Left Justified: Addictions

It’s hard to tell your friends that they’re addicted to something. It’s harder telling oneself. We all need help when our frail bodies are attracted to dangerous substances and uncontrolled habits. It’s that much harder when society and, yes, even big businesses, are making money off one’s addictions.

That’s why Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work), fought against increased gambling in our fair city. And that’s why RUM tries to get the addiction businesses to pay to clean up the messes they make in people’s lives. When someone becomes addicted to gambling, cigarettes or alcohol, then society blames the person, while businesses and government profit. Yet, in reality, they make money off a disease and the weak genes in people’s makeup. So the least society can do is provide free recovery to anyone who needs it.

Entering into a 12-step program, the addict must take the first step and realize he/she is an addict. Then, call on a higher power. And it is a miracle when someone can go against his/her genes and overcome an addiction.

Ten steps later, the person might be in control of his/her life, but is still an addict. Some people need more help to overcome addictions. Heroin addicts may use methadone as a way of relieving withdrawal pain and suffering. And there’s medical help for alcoholics and nicotine addicts. But when someone craves an illegal substance, they have another hurdle to overcome.

It’s OK to get drunk on a regular basis, but God forbid you shoot up, snort or smoke something not on the approved list. For the “illegal” addict, they may get into trouble if they just try to seek help.

And there are people who want to help, thank God. One of them is J. Bryan Latham, the director of the Total Health Awareness Team (the notorious THAT Place). He will be speaking at a public meeting Thursday, Jan. 26, 7 p.m., at Christ United Methodist Church, 4509 Highcrest (southeast corner of Alpine and Highcrest).

Twenty years ago, Latham made a living doing blood recovery for blood banks. During a surgery, he contracted HIV and came down with AIDS. “It took four years of fighting before the medications began to work, and I came out of the battle successfully,” said Latham. While disabled, he began singing Southern gospel music. His group was called “Forgiven” because “we all need to be.”

While doing community outreach and speaking engagements, he began to help addicts into recovery. He learned about harm reduction, a program that gets the addicts to do less harm to themselves. By reducing the chances of catching a disease through a dirty syringe or improper usage, harm reduction counselors help the addict stay alive. Bryan helped people stay alive, first in Rock Island, and then in 2002 he came here.

“I took this job because I saw it as a bridge to recovery, and it promotes positive change in the individual user,” said Latham. Last year, 20 percent of the people who came to the Total Health Awareness Team were sent to recovery programs.

There were almost 600 people who use the services on a regular basis. That’s about one-fourth of the estimated number of IV (intravenous) drug users in the county. More than 5,000 contacts were made seeking information, advice and a friendly ear. And the Total Health Awareness Team talked 120 people into recovery programs this last year. That’s a lot of people, and most of the drug recovery programs are full, even though heroin and/or cocaine are tough addictions to overcome.

The program next Thursday is free and open to the public. It is controversial because they give out clean syringes almost as bait to get people to come into their program, but Bryan and the other outreach workers can change lives, but only if those lives walk through the door. Let’s make the door as accessible as possible.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Jan. 18-24, 2006, issue

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