The stories and images of the devastating effects of the drug and opioid crisis have taken hold across Butler County and the wider nation.
The stories of sobriety and those getting clean are sometimes overlooked. But when heard, they shed light on what it takes to get clean and stay that way.
Here are stories from around the region of those who had to fight to overcome addiction or are working to help others do so, showing some promise in the fight against the overdose epidemic.
A couple’s story of love and sobriety
Matt and Julie Himm, both 35, grew up in Fairfield and now call Hamilton home. They have been married, then divorced, and are now happily married again.
“My sobriety came through incarceration. I am a two-time convicted felon for theft, and I did 15 months in the Ohio prison system,” Matt explained while holding hands with Julie. “The day I was sentenced is the day I stopped using drugs. That is my recovery date, and that is my sobriety date - Oct. 23, 2013.”
He went through as many recovery programs as possible while in prison to make sure that his journey to sobriety was a permanent one.
“I wanted to make sure I stayed on that path when I got out,” he said. “Plus, Julie was awfully sick when I got out.”
“When Matt went to prison, we divorced right before he went in,” said Julie, who is a hair stylist at Sports Clips. “We had no contact while he was in prison, and I continued my substance abuse. After Matt got out, he came back for me and realized how sick I was.”
Matt, who now has a seat on the Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board, came back for her, Julie said.
“He came back for me and helped my parents realize how sick I was,” she said. “It was then that I went to Cincinnati for recovery for 30 days, and my sobriety date is April 2, 2015, so I have almost three years.”
The road to recovery not only led to the ability to get away from opioid and alcohol abuse but led to a rekindling of romance.
“April 4 of last year, we got officially remarried,” Julie said.
Public policy and public health messages regarding opioid and substance abuse have sometimes made those going through the battle feel nervous about asking for help.
“It’s very important for people to understand what resources are out there,” Matt said. “People need to know what phone number to call, what building to go to and who are the contact people. The general public still doesn’t understand what is out there.”
Julie said Butler County has been very aggressive in developing help for addicts, but the need to get rid of the stigma of being an addict in order to help others is crucial.
“We try to fight the stigma by telling our story of recovery to local in college,” Julie explained. “We go to the University of Cincinnati, Miami, Cincinnati State, along with local high schools. We share our story and humanize it and say this is what can happen. I always say that there are rainbows in the storm. Matt and I were in the storm, and we have to help those that are in the storm so they can shine like a rainbow too.”
‘It could have been me if I stopped being clean’
Josh Lieffring is a 19-year-old from Mason who vividly remembers being “younger and wanting to get high on Xanax and other stuff.”
He has been clean for more than four months now, and after not experiencing success previously, Lieffring is more determined now than ever to win the battle.
“It’s like a hint from life I guess,” he said, while sitting in the office of Pinpoint Behavioral Solutions in Middletown, one of the latest treatment programs to enter the drug battle.
“I have been clean for around four months from Xanax. In the past two weeks, two people I know have passed away from overdosing on Xanax or using Xanax that was laced with fentanyl.”
He added, “It kind of makes you look at it that it could have been me if I stopped being clean.”
Lieffring said that while he was using, he was regularly getting in trouble, which landed him in jail.
“When you go to jail, you realize you just really don’t want to be there,” he said. “Whenever I was getting in trouble I was trying to get clean so I could get off probation then go back to what I was doing before.”
After turning 18, the idea of getting in trouble as an adult also helps Lieffring want to stay clean.
“I had a lot to lose then, but I realize that I have a lot to lose now - that is clear,” he said. “My parents became very frustrated, and I don’t want to be in trouble anymore.”
Getting help at Pinpoint and getting serious about getting clean is what Lieffring feels will make a difference.
“You have to get help and get serious about doing what you are supposed to do,” he said. “You can’t do this cold turkey, you have to reach out and get help. The first step in getting clean is you have to really commit.”
He uses some off-color language to describe the effort it takes to get sober but wants people his age to know that it is possible to get the help needed to get sober.
Experts say addiction affects all of society, but there is hope
Kristina Latta-Landefeld, coalition coordinator for the Greater Hamilton Drug-Free Coalition, says the county and country is going through an addiction epidemic.
“We have a new landscape that we have not experienced before,” she said. “The opioid side of things is very specific. As parents die from overdoses, then kids are left in the foster care system. The children then are at a much higher risk. We have this trauma that is happening that has become generational.”
She added that there have been multiple reasons that have led to the current drug crisis and it will take a community effort to combat the issue.
“The Quick Response teams are working because we have to be able to respond to people quickly who are seeking help,” Latta-Landefeld said. “We need to approach this crisis not as a single layer, but we have to look at addiction overall and with a community commitment so we can deal with it and get back to the things we would rather focus on like housing and jobs and building a better city.”
Alison Fienning is the chief clinical officer at Pinpoint Behavioral Solutions in Middletown. She says it is a team effort and new approach that will help people get sober.
“We are trying to individualize our treatment for each client,” she said. “Each treatment facility is going to serve a purpose and we all do our best. There are plenty of people that need help, and we all need to pull together to make sure people get the help they need to get sober.”
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to exclusive deals and newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.