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home : news : state news free April 19, 2018

   
4/14/2018 9:56:00 AM
Opioid addict now inspires audiences
Dean Olsen


The State Journal-Register

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — It was almost exactly six years ago that Andrew Dewey, at age 45, decided to enter treatment in Jacksonville after years of balancing full-time jobs with abuse of alcohol, prescription painkillers and finally heroin.

But before he was allowed to begin what would be a successful 28-day stay at Jacksonville’s now-closed Wells Center, Dewey had to put himself through unsupervised detoxification. He locked himself in the bedroom of his house for two days.

“You feel like you have the worst flu you’ve ever had — times 10,” Dewey told The State Journal-Register.

The first-person account of his sweating, leg twitches, vomiting, diarrhea and overall pain during the withdrawal process often are included in his presentations to hundreds of central Illinois citizens, health care professionals and police as they look for solutions to the nationwide opioid-drug crisis.

The fact that Dewey — a divorced 51-year-old living in Chatham with his 18-year-old son — remains sober and has become a successful college student while working two jobs is inspiring to audiences, according to several people who have heard and worked with him.

Dewey’s decision to share the gritty reality of addiction and his refusal to let shame silence him have given him a platform for airing opinions.

His story, which puts a real face on the problem and shows there is hope for survivors, helps to spur elected officials and others whose actions can shape policy.

“Every time he talks, someone takes something away from what he has said,” Mike Emery said of Dewey’s presentations to civic groups and community task forces studying the opioid crisis.

Emery, 59, a former McLean County sheriff, lives in Sherman and serves as the law enforcement coordinator for the Springfield-based U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of Illinois.

Dewey has spoken at meetings of the Sangamon County Opioid Task Force, which is considering several potential initiatives. He also has spoken to groups in McLean County, where he makes the problem of opioid misuse “relatable to people” and “leaves people with an added sense of urgency,” according to Adam Ghrist, the county’s first-assistant state’s attorney and a leader of the McLean County Opioid Initiative.

Dewey said he believes he is genetically predisposed toward addiction.

He first tried beer and marijuana as a teenager growing up in east of Rantoul and attending Armstrong Township High School. He said he began drinking heavily during his 2 1/2 years in the U.S. Army.

After an honorable discharge, he said he began a successful, 20-year career in sales for a vacuum company in more than a dozen cities before moving with his then-wife, son and three stepchildren to a town near New Orleans.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, disaster-relief funds from the federal government helped Dewey move his family back to central Illinois in 2006 to a house in Jacksonville. But Dewey said he had difficulty finding success again in vacuum sales, and a back injury while working in a department store sent him in search of a doctor and pain medicine.

Dewey said he found that doctor, who prescribed strong doses of Vicodin — which contains the opioid hydrocodone — without any scans of his back or physical therapy. After a few months, Dewey began taking more of the drug than he was prescribed and fooling the doctor that he needed more for his pain.

Vicodin, he said, “made me feel amazing.”

He believes opioids eased some of his attention deficit hyperactive disorder.

“I was calmer,” he said. “It lowered my inhibitions. I felt euphoria. I couldn’t focus without it.”

The doctor later switched Dewey to Oxycontin, an even more powerful painkiller, but when the doctor’s office closed in 2010, Dewey lost access to the prescriptions and said he began buying prescription painkillers through networks of friends and acquaintances.

His marriage had ended by that time, and he kept buying the pain pills with money earned in a series of jobs.

Later in 2010, he found that he couldn’t afford the $100 or more each day to buy enough prescription pills on the street to satisfy him. But he could afford $20 worth of heroin that would last all day.

An estimated 4 percent of people who abuse prescription opioids progress to heroin. Dewey was one of them. He said he regularly used heroin almost two years, all while working different retail jobs in Jacksonville and Springfield.

“I was able to function and take care of myself and hold down decent-paying jobs, so there was no need for me to do criminal activity to support my habit,” he said.

Standing 6 feet 2 inches tall, he neglected his health while on heroin and lost 100 pounds, getting down to 148 pounds before a caring state police officer said Dewey would be arrested for drug possession if he didn’t enter treatment. Dewey heeded the warning.

After being discharged from Wells Center, Dewey met Jan Terry, former executive director of Lincoln Land Community College’s Jacksonville Education Center. She helped him sign up for classes and obtain financial aid.

Dewey excelled as a student, Terry said. Dewey first told his story of recovery as Lincoln Land’s 2014 graduation speaker at the main campus in Springfield.

“You couldn’t find anyone who was more intensely committed to a goal,” said Terry, 69, now retired and living in North Carolina. “If we learn anything from him, it’s that everyone needs encouragement.”

After his associate’s degree from Lincoln Land, Dewey completed a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Illinois Springfield and is pursuing a master’s at UIS so he can become a mental-health counselor.

During his presentations to groups, he calls for an expansion of treatment services and a reduction in arrests of users for drug possession.

He said he wants more people to care about the opioid crisis.

“It’s not just the poor, white kids in the trailer park and the inner-city kids who are involved,” he said. “It’s hit the middle-class neighborhoods now. And heroin is not a 26-and-younger drug. It’s a 22- to 60-year-old’s drug.”





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