January 15, 2014 - "Death, jail and rehab are the only outcomes from drug addiction."
Oregon Twp. resident Joshua Wells, 26, attends a candlelight prayer service Monday night in downtown Oxford's Centennial Park. He's a recovering heroin addict. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
Joshua Wells wasn't just spouting a line from some anti-drug pamphlet when he said this. He was speaking from personal experience as a recovering heroin addict.
Wells has experienced two of those outcomes and he wishes to avoid the third.
The 26-year-old who lives in Lapeer County's Oregon Township was one of many who attended a candlelight prayer service Monday night in downtown Oxford's Centennial Park.
Organized by the Lapeer Chapter of Families Against Narcotics, the service allowed people to pray for those who have lost their lives to drugs, those who are battling or recovering from addiction and their families.
The service followed a special screening of "The Anonymous People" at the Oxford 7 Theater. The 88-minute feature documentary film focuses on the 23.5 million Americans living in long-term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
The film's message really hit home with Wells. "It gave more fuel to the flame that I already have inside me," he said.
Wells is working hard to reclaim his life from drug abuse. "I just celebrated six months clean," he said.
His goal now is to visit schools and educate young people about the realities of drug addiction in order to hopefully prevent them from traveling down the same long, painful and self-destructive road that he once trod upon.
"My huge thing is the youth – educating them on the power of addiction and what it can do to you and every single person around you," he said. "I want (the number of drug users) to be down in five years and the only way we can do that is to reach the kids who could be our future addicts. I know it sounds cliche, but just say no (to drugs)."
Wells wants young people to know that "drug addiction does not discriminate," so it doesn't matter what a person's race, gender, age or income level is – anybody can get hooked and have their life destroyed.
"It will take you and everybody else around you down," he said. "It may not be the first time you use. It may not be in the first year or in five years. But it's going to eventually catch up to you."
Drug addiction also isn't confined to just one geographic area. It's in both urban and rural areas, big cities and small towns.
"It's everywhere and you can't get away from it," Wells said. "Addiction is here and it's only growing. It's getting worse and worse. Everyday there's more and more people trying drugs for the first time. We have to acknowledge it, take a stand and try to fix it now. It can't be stopped completely, but we can keep it (in check) and maybe save some lives out there."
Wells knows all too well how easy it is to get addicted. He began using heroin when he was 19.
"I was living in a house with a bunch of guys and it just popped into a party one night," he said. "A couple of friends said I could try it for free. I tried it a couple times and then, a couple weeks later, somebody asked me if I wanted to shoot up. I did and I was hooked from then on."
Wells said "it's very, very easy to get hooked on any type of drug," especially when a person finds one that's "right for them."
"You experiment with drugs and then, you find the one that your body says, 'Yep, that's what I want,'" he said. "I started off smoking marijuana and drinking (alcohol). I used cocaine. But when I tried heroin, I knew opiates (were) my drug of choice. That's what my body liked."
After that, Wells said, "It was all downhill from there."
His addiction to heroin led him to overdose twice. He spent the winter of 2013 homeless in Lansing, begging for money and stealing what he could to get high and getting beat up.
"It was the worst experience of my entire life," Wells said.
Following that ordeal, he spent 70 days in the Genesee County Jail for felony drug possession and driving under the influence of drugs, the latter of which resulted in him totalling his father's vehicle. It was being in jail that allowed Wells to clear his head and take a long, hard look at himself.
"I thought I'd hit rock bottom multiple times, but after going to jail and knowing that I was going to be a felon, that was my rock bottom," he said. "When I didn't have anybody coming to jail to visit me and my parents wouldn't answer my phone calls, that was my rock bottom. It made me realize I had lost everything in my life. None of my family wanted anything to do with me."
He decided it was time to get help and get clean. "As soon as I made that decision and showed my family that I was serious about getting my life together, they were nothing but (supportive and welcomed me with) open arms," Wells said.
He urged families to "never give up" on addicts. "I don't care what anybody's done in their life, family should always be there," he said. "We all have it in us to get clean. But it's very, very hard on your own – almost impossible."
The best thing the families of addicts can do is "give them as much love as you can."
"You don't have to give them money, but if you can give them a warm place to stay and all the love that you have inside of you, that will help them get clean," he said.
Because Wells believes addiction flourishes when it's nourished by secrecy and shame, he said the best way to battle it is to be honest and upfront about it. That goes for both addicts and their family members.
"The biggest thing is just acknowledging it and putting it out in the open," he said. "Everybody's so afraid of coming out and saying, 'I'm an addict' or 'My son's an addict. My daughter's an addict.' You have to put the issue out there. Getting the problem out there is the first thing."
To any drug addicts who may be reading this article, Wells has a message – "Like the movie said, the best time to stop it is now."
"Nobody can help find you if you don't want to be found. You have to want to help yourself."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.