 9. He grew up surrounded by drugs, he said.

“No matter where I looked I was around it,” Vance said. “I thought getting high was normal. I thought having the sensation of being relaxed was normal.”

He’s been in-and-out of jail since he was 11 and has been to prison three times, he said. He’d been in treatment 11 times.

In December of 2015, Vance appeared in front of Clark County Municipal Court Judge Denise Moody on a theft charge. He asked Moody for help and he said she agreed, telling him they were going to save his life.

Vance got six months in jail and went through withdrawals with nothing for a month.

“One night, I just broke down,” Vance said. “I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I was going to do my six months, get out and use again.”

The next day, McKinley Hall brought him a packet and he began attending group sessions in jail, where he learned the tools to get better.

“It took me 12 times to want to be serious,” Vance said.

In March 2016, Vance was placed on probation and sent directly from jail to treatment, where he was placed on Vivitrol — a drug that blocks opioids from interacting with the receptors in the brain and eliminates the experience of feeling high. He’s been using it ever since.

“I’ve been clean ever since,” Vance said.

Last year, Vance went off the shot for two months after he broke his collarbone and was prescribed narcotics to manage the pain, he said.

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“I took what I needed and threw the rest away,” he said.

Vance became the first ex-offender on probation to complete the two-year court-ordered program through McKinley Hall treatment center in Springfield earlier this year.

“By the grace of God, I did something,” Vance said.

He recently received his 25th Vivitrol shot from the Rocking Horse Community Health Center.

“My thought process is so much clearer now. Not using is the greatest thing in the world,” Vance said. “(Vivitrol) is not a miracle drug. It’s not God in a bottle. But it does help.”

Vance has a tight circle of support, including sponsors, friends in recovery, McKinley Hall, Moody and probation officer Jessica Lampe.

“My recovery is my recovery, but (without those people) I’d be dead,” he said.

Never looked back

Brian Lannon began smoking pot when he was about 13 years old, he said, and that quickly progressed to stronger drugs.

The now 25-year-old Springfield resident dropped out of North High School as a junior. At 17 years old, Lannon was helping other family members take care of his grandmother when he said he began taking her medications.

“It just spiraled out of control from there,” Lannon said. “I was like, ‘This is it. This is what I’ve been searching for.’ I felt like the life of the party. I found all the answers to all my problems, being uncomfortable in my own skin.”

At 23, Lannon saw his brother, Jeff Childress, get clean — and he wanted the same thing.

“This guy was the worst of the worst and made a change,” he said.

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He started attending meetings and the medication-assisted treatment program at McKinley Hall, he said. He went from being homeless to now working as a car salesman.

“I never looked back,” Lannon said. “I literally feel like a different person. I actually have dreams and goals and values — things I had never thought about before. Anything is possible now. My definition of success was getting 50 bucks and getting high for the day.”

Last year, Lannon was getting ready to celebrate two years clean when he found out his sister, Pam Childress, had died of an overdose. He shares his story so people understand they’re not alone, he said.

“If you believe nobody out there knows what you’re going through, you won’t be brave enough to make the change,” Lannon said. “At the end of the day, we have one life and to throw it away is a shame.”

Get help or die

Meeting Amber Hartman Ortez, it’s difficult to imagine the hardened life the soft-spoken 29-year-old Springfield resident led for more than a decade.

Now married, the mother of a 12-year-old daughter and 17-month-old son, is working toward her social work degree. She’s been sober for more than four years.

“At an early age I experienced a lot of sexual abuse,” Hartman Ortez said. “That’s kind of the root of my trauma.”

That trauma led the Bellefontaine native to smoking marijuana and drinking at 11; being sex trafficked and getting her first taste of crack cocaine at 14; a runaway pimped out on the streets of Columbus by 15; pregnant and in an abusive relationship at 16; and then came heroin addiction, which is when Hartman Ortez said the real path of destruction began.

She was arrested more than 25 times in seven years, mostly for solicitation and drug possession, lost custody of her daughter and did two stints in state prison.

DETAILS: Addicts, family members share stories at Springfield recovery banquet

“I got out of prison but I didn’t really work on myself while I was there,” she said. “I didn’t know what my root issues were and I didn’t know how to heal from those things. So I just went back down the same path doing the destructive things — using drugs again, dropping back into prostitution and being trafficked.”

She overdosed “many times” and went to rehab a couple of times but said she couldn’t break the cycle of abuse, incarceration and drugs.

“The last time that I went to jail, I knew that I was done — that I had to get help or I was going to die,” Hartman Ortez said.

That was in 2013 and that’s when she found Safe Harbor House, a treatment and recovery program in Springfield that helps women who have been victims of abuse, sex trafficking, homelessness and addiction.

“Nothing really matters when what you’re trying to do is fill an empty hole in yourself,” Hartman Ortez said. “I felt like I wasn’t loved in the world … I was just searching for this life that I wanted and I didn’t know how to get it.”

Safe Harbor House taught her how to have healthy relationships and showed her that she could be loved by a community. Now she’s found a passion for helping others and works as a peer supporter and to continue that work as a social worker.

“What mostly keeps me clean is connecting with other people and sharing what I’ve been through,” she said.

She has a message for those still in the throes of addiction and destructive behavior.

“I would tell them that they have a purpose for their life and that there’s people out there that want to help them … At first you just have to become selfish. You have to do what is best for yourself so that you can recover,” Hartman Ortez said. “Because you can’t be there for anybody else until you recover yourself.”

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