By Lynne Phillips
Editor’s note, this is the first in a series of informational pieces relating to the heroin epidemic in Huron County, Teen Challenge and the Starfish Project.
Heroin arrived in Huron County in 1997, according to Sheriff Dane Howard, and in 2001 the county was identified as a county in crisis.
Howard told the LIFE (Living in Freedom Everyday) support group gathered at the Missionary Alliance Church in Willard, “We began seeing our first deaths from heroin early. In 1999 we saw a significant number of deaths. Every death is significant,” he pointed out, “but there were more and more drug related in 1999.”
With heroin use the county’s crime rate skyrocketed. Explaining Howard said, “The crimes associated with heroin use include burglaries, robberies and larceny. And it affects the users whole family. The entire family pays the price for this one act.”
Howard said there has been a downward spiral with families in the county due to heroin use.
Teen Challenge, a faith-based, year long, substance abuse program has a good success rate according to those in the know. They are the families who have experienced the horror of a loved one’s drug use.
Area resident Andrew Runion said the program saved his life.
Explaining, he said his addiction started with alcohol and marijuana when he was about 16 or 17 years old. “I had never been charged with a felony crime in all those years,” the 37 year old commented. “Then I was involved in a municipal court case in Richland County. There was a guy in court talking about Teen Challenge in Perry, Ohio. I had already had a moment when God shook me and told me who I was. From then on God was just lining things up in my life.
“When I got to court I asked the judge to send me to Teen Challenge. I knew I needed a life change and I knew I was missing something. He did and that is reason I am here.
“I always had a religious background,” he said, “and have been going to church since I was a kid but got pulled away.”
He shared the moment he said, “God shook me”. “I had gone to a family members home. Not for a family gathering or anything,” he said, “it was probably to get money. But my daughter, then about 15, grabbed my arm and led me outside. She held onto my arm and said, “Please God bring my daddy back. My whole body trembled,” he said. “I knew God was speaking to me at that moment.”
Andrew entered Ohio Valley Teen Challenge in Youngstown (OVTC) in April 2015. “You can feel the Holy Spirit as soon as you walk in the door,” he stated. Today he knows one thing, “You have to let go of things so God can work through you.”
OVTC is a residential Christian faith based discipleship and recovery support program for men (18 and older). Dedicated to rebuilding people devastated by life controlling addictions, the program offers a smoke free environment of recovery support and spiritual formation. It inspires self-discipline, responsible decision-making, social and spiritual accountability.
Executive Director, Pastor Roy Barnett according to information from OVTC said, “As a young man in the Marines I became addicted to drugs in the early 1970s.”
He was hospitalized and didn’t even know his own name or his parents address and phone number. He gives total credit to his grandmother and sister for making it out alive. Once home, still strung out, his sister led him to his Savior. “At that very moment,” he said, “I became instantly sober. There was no withdrawal to go through. Jesus not only saved me, but delivered me from my addiction.
“The same Jesus who saved me, delivered me in the 70s and has kept me for over 35 years, still saves men today. Leading men to Jesus is what OVTC is all about.”
Andrew has a vision of what he wants to achieve after graduation in April. It is to work in ministry to establish a transition center in the Huron County area for men leaving programs. “It isn’t enough to just complete the program, they need a place to go to continue to grow, a place for praise and worship. You have to keep the movement going. Guys get out of Teen Challenge and get back into the regular church and aren’t seeking out God like we are there. It takes that support every day, that once a week church service isn’t enough.”
He admits he doesn’t know what kind of timing is involved in his vision “But, I see it coming.”
He sees a huge movement of the Holy Spirit growing across the country. “I know it’s hard for people to envision but it is coming.
Deb, one of the women in the group, noted her son, currently in the faith-based program Teen Challenge, left the program the first time he was there after about six months. “I couldn’t have him at home,” she said quietly. “I am divorced and remarried with a 15 year old daughter at home. I just couldn’t allow him there.”
She like so many others have experienced the effects of a family member’s drug use. “They lie to you, they steal, anything to get drugs. Nothing matters to them except for the drugs.” She said her family has been dealing with the effects of her son’s drug use for more than seven years. “Have you ever laid on the floor to see where your son’s feet are in a room, she asked?” He (her son) would spend hours in the bathroom. He was shooting up in our home. Shaking her head she said, “I was laying on the floor, looking through the crack under the door to see whether he was standing or if he had fallen to the floor.” After investigating the room later she said there were burn marks on the counter and towels and a burnt spoon that he cooked his drugs in. “I knew then he couldn’t come back home.”
She related he was hospitalized after relapsing and was in danger of having his arm amputated where he injected drugs into his body.
Another parent, Chris stated, “You have to let them fall into the gutter. You have to stop helping them. You have to stop paying their bills, giving them money for anything.” He added, “It is tough and probably the hardest thing you will ever do, but it is the only way.”
He said his son, too, is now in Teen Challenge and doing well.
Despite the name Teen Challenge, it works extensively with adults. According to information provided by Teen Challenge, “Most adults who arrive at our doors bring with them a tragic history of substance abuse and other life-controlling problems. Here, the journey to sobriety includes attention to the spiritual needs of those who seek our help. With a focus on the practical applications of Christian teachings, adults not only learn how change deeply entrenched, self-destructive behavior, but to discover a new identity in Christ that makes these changes possible. Adults not only receive a holistic approach to recovery from life-controlling problems, but acquire a new value system that honors family, takes responsibility for community, cultivates a positive work ethic and helps them become productive, healthy members of society.
Huron County’s Starfish Project, created by concerned community members and pastors raises funds to enable individuals with life-controlling problems such as drug addiction to participate in Teen Challenge.
LIFE meets on Sunday evenings at the Missionary Alliance Church in Willard at 7 p.m. Anyone struggling with addiction or family members of those with additions are welcome.The Starfish Project will be the second story in this series and will be published in the Feb. 11, 2016 issue of the New London Record.