Midtown Raleigh News

‘You can get better’ – Effort aims to stem tide of opioid addiction

Tracy Jackson escaped the roots that crack cocaine set in his Wilmington neighborhood the year he graduated from high school and turned his tassel toward the U.S. Army.

After six years and the Gulf War, “I came back home to get my feet under me, and fell immediately,” said Jackson, 46. “Crack got its hooks in me and drug me to the point where, not only was I not a responsible adult, I was neglecting my duties as a father, as a son, as a brother.”

Jackson turned his life over to Healing Transitions, a nonprofit, peer-run addiction recovery center, formerly The Healing Place of Wake County, after an unwitting “dead-in-my-eyes” glare from his youngest daughter, then 3, broke the drug’s spell on him.

As of Feb. 6, he’s been sober five years.

Jackson’s story is the kind that North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein wants us to share each Tuesday in the #opioidsurvivor social media campaign. He hopes it will put a familiar face on Opioid abuse and addiction, erase stereotypes of “accidental” and “self-inflicted” addictions, highlight treatment options and champion effective recovery practices.

The Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act, or STOP Act, offers a bipartisan legislative push for smarter prescribing and dispensing, and commits $20 million by 2019 to community-based treatment and recovery services.

Kudos, because North Carolina is in lockstep with the nationwide rise of opioid addiction with four fatal overdoses every day, four times as many hospitalizations, and eight times as many emergency room visits.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of these problems,” said Chris Budnick, executive director of Healing Transitions, one of four organizations in the state supporting Stein’s efforts. “We need to invest in a more robust infrastructure for treatment and recovery support services that moves people from isolation to systems of care and compassion.

“Sometimes, it’s easier for people to see changes in others before they see hope for themselves,” added Budnick, who’s logged 26 years in recovery.

In Wake County, heroin deaths jumped from six in 2011 to 30 in 2015, while deaths from prescription opioids rose from 30 to 36 – despite a drop in 2012, according to the N.C. Department of Public Health.

In 2016, Budnick said, Healing Transitions served 1,936 people with a nightly average of 256 men and women – filling 92 percent of its available beds – at its two single-gender campuses in Raleigh.

Last month, the nightly average was 269 people, filling 97 percent of available beds, he said.

Founded in 2001 in response to a mid-90s study that highlighted links between homelessness and substance abuse, Healing Transitions’ doors are always open. Food, shelter, and therapeutic support are free. and more than 70 percent of its graduates remain in recovery, or clean and sober, after one year.

Budnick cheers unprecedented attention on prevention, treatment and recovery, greater collaboration, fewer health risks and more people on the front lines seeking sobriety and best practices.

But he notes that the focus blurs around continuum of care, understanding that “accidental addicts” deserve as much compassion as those whose addiction is considered “self-inflicted,” and unity of engagement, retention and extending recovery supports.

Jackson, now reunited with his family and five children, works in peer support and training to help others on their journey to recovery and productive lives with careers, home ownership and healthy relationships.

“Because of them, in me, there’s one less homeless vet on the streets,” Jackson said. “It’s a beautiful thing, the turnaround. Change is possible. You can get better. You do get better, but you have to put in the work.”

Cecily McDonald, 23, knows it’s true.

At 17, her first intensive outpatient treatment program for alcohol and marijuana use led McDonald to new people and new highs from crystal meth, “heavy-duty” pain killers and heroin.

She’s been sober since 2014, after nine months at Healing Transitions.

“I was so close to dying, walking death,” said McDonald, who now works in peer support. “Anything that brings attention to this is absolutely good.

“We can’t afford to be silent about this anymore.”