Kitchen Table Conversations

In West Virginia, Men In Recovery Look To Trump For A 'Helping Hand'


(Left) Terry Lilly, 36, of Charleston, W. Va., has been clean about four months. (Right) Jarrod Book, 24, of Akron, Ohio, says his heroin addiction, and the criminal justice system, brought him to Recovery Point.
Sarah McCammon, NPR
(Left) Terry Lilly, 36, of Charleston, W. Va., has been clean about four months. (Right) Jarrod Book, 24, of Akron, Ohio, says his heroin addiction, and the criminal justice system, brought him to Recovery Point.

Decorations are sparse at Recovery Point, a residential treatment center in Huntington, W. Va. That's why the bulletin board covered with photos of men stands out. The men spent time here, but didn't survive their addictions. They're all dead now.

"We keep a constant reminder in here for individuals who come into our detox facility. We have, 'But for the grace of God, there go I,'" says Executive Director Matt Boggs, pointing to the words on the board.

Boggs, 35, would know. He started as a resident here five years ago, looking for a way out of addiction and homelessness.

Recovery Point runs four facilities in West Virginia, offering nonmedical detox and long-term residential treatment to people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. In Huntington, about 100 men at a time live in this former elementary school building in a working-class neighborhood.

There's plenty of demand for facilities like this one; West Virginia consistently leads the nation in drug overdose deaths. President Trump and other candidates addressed the nationwide addiction crisis many times on the campaign trail, sometimes with testimony from family members of those affected.

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Now, people who have been affected by the crisis, including the residents of Recovery Point, are looking to the president for help.

Terry Lilly, 36, came to Recovery Point from Charleston, W. Va. Lilly was a computer programmer and then a manager at a nationally known company. He didn't get hooked on heroin until his 30s, when he was playing music in bars and decided to give heroin a try, out of what he describes now as "morbid curiosity."

"It scratched my itch," he says. "It helped me deal with the emotional problems that I wasn't dealing with, so it didn't take long for me to give away my career, my house, my car."

Lilly's recovery has been full of stops and starts. This time, he has been clean for four months. As he looks to the future, he's worried about politicians' talk of repealing the Affordable Care Act. He gets health insurance through the federal Medicaid program, which was expanded under the ACA and now covers more than half a million West Virginians — more than one-quarter of the state's residents.

"I'm not in a position to pay for that right now, but I have been in the past and I would like to be in the future," Lilly says. "So I really feel like this time in my life is what those programs are for, when I need a helping hand."

Medicaid doesn't pay for treatment at Recovery Point; the facility is mainly funded by grants and donations, and run in part by residents like Lilly who have already completed several months of treatment.

But Boggs, the program's director, says Medicaid provides basic health care for many of the residents here, and essential mental health care for issues that can complicate their recovery.

If Republicans repeal Obamacare as they've promised, Boggs says he hopes there's an equivalent replacement ready to go first.

Some residents are hoping the federal government will address the challenge of re-entering society with a criminal record. For 24-year-old Jarrod Book, of Akron, Ohio, an alternative sentencing program is giving him a chance to clear his drug conviction. He says he'd like to see the new administration champion sentencing reform.

"Like nonviolent drug offenders who maybe, you know, messed up a little bit in their life," Book says. "If it wasn't for something like that, I wouldn't be here."

Book says he hopes the attention presidential candidates showered on the opioid epidemic during the campaign will help to destigmatize the problem.

Aaron Pardue, 28, of Pocahontas, Va., hopes the publicity will bring more funding for treatment in communities across the region that are overwhelmed with need.

"For me it just seems like it's a shame that it takes the politicians and the celebrities and all the bigwigs in this country, for it to start happening to them personally, before it becomes an issue for them to start dealing with it," Pardue says.

But Pardue, who's been clean for 15 months, says he can't think too much about what the politicians might do. He needs to focus on his recovery.

"I mean I haven't been living on Saturn or anything," he says. "I know what's going on, but that's one less distraction that I need right now."

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