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Transforming Health
Season 14 | Ep. 4

Recovery Is Possible

The opioid epidemic has ruined countless lives across the state of Pennsylvania. However, the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 5 % decline in the total number of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2018. That decline is the first in nearly three decades. How are folks in PA fighting this battle and where are we seeing success?

I can’t imagine I was living like that. Animalistic. I put everything I had into it. It brought me to my knees. These are a few ways the opioid addiction has been described.

It’s been more than 15 years since overdose deaths involving prescription opioids began to spike in the U.S. It’s been almost 10 years since we saw a rapid increase in overdose deaths involving heroin. More than five years ago we began to see significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids. Mainly fentanyl. And we’re not out of the woods yet.

We are seeing a slight decrease in our deaths. I attribute a lot of that to the Narcan that’s being administered by both law enforcement, fire and ems. Even lay people. Many of them are administering Narcan before ems gets to the scenes.  We knew that we needed to sort of stop the bleeding if you want to use that phrase. But we had to figure out a way to slow the deaths down. And to us the most effective way to do that, it seemed, was Narcan. We had 20 plus opioid deaths in august which was a really difficult month. We try to alert the public when we see a spike like that. If you have a loved one that’s a user, you know, please be aware that we’re seeing an increase.

I keep on saying this is not an opioid crisis. This is an addiction crisis. We have to understand that in the total essence of this problem. Or we’re not going to change anything. Some people will be helped by suboxone and some of these other things. But that’s not total answer. The total answer is a turnaround in how their living their life. That takes intervention by people who “A” are knowledgeable., “B” care, “C” are there and accessible in those times. We can’t settle for maintenance of people. We have to shoot for recovery.

Today healthcare is about empowering people to take control of their health. Weather creating a fitness routine. Choosing the right procedures and medications. Or adhering to treatment for a chronic condition. Capital blue cross. Dedicated to underwriting Transforming Health for the good health of the community. Capital blue cross. Live fearless. WellSpan Health. Helping patients reach their health goals through a coordinated system of physicians, hospitals and convenient healthcare services in communities across central Pennsylvania. Learn more at WellSpan Health. For the journey that is life. Support also comes from viewers like you. Thank you.

Hello and welcome to “Transforming Health: Recovery is Possible”. I’m Keira McGuire. We hear about tragic losses connected to the opioid epidemic on social media. In the paper. On the news. What we don’t hear about is the growing recovery community. The people who know firsthand what addiction feels like. How many times it might take to get clean. How overwhelming it can be to come out of treatment and pick up the pieces. There was a time when it was hard to find people to talk about addiction. But today the recovery community in Pennsylvania is strong. People in long term recovery want to share their stories to help others reach and stay in recovery.

So, I started shooting heroin around 13. In 2001 I was introduced to oxycontin. By 2002 I was doing heroin.

I started taking pills and before I knew it, I was addicted to them.

My first experience with drugs all together was a little prescription from my doctor.

After a while pills were just too expensive and too hard to come by and then obviously heroin became the easier target for me to get.

As soon as I experienced heroin there was no turning back.

That was my escape from the world.

I remember doing heroin and thinking like this is — this is it. Like I will never do anything else. This is all I ever want to do.

That was it. Everything consisted of getting that drug. Risky behavior. Jail. A lot of incarcerations.

It affected everything. It effected my relationships with my family. My relationships with my peers.

It started being a way of life. It was a lifestyle that I created for myself. I’ve had eight incarcerations.

I used while I was pregnant.

I was left all alone.

I mean really just started living at like an animalistic level. Overdosing became part of it.

I counted 30. That was with Narcan. At one point it was kind of like I wanted to die because it would have been easier on everybody. Including me.

My name is matt and I’m a person in long term recovery. And what that means is I haven’t used a drink or a drug since November 9th, 2009.

I’m Alex. I’ve been in long term recovery since September 9th, 2016.

August 11th, 2016.

January 19th, 2010.

September 3rd, 2004.

November 4th, 2013.

January 11th, 2014.

April 30th, 2017.  I started listening to people that were real about their stories and raw about their experience. And I met a gentleman named Chris who I kind of listened to what he did and watched the way he acted.

I work at a treatment center. And like I see people from the recovering community come in on a daily basis and like sit down with somebody and they have that truth discussion, right. And for the first time that other person sees that somebody else understands exactly what their talking about. And as soon as they see that something clicks. And then recovery begins man. So, when I met dan we just kind of sat down. We discussed the truth.

Dan had reached out to me after, you know, after I got clean, and I was out of rehab. And said, “Hey look, I’m starting this thing. I’m doing this 100%. I’d like you to help out.”

I met this guy, Cecil, and I mean literally, this guy would come and pick me up every day from treatment at 5 o’clock. And he introduced me to recovery. Showed me what it was about. Introduced me to people that I’m still friends with today. And really just showed me that there was a life beyond getting high. You know, he said that I have a role in his recovery. But he has a role in my recovery as well. And I told him, I said you know what. If I can do it, you can do it. And we formed a relationship at that point.

Matt coming in and sitting down with me and just, me mean we would listen to music and just talk. For the first time somebody was — that understood my pathway was there. He showed me what it was like to be there for somebody else. You know. Okay, I’m done working at this time I’m going to pick you up and I’m going to take you here.

There are some people whose spirits we just connect to.

I think the recovery community is booming.

I think the biggest thing for me is that like I finally found a place that I feel a part of something.

I think the best way I’ve ever heard it described is like a shipwreck, right. Like everybody, you know, on this shipwreck you survive right. Everybody goes their separate ways after, but you put them in a room together it’s like oh my god it’s so good to see you. It’s so good to see how you’re doing. You know what I mean. That love is something that you’re — it’s very rare to find in other places. And that’s something that just exists with us.

That fact that there were people there when I came in to help me was what makes it important for me to stay. Because if we all got better and left — well who would be there for the ones that are coming in next?

For somebody that’s just coming in — we are imperative. I mean we set the example. So that’s why it’s important when you’re new coming in the doors is to sit down, close this, open these and sit and listen and watch. And you’ll find somebody in there that makes sense to you. And that’s who you gravitate to.

In our process of struggling there’s been one or two people that were there for us. That loved us until we can learn how to love ourselves. And what we do is we try to pay it forward by doing the same thing. The more I do for others the more it fills my spirit. And the more I stay connected the more it keeps me grounded and keeps me in the recovery community.

Life is really a blessing. Right. Because after sitting and thinking about all the things that I’ve been through and all the different situations that I’ve been around. I shouldn’t be here.

I feel like this is my purpose. I feel like I’m alive for a reason. I dodged many bullets. And I’ve been kept alive because of the fact that I’m meant to be here to inspire and create change for someone else. There is hope and recovery is possible.

The big thing is that we do recover.

We do recover.

We do recover.

We do recover.

We do recover.

We do recover.

Most people hope to find something their passionate about in life. But when you come out of recovery and try to start over it can feel overwhelming. Our next story focuses on a woman who has taken her journey with addiction and turned it into a passionate effort to help others get back on their feet.

Hi, my names Jan and I’m a woman in long term recovery. And what that means is that I have not had a drug or a drink in over 10 years. I started young. Marijuana. And then to cocaine. And hallucinogenics and all kinds of stuff. Nobody starts out wanting to be an addict. And when you first start you get that feeling of euphoria and you just feel good. And your troubles seem to drift away. And the more you need the more you’ve become addicted. The more it rules you. And you don’t rule it. So, then it becomes, you know, a need and not a want. And a chore and a job. Really. To continue to use. It’s trying to fill that hole in us that, you know, we feel like were empty. Whatever made the hole for whatever reason. But we’re always trying to fill it with something. I was more of a cocaine user. But a drug is a drug is a drug. Like it affects us all the same. And taking this out of ourselves. I pretty much lost everything.   I ended up inheriting a house. And in my early recovery and I knew the moment that I had been placed on the will to inherit this house that that’s what I was going to do was turn it into a recovery house. I just felt like I had to give back. And start helping other people that were coming up through the process. Most of the women that come to be — it’s opiates. That rule their lives. A lot of these women were in long term use of heroin. And how it affected them physically and emotionally — mentally. You see the ravages and the scars that it leaves. Because when you’re under that influence you will do anything. Every recovery house is different in how it’s run. I’m probably the only one in the area where I live with the ladies. And I try to make it more of a home atmosphere. We have pets. We will sit down and eat meals together and cook together. They have rules. They do pay rent. A lot of people will relapse because they get overwhelmed. They always feel like they have to do. Because if you look at the big picture — well they need a car. Well, I need to get my kids back. I need to get an apartment. I need to get a job. And you know, it becomes overwhelming for them. A lot of times you have to just kind of pull them back. Be like look you’ve already done this this and this. You’re working towards it. You’re going in the right direction. Well, it’s just about time. We’re getting ready to open.   We always have the coffee on. The coffee shop is manned completely by volunteers. Seven days a week. From noon until 11 o’clock at night. It gives everybody a place to go. A safe environment. We hold 12 step meetings here. We have education going on. It’s nice that we support all kinds of recovery. So, our motto here is “you never have to be alone.” A lot of time in active addiction we feel very isolated. Because what the addiction had done to our friendships. To our personal relationships with family. And just using period you end up — you tend to isolate. So, you don’t have to do that here. When somebody walks in the door, we’re like hey, how are you, come on in. You need a cup of coffee? And just to be able to sit and talk with them. Maybe their hurting that day. But once you get in here you start to meet people. You kind of realize like oh there is life after addiction. And it’s right here.

People in long term recovery prove every day that it is possible to find meaning and joy in life after addiction. Even to live a life beyond your wildest dreams.

I first got introduced to opiates when I was like 14 years old. The first prescription drug that I remember taking of an opioid would be Vicodin. That quickly spiraled out of control. I got to the point in my addiction where I didn’t have access to prescription drugs. They actually became harder to get. But heroin was much cheaper. And it was everywhere. That obsession was just above all. And that was my mission. And that’s what I would do. And I wouldn’t stop until I could get heroin. When I hit my bottom at a little over three years ago — I was just absolutely insane. Depression that was overwhelming. I was suicidal. But I did not have the courage to carry out the act to end my life. But I felt that I was dead inside. It just all hit. I had a moment of desperation, like, that I can’t go on like this. I had no other option but to take myself to urgent care. I walked in and just explained where I was mentally, physically. What my thoughts were. How I felt. How I didn’t want to live anymore. And a social worker came in and she questioned me and for some reason for the first time I think out of desperation I was honest about my drug use. She actually looked at me and she said, you know, you’re an addict. And we’re going to get you into treatment. Finally, when I got there, I was surrounded by people who understood me. For the first time. Because I would always tell myself during active addiction like, no one understands. And no one gets what’s going on up here. I was just floored by the amount of patients that were there for opioids strictly. And a lot of them were there for their, you know, multiple times to try and kick the opioid addiction. I just did not realize how huge and widespread it is. Until then. I got to work through all this trauma that I had never faced head on since I was a child. I got to learn how to be present. That was huge for me. I was always in active addiction, like, condemning my future. Like remembering bad things and ruining the present moment because I couldn’t ever enjoy anything or just be here.   Each person in recovery I feel is just a little notch in the huge — it’s just something amazing that’s happening.

Hi, I’m Emily Hogarth and I’ve been clean since august 19th, 2016. I was introduced to opiates my sophomore year in high school. And then by the end of my senior year I was fully addicted. It went downhill fast. Once I started shooting it there was no turning back. And I just put everything, like everything I had into it. I was living in my ex-boyfriend’s dad’s car in his garage. I was couch surfing. I was staying at my drug dealer’s house. I started selling it. It was bad. I can’t imagine that I was living like that. Like animalistic it was just awful. I just realized I that I was tired of going to rehab. I was tired of packing up everything I owned to go to this place for 30 days and I just realized that I was wasting my life.

Hi I’m mark. I’m and addict. And I have not used a drug or a drink since May 19th, 2014. I started smoking weed probably at 14. Or 15. You know, cigarettes to and I came to senior year and torn my ACL. That sent me to the emergency room. I had to get surgery and I was prescribed a pain medicine afterwards and that sort of opens up a bigger door for using. And it kind of left a big hole inside of me. So, I eventually found heroin and definitely, like, you know that’s kind of what brought me to my knees. That was like almost the end of my road. There really wasn’t much else I wanted to do besides use heroin. Once I found heroin. I remember growing up always like, not being able to tell people how I felt or maybe I wouldn’t tell them how I felt just because I thought they wouldn’t understand. It made me feel very calm and it made me feel like I didn’t care about anything. I went to jail. Dauphin county prison for about a year. You’re obviously in one place for a long time. And then you get out and there’s so much else moving around you. What do you do? The only thing I did was what I did before I got there. And that was really the only thing I knew how to do. I ended up having to go to the hospital twice in one night. And you know, I vividly remember that. I remember how I felt, and I remember leaving the hospital twice. Those two times I was there I just ripped my iv’s out and just walked home. And the next day I showed up at treatment. It was my parents’ choice. I wasn’t aware of what was going on because I was basically blacked out and overdosing. I basically came to at treatment. And then I realized I was there, and I was very mad. You know, I didn’t really feel like around most people that I fit in but those were definitely my people and they pretty much loved me back to life. I met Emily at a meeting.

I actually met him at a meeting. And I knew him for a while, but I never really like him. Because he had a mohawk and I didn’t like his lip ring.

I actually found enough courage to go up to say hi to her. She’s cute. She’s a little bit more reserved than me. I’m a lot more social and open. There’s a good mix between me and her.

And then he messaged me, and we started dating shortly after that. What I love about him now is that he’s so supportive and he has more clean time than I do. So, if I’m struggling, he’ll — he gives me a lot of courage and wisdom and just what his experience was and how he got through those things that I struggle with.

I proposed to her in her harbor in Baltimore and I think she saw it coming but you know. I got down on one knee and I was like will you be wife? And she said yes.

It was so sweet. When I found out I was pregnant I was terrified. My son’s name is Calais James Hogarth. The James is after my brother. I feel more fulfilled now that I have him. I just — I don’t know he’s just perfect and I couldn’t imagine life without him.

I definitely feel like it’s my duty and responsibility now that I am clean to help other people.

Like if I didn’t have those people in the beginning, I wouldn’t be here. I’d probably be dead.

It’s kind of just so implemented in my mind that I am responsible to help anyone who is sick and suffering. Anywhere. Anytime.

I know sharing my story may feel a little uncomfortable for me at times. But I’ve been doing it consistently for the past five years. It’s kept me clean. And it’s helped a lot of people. And it’s helped me more. I’m starting to see what they said to me in the beginning of my journey being clean that, you know, you’ll have a life beyond your wildest dreams because there is no way I could have ever thought that this was possible. This is just the best life’s been. I can tell you I definitely sold myself short. I didn’t think I would be married. Have a loving wife. And a new baby boy. Let alone a car. A license. A place to live. All the stuff that I have today is just completely a miracle.

They say it’s like a life beyond your wildest dreams and that’s what it is. I never thought I’d get married. I never thought I’d have a son. I never thought I’d be living on my own and having a job that I actually enjoy. I just — it’s beyond my wildest dreams and I’m sure it’s going to get much better from here.

It is beyond my wildest dreams. It truly is. And that’s something that I got told that would happen in the beginning. And I remember just doubting that statement and being like, what’s that even mean? Does that mean like nice cars? Lots of money? Big family? But it’s really none of those things for me. I’ve gotten to just this place of at peace inside and this serenity and just — I’m okay. And that is enough for me. That is more than I ever could have bargained for.

If you need help or you’re worried about a friend or a loved one, contact the substance abuse and mental health services administrations nation help line. At 1-800-662-help. It’s a treatment a referral information service that’s free, confidential and available 24/7, 365 days a year.

I’d like to thank all of our guests for being so open and honest with their experiences. And for the important work their doing within our communities. Please join us next time as we continue to share stories and transform health. I’m Keira McGuire. Thanks for watching.

Today healthcare is about empowering people to take control of their health. Weather creating a fitness routine. Choosing the right procedures and medications. Or adhering to treatment for a chronic condition. Capital blue cross. Dedicated to underwriting Transforming Health for the good health of the community. Capital blue cross. Live fearless. WellSpan Health. Helping patients reach their health goals through a coordinated system of physicians, hospitals and convenient healthcare services in communities across central Pennsylvania. Learn more at WellSpan Health. For the journey that is life. Support also comes from viewers like you. Thank you.

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Keira McGuire
Keira McGuire

Keira McGuire is a health reporter and multimedia producer for WITF. She hosts and produces Transforming Health television programs as well as other shows and documentaries for WITF’s Original Productions. McGuire produced the Emmy Award winning series HealthSmart for the last ten years. Keira previously worked at WBFF in Baltimore and WMDT in Salisbury as a reporter and anchor. She’s a graduate of Towson University.

Read more by Keira McGuire