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Community and recovery

Recovering addicts provide testimony at public event

PROCTORVILLE — When Judges Andrew Ballard, Charles Cooper and David Payne, Prosecutor Brigham Anderson, and Prosecutor’s Diversion Coordinator Josh Whaley organized a community drug symposium at C3 church in South Point, back in March, Ballard expressed hope that these kinds of events would continue.

Pastor Rick Sturgill, who participated in that first event, has since participated in a second and organized a third event, with plans for a fourth.

The latest event took place Monday evening at Fairland High School outside Proctorville.

Sturgill, who serves as pastor of Real Life Ministries, explained that he participated in his first anti-drug rally in 2015, but then hadn’t really done any more work of the sort until he received a call from Amy Smart, executive director of Riverside Recovery Services. She needed assistance for a parent who had lost a child to addiction. Sturgill, who is open about having lost his own son to addiction, became involved with helping this family and then went on to share his story at the C3 drug symposium.

He said that he was then invited to the community event Ironton Mayor Katrina Keith organized at Ironton High School with Ron James. After that, he asked if they wanted to do another one.

This time, they focused on the eastern end of the county, organizing the event at Fairland High School.

“This one was a little different,” Sturgill explained.

Whereas the Ironton event was “95 percent community members,” the event at Fairland included “probably 20 percent people in recovery.”

This included speakers, performers, and audience members. This is apt since Sturgill’s ministry at Real Life includes around the same mix of folks in recovery, he said.

In addition to the speakers and performers sharing their testimony, Sturgill explained, they “scripted the event… to give the crowd the opportunity to give their testimony.”

“I thought it was very successful,” he added.

One of the performers providing testimony was Caleb Hardy, a student at Marshall University and saxophonist for Inside Out, the youth praise group from Christ Temple Church. Hardy explained how he had become involved in drugs while a student at Marshall, and eventually ended up dealing, until he was arrested and able to turn his life around.

Rocky Meadows, a recovered addict and alcoholic who runs Lifehouse Addiction Recovery, in Huntington, told how he was arrested, over 37 times, and spent ten years in prison, all due to his addiction, before turning his life around.

“Addiction is the only disease you have to self diagnose,” Meadows explained, noting how others told him he was an addict, but that none of that mattered until he realized it for himself.

Eventually, he said, he realized that if he didn’t want to go back to jail, he needed to avoid drugs and alcohol.

Meadows sometimes advocates a tough love stance, to prevent enabling addicts.

“When they’re heading in the wrong direction,” he said, “don’t even give them a bologna sandwich.”

But, he said, the larger part of community that hasn’t experienced addiction firsthand needs to realize that addiction is a disease, and needs to be treated as such.

“By not addressing it as a mental illness,” he said, “it’s easy to say, ‘it’s your fault, you did it.’”

“I’m here to ask you tonight,” Meadows said, “How much is a life worth? If one person gets better, a family gets better.”

“When you say Narcan enables an addict,” he added, addressing community concerns about the use of the anti-opiate medicine, “I must disagree. Narcan doesn’t enable anything but breathing.”

He feels the same way about drug-based recovery strategies.

“We’ve got to keep helping people up,” he said, explaining that though going cold turkey worked for him, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“Some people aren’t ready for abstinence,” he said. “I’d much rather have someone on suboxone, than kicking in my garage door. There is no one answer, (but) if we want to focus on solutions, it will get better. If we want to keep complaining, it won’t.”

Ballard, in his remarks, explained the need to educate folks, like himself, that didn’t have the firsthand experience people like Meadows have.

“Those in recovery need to know the power of their voice (to educate),” Ballard said. This included about their need for adequate healthcare to break the cycle and the need to use Narcan to save lives, until they achieve what he described as “that simple paradigm shift… that a lot of people are not using that next fix to get high,” but rather to avoid the illness of withdrawal.

“People need help, and we need to rise up and do it, as a community,” he said. “All of us need to come together and promote prevention.”

Prosecutor Brigham Anderson noted that so far this year the county has experienced 11 deaths associated with overdose, compared to 13 in all of last year. His office tries to deal with that by having diversion coordinator Josh Whaley reach out to everyone that EMTs respond to for an overdose, but that doesn’t help those who aren’t revived.

“We have a long way to go,” Anderson said. “What we’re doing is working, but they are small steps.”

He also urged those with firsthand experience of addiction, or addiction needs, to reach out to his office.

“If you have a friend suffering from addiction,” he said, “We need you (to help educate us.)”