About 160 people have died from drug overdoses in Clark County since the beginning of 2016 but many more have escaped addiction’s grasp.
In Springfield, hundreds of addicts have found their way to local treatment facilities and programs to live a better life. This month, those addicts celebrate recovery as part of National Recovery Month, held annually in the United States.
Springfield native Jeff Childress — a 32-year-old who has been to prison twice for crimes related to his addiction — has been clean since Feb. 19, 2014. He now runs a successful cleaning business in Dayton and is expecting his first child later this year.
“Recovery is like winning the lottery,” Childress said. “I never thought I would go from homeless to literally washing $1 million homes. It’s a miracle. It gets better and better.”
More than 27 millions Americans reported current use of illegal drugs or abuse of prescription drugs in 2015, according to a report issued in July by President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
Recovery is possible but everyone’s journey is different, said Wendy Doolittle, CEO at McKinley Hall, a local treatment facility.
“The paths that people take are all different,” she said. “I think we have to respect every last one of them and use all of them.”
And every person who takes a path toward recovery is one less person using community resources, in jail or in an ambulance overdosing, said Springfield Fire/Rescue Division chief Nick Heimlich. The division’s run volume has increased by about 800 to 1,000 runs this year due to the epidemic, he said. With more people in recovery and less incidents, the division can focus on training and community education, Heimlich said.
“We can apply our resources to other needs,” he said.
While some people can recover after one trip through treatment, Doolittle said others relapse multiple times before they stay clean for a long period of time.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of stories and no two stories are the same,” she said.
There’s a huge community of recovering addicts in Springfield working hard to help others find the similar peace they’ve found, said Springfield resident Eli Glaser, who has been clean for nearly a year and a half.
“People in addiction right now don’t know how much of the community loves them, is praying for them and is fighting for them,” he said. “Obviously, we think we’re crap because of what we’ve done and we hate ourselves. There is another part of the community who wants us to get better and will help if we just ask them.”
‘Not a choice anymore’
Of the 21 million people with substance abuse disorder, only 10 percent received treatment, according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a chronic brain disease that has potential for recurrence and recovery, according to the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health released last year.
To understand recovery, the community must understand how the brain works, Doolittle said. The brain has to heal, she said.
“People believe that a person commits a crime and goes to prison or jail, their brain heals and it doesn’t,” Doolittle said. “That’s part of the missing piece. We’re still dealing with that age old argument: Is it a choice or is it a disease?”
The first time someone picks up, typically as a teenager, it’s a choice, she said. However as the disease progresses, the brain starts to change, Doolittle said.
“It’s not really a choice anymore,” she said. “You’re in that downward spiral of waking up, figuring how you’re going to use and then using — your stuck in the cycle at that point — and that’s what people don’t understand.”
The path to drug use often starts in the teen years, Doolittle said. The community must work with children who suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety who are more at-risk to use drugs and become addicts, she said.
“We keep missing that,” Doolittle said. “We’re a country that spends so much money on treatment rather than prevention, and that’s with almost any illness. … How many folks that could become addicted could we stop now if we starting doing prevention?”
No one way
There’s no one way for people to recover, Doolittle said. If there was, she said someone would be rich.
“The disease of addiction wouldn’t even exist anymore,” Doolittle said.
About 74 percent of the people who have entered a Vivitrol program in the last year-and-a-half have recovered, Doolittle said. However even people receiving the popular drug that blocks opiates from receptors in the brain and prevents the high have managed to fail the program, she said.
Different methods — attending church, 12-step programs or the help of family members — all work differently for people, she said.
“Some people need you to hold their hand from the moment they start until they get stable eight months down the line,” Doolittle said. “Some people have enough support that you can give them the information, they can do the rest themselves. It just depends because we all start life in different places.”
Two different states exist for people in recovery: rehabilitation and habilitation.
Habilitation is for people who have to learn how to live their life as they recover from addiction, she said. People in rehabilitation had a foundation growing up and understand how life is supposed to work.
“Sometimes, for those folks, it’s easier to stabilize,” Doolittle said.
The staff at McKinley Hall treatment center aren’t surprised if an addict relapses because it’s a chronic illness, she said. If you’re teaching the process well, the addicts, their friends and their family members can identify the triggers of when an addict might face a relapse, she said.
“People can see the signs before they pick up,” Doolittle said.
The education can often shorten recovery after a relapse, she said.
“You learn and move on,” Doolittle said.
While the community has made a lot of strides in helping people recover in Clark County, Doolittle said it still faces capacity issues.
The community recently received a $213,000 grant to open a safe house for men who have recently overdosed and want treatment but have nowhere else to go, she said. But the safe house can’t accept women and she’s hoping more funding will be available soon for a female safe house.
“We’ve done a lot, but I think we have a long way to go,” Doolittle said.
One of the main problems within the community is stigma, she said. The attitude that drug use is a choice fuels the community’s desire to see people receive maximum penalties, Doolittle said.
“It just makes my heart ache when I see the level of judgment we have as a community toward people who are suffering,” she said.
There are many people recovering from addiction who have lived clean for years, Doolittle said. Without knowing their story, you wouldn’t know they were recovering addicts, she said.
“They don’t even talk about it anymore,” Doolittle said. “Everybody’s recovery journey is different. They do what they need to do to maintain their abstinence.”
SPRINGFIELD’S OPIOID WAR
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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 multiple overdoses in one weekend 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.
BY THE NUMBERS
27 million: Americans who used drugs or abused prescription pills in 2015.
21 million: Americans who suffered from substance abuse disorder in 2015.
168: People who have died from drug overdoses the last two years.