By Amelia Mack
The drug epidemic in the Mahoning Valley is continuing to grow and has not discriminated on who it affects. Young people are being sucked into this lifestyle, and when they hit rock bottom, they are forced to drop out of school to recover.
Mark Hines is involved with many faith-based recovery programs and resources such as Celebrate Recovery, Teen Challenge and the Mahoning Valley Hope Center.
Hines said that when student addicts are ready to get sober, they must make the decision to drop out to put their recovery first.
“Trying to get sober and go to college — I have yet to see that work in 10 years,” he said.
Recovery included dropping out of college for Brent Faler, who was a junior at Youngstown State University majoring in literature studies.
“Being an addict while going to school is like trying to tread water with concrete shoes,” Faler said.
Faler said he started doing drugs for fun, but it took a dark turn when he realized he had lost control.
“The thing about addiction is that it sneaks up on you, and it tends to follow a downward trajectory,” Faler said. “It wasn’t very long before I had a serious opioid addiction and finding drugs became a normal part of my day.”
Eventually Faler got in trouble with the law and was forced to seek treatment.
“I feel like I had to hit a dead end before I was capable of trying to change,” he said.
Faler has been clean for almost a year now and is looking to eventually return to YSU to finish his studies.
“It’s only gotten easier as more time elapses, and my mind is less messed up,” Faler said. “I feel like I have to constantly be on my guard though … addiction is incredibly sneaky.”
Hines said recovering takes the rest of your life.
“It doesn’t mean it has to consume the rest of your life, but you’re going to be in recovery forever,” he said.
For Billy Johnson, a 22-year-old from Akron, helping other people recover has become part of his own recovery. He has now been clean for 19 months and works at Spirit Life, an inpatient rehabilitation center in Indiana, Pennsylvania.
“Having my own recovery story has helped me working at a rehab, because it reminds me every day what my life could be like if I went back to using drugs,” Johnson said. “It helps the clients even more, because I can relate to them.”
Johnson said he started using drugs at the age of 15. By the time he was 17, he had dropped out of high school.
“I started doing heroin, and that’s when things got bad quick. I started waking up every morning sick and just trying to get more,” he said. “I started to not care about anything including myself and my family. My only goal for every day was to get more.”
After many stays in and out of rehab, he finally got sober for good in April 2015.
“I was praying every day and trying to change my old ways,” Johnson said. “I started to share with others how it worked for me and how much God has done for me and how important it is to have him in your life. I realized that it’s the only way to stay clean.”