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February 10, 2018

Changing the conversation about drug addiction

File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Fauquier native Ron Sanchez describes the need for a greater range of addiction treatment services during the Warrenton Planning Commission public hearing in November.
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Calls came late at night several times from his hospital bed.

The first time, Mick told us he awaited a liver transplant — an unlikely prospect.

In subsequent talks, we recalled the good times and thanked one another.

He had little time left.

An addict, Mick had exhausted a long string of second chances. He ranked ahead of no one on the transplant list.

Over the last decade, he had recovered from the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse that almost killed a country boy in New York. Returning to Southwest Virginia, he had done great work for the weekly newspaper group in Wytheville.

Our friendship grew from Virginia Press Association conventions and resulted in his move to Warrenton to work with us for a couple of years. A talented musician, voracious reader and wonderful conversationalist, Mick grew professionally here. He had character.

He was a character.

Oh, he partied hard, particularly with his friend, George Dickel, and maintained a couple-pack-a-day habit. I watched him at a campout take a shot and fire up a cigarette at first light. But, he performed well on the job, earning his way to The Roanoke Times — a long-term goal that we helped him achieve.

Eventually, his leash grew longer in Roanoke. Writing great stories that other reporters overlooked and trusted to no longer come to the newsroom every day, Mick worked from home, covering an outlying county where he and his wife bought a house.

But, the demon returned. Eventually, crack cocaine and other drugs consumed his job, his musical instruments, his home and much more.

In the last late-night call, Mick said goodbye.

Lots of his many friends had tried to help. He spent time in residential treatment and in a program that included a call-center job.

But addiction won. Mick died in April 2009, leaving his wife, their dogs and hundreds of heartbroken people he touched along a too-short journey.

Addiction sooner or later affects most of us.

Ellen’s goddaughter two years ago died of an overdose at age 26. We’ve watched others struggle, as almost every family has at least one member fighting some substance for his or her life.

But, our conversations have changed over the last couple of years. Death as an experience, not an abstract statistic, will do that.

In almost 40 years of public hearings, I’d never covered one with the raw emotional power of the Warrenton Planning Commission deliberations on Tuesday night, November 21.

During the packed public hearing in Town Hall, mothers matter-of-factly told of children lost. Denial, lies, theft and bad friends played roles in death spirals that family members often helplessly saw coming.

Addicts shared intimate details of their struggles and ongoing recovery.

They came across as calm and credible — people from all walks of life, all levels of education, all neighborhoods.

Business and community leaders stepped to the lectern, adding their support for the McShin Foundation’s application to start a residential, peer-to-per recovery program in downtown Warrenton.

Obviously moved, the planning commission supported the proposal, which the town council in January rejected.

Setting aside whatever one thinks about that decision, the testimony and deliberations have helped foster a greater understanding of and concern about addiction in our community.

I make no claim of expertise. I know only what I’ve seen.

The concoctions of heroin, Fentanyl and other substances people inhale or inject grow more dangerous. Yet, reported overdoses here continue to rise.

Most of us cannot fathom what makes a human being jab a syringe of potential death into her arm or between his toes.

But, struggling to understand, we continue to listen and to empathize.

That saves lives, one can surmise from the dramatic decline in Fauquier overdose deaths last year.

From the White House to the kitchen table, we acknowledge the complexity of addiction.

Its ravages probably will continue as long as the human species survives. But, we must deal with the challenges of our time here.

I wish Mick could join this conversation. He’d appreciate the honesty and the genuine desire to help young people, in particular, make careful choices.

Blaming no one else, Mick would say — as he told us — that he took responsibility for life and his death.
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ConcernedMom · February 13, 2018 at 11:28 am
So, I am going to go out on a limb and say only God can judge me. It's not anyone else's place to pass judgement. What about the kid who gets injured and the Dr gives them a lot of Tylenol 3 and then they gain an addiction. They don't even know what an addiction is so how are they to know how to get help?
Nobody wants to end up considered a low life and looked down upon because of their poor choices it's life and crap happens. It's all about life, curve balls it throws and how people handle it. This is suppose to be one of the richer county's but there is NO support, help or guidance. There's nothing for the youth to do in this county, no family promotion.
Judge what you think or want but at the end of the day your judgements passed don't reflect on my life. However, whenever you think your life's so perfect life can actually throw a curve and you too can be found with an addiction or your loved ones
Jim Griffin · February 12, 2018 at 11:21 am
My only experience here is through relatives, so I do not know, but I am told the decision to seek help is aided by both availability of treatment and easing the social stigma associated with the condition.
nonewtaxes · February 12, 2018 at 11:15 am
So when the prescribed drug runs out and the person has become addicted cannot they not at that time choose between getting help or getting crack?
Jim Griffin · February 11, 2018 at 11:35 pm
No, crack cocaine is not a prescribed drug, but research says that when the prescribed drug runs out the addict will turn to any of a number of drugs which can include opiates, synthetic opiates like fentanyl, or cocaine.

Any physical addiction calls for treatment under a doctor's care. Best not to start, but not all addiction is so simple. Best to treat without judgment lest the stigma deter seeking help. As Lew made clear, there are good people who wait far too long.
nonewtaxes · February 11, 2018 at 11:06 pm
I'm guessing crack cocaine is not a prescribed drug.

Jim Griffin · February 11, 2018 at 7:39 pm
Not so simple: Pharma spends many billions a year sending the message that drugs are good, as do the insurance companies that often prefer them to the more costly alternatives.

In fact, some of those drugs legally prescribed addict those who follow the instructions to the letter. Even trained medical professionals sometimes become addicted to opiates prescribed them for surgical operations they undergo.

Treatment is key. Bad things happen even to very good people who use good judgment and make the right choices. The sooner they get help the sooner they return to a productive role in society.
nonewtaxes · February 11, 2018 at 4:08 pm
Drugs bad.
No drugs good.
Pretty simple.
ConcernedMom · February 10, 2018 at 8:12 pm
Our community has nothing to occupy the time of children around here. We had the skating rink but that got shut down too! We need things to promote family in this county!!! It's a shame. It takes a bad choice to get hooked. It's not due to it being a bad person and people need education, we need to educate our children young and he proactive in their life. We need resources and understanding for the warning signs.
BJ · February 10, 2018 at 3:01 pm
Addiction is a Highway to Hell that no one in their right mind would ever want to be on, so change the direction, inform yourself, believe in yourself, get help and the heck with the stigma or what others think. Two roads diverged, take the one to a better place.

Blaine Johnson
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