Recovering heroin addict tells of his long-fought battle

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 2:53 p.m.

Recovering heroin addict Bill Addis hit rock bottom four years ago after he lost everything he cared about.

Addis was living at the City Mission shelter in Uniontown. His children had been taken away from him. He lost his job. His relationships with family members had ended.

With his life in shambles, Addis knew it was time to fight his drug addiction again. But this time, he was determined to win the 25-year battle.

And that's exactly what he did.

Addis told his story earlier this week when he served as a panelist during a presentation titled “Prescription Drug Abuse: The Cost of Getting High,” presented by the Fayette County Drug and Alcohol Commission Inc. at Connellsville Area Senior High School.

Addis proudly told the crowd that he has been drug- and alcohol-free for 4 12 years.

“I have been clean and sober for more than four years and five months,” said the 41-year-old man. “Drugs and alcohol impacted my life for almost 30 years.”

Addis does not blame his family for his drug problems, but he said his mother suffered with alcoholism for many years.

“My mother was an alcoholic,” he said. “I had no skills to deal with my life so I turned to drugs and alcohol. By the time I was in my late teens, I was getting high and drinking every day.”

Addis said he quickly fell into the dark world of heroin addiction, and his downward spiral began.

“I was the last person that people would think would become a drug addict,” he said. “I went to Catholic school. I was an altar boy. I seemed to be moving in the right direction until my life took an unsuspected turn.”

Addis said he first began seeking treatment for his heroin addiction in 1998, but he didn't get clean until 2009. He had tried methadone and suboxone, opiate replacement therapies, but his drug addiction always came back.

“I went to rehab eight times to try to stop using drugs,” he said. “CYS (Fayette County Children & Youth Services) came and took custody of my children. I lost jobs. I even set myself on fire when I was using drugs. Every woman I had a relationship with was also a heroin addict.”

Addis said his third child was born addicted to drugs and was administered a synthetic opiate to help with the withdrawal symptoms.

“It didn't matter. I hated myself,” Addis said. “I swore I would never use drugs again. But I did. My 6-year-old son called 911 to tell them that his dad wasn't breathing.”

When he had finally given up hope, Addis said he started to get clean. He joined Narcotics Anonymous and attended meetings on a daily basis where other heroin addicts encouraged him and told him how they got clean.

“I finally accepted the idea of drug addicts helping each other get clean,” he said. “Unless you walked the road that we walked, it's very difficult to relate to us. I really believe that God intervened in my life and put the right people in my life to help me.”

Addis said he finally surrendered, let go and turned his life over to God.

“I had nothing left in my life,” he said. “I had already given it all up. That is when I finally got help.”

Elaine Stano, treatment specialist at the Fayette County Drug & Alcohol Commission, said the agency offers outpatient therapy, group therapy and short-term suboxone treatment, supervised by Dr. Bob Woolhandler, a Pittsburgh doctor who is an expert in opiate addiction.

Although some doctors and agencies offer maintenance suboxone treatment for opiate addicts, Brian Reese, treatment supervisor at Fayette County Drug & Alcohol Commission, said Woolhandler offers a short-term, 20-week program. Drug addicts are placed on 8 mg of suboxone or less and the dosage is decreased while they undergo extensive therapy.

“We try to keep them in therapy and on opiate replacement therapy until there is a crack,” Stano said. “That's when they become open to getting clean.”

Reese said Fayette County Drug & Alcohol tries to move alcoholics and drug addicts to a clean and sober life.

“We really don't believe that long-term methadone or suboxone treatment is the answer,” he said. “We believe that addicts can live a clean and sober life.”

Cindy Ekas is a contributing writer.

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