News →

How three Virginians are fighting addiction in their own way

Virginia has been plagued by addiction since the late 1990s when Purdue Pharam introduced Oxycontin. Since then, the regulations surrounding the accessibility of Oxycontin have strengthened. However, thousands of Virginians were left addicted and in need of a fix. Meet three people who are fighting addiction in their own way.

Justin Lewis
Justin Lewis has struggled with addiction since his early teens. He is currently a participant in the McShin 28-day recovery program and hopes to one day help others struggling with the disease. 

TRANSCRIPT

Keyris Manzanares: Virginia's struggles with opioids were shown in the hit Hulu miniseries, "Dopesick." The docudrama focuses on how federal prosecutors went after Purdue Pharma for using deceptive marketing to get Appalachian communities hooked on OxyContin in the late 1990s. One of those relentless prosecutors was Rick Mountcastle.

Rick Mountcastle: I saw pretty early on that the way Purdue Pharma had marketed that drug was wrong. They lied about it.

Keyris Manzanares:Mountcastle says he was determined to hold OxyContin's maker accountable because of his obligation to his community.

Rick Mountcastle: A lot of young people were addicted to OxyContin. A lot of young people were committing crimes to get money to buy OxyContin off the street.

Keyris Manzanares:In 2007, Purdue Pharma and three of its top executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges that they misled the public, doctors, and regulators about the addictiveness of Oxy.

Rick Mountcastle: People who are addicted to opioids, they will do just about out anything to avoid withdrawal, or dope sickness, as it's called.

Keyris Manzanares:While Mountcastle fought in the courtroom, John Shinholser fights addiction in the recovery room.

John Shinholser: We're recovering people, trying to help people recover.

Keyris Manzanares:Based in Richmond, the McShin Foundation uses a peer-to-peer approach to substance use recovery. Most of the staff, including Shinholser, are in long-term recovery. He says they're hope dealers.

John Shinholser: Recovering people all have a purpose. And if you can find that purpose, and live your purpose, you never have to look back on active addiction.

Keyris Manzanares: McShin has had tremendous impact, not only in Virginia, but across the nation.

John Shinholser:We just trained a powerful group of people in West Virginia for the whole state. We have technical assistant contracts with the State of Arkansas. Our model, our curriculum is accepted in Connecticut and New York.

Keyris Manzanares:Justin Lewis is facing his drug addiction at McShin. He's part of their 28 day recovery program.

Justin Lewis: What is addiction? A nasty disease. Like it's toxic. I've been dealing with it my whole life. I started using when I was like 10 or 11, and got out juvie at 13, I started using harder drugs. By age of 17, I was a heroin addict, and didn't even realize I was using heroin.

Keyris Manzanares:Lewis says this is the first time he's been open about his struggles.

Justin Lewis:I felt like there was a stigma. Like, if I was honest about my addiction, or things I've seen, or been through in my mental health, like they would just judge me, or with legal stuff, like probation, I felt like if I was honest about mental health, and my drug addiction, that they'd keep me on longer. Or for court, you know, I'd get more time.

Keyris Manzanares:Shinholser and Lewis go way back. They met when Lewis was 13.

John Shinholser:He's he's doing the long program. See, I knew Justin before he had a tattoo.

Justin Lewis: Yeah.

Justin Lewis: He's always been there for me. And the fact that he's known me this long, and he's still willing to offer me a hand, and help me is just, he really does care. And you know, people need to realize that addiction affects all wakes of life. It doesn't matter what color you are, what your religion is, if you grew up in a poor neighborhood, or grew up in a million dollar home, it can affect anyone. At the end of the day, we're all people.

Keyris Manzanares:Lewis wants to become a hope dealer, joining those who came before him in the fight against addiction.

Justin Lewis:I would like to be here or somewhere else helping someone else get clean. Like if I can just keep one person from doing heroin, or meth, or crack, whatever it is, if I can get one kid, or a person to either not use or get clean, then I'd be happy.

Keyris Manzanares: Reporting for VPM News Focal Point, I'm Keyris Manzanares.