Red Ribbon Week: Medicating the pain

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 23, 2013 

In 1988, Glenda Young lost her 3-year-old son in a fire, and that's when she began using crack.

"He was my life. I couldn't believe it. I thought about committing suicide," she said. "I just kept wondering why God would take my only son."

Young, now 52, is the daughter of the late Rev. Moses Ford, former pastor of the of Gethsemane Baptist Church. She grew up in a strong Christian household with her parents and nine siblings.

But she's the only one with an addiction, she said.

Local rehab professionals said cases like Young's aren't unusual. Many people develop addictions while dealing with a mental illness or some traumatic experience in their lives.

"Most of the time we see people self-medicate when they are unable to recognize symptoms like depression, anxiety, even grieving," said Jennifer Marlowe, director of nursing at The Bradley Center, an inpatient psychiatric facility in Columbus. "In many instances, they may not recognize they have an illness or have the knowledge of how to seek treatment. And there's still a social stigma in some cultures and populations, which makes it difficult for people to seek help."

Chaplain Neil Richardson of the Muscogee County Jail said many of the people suffering from emotional and mental issues are in jail, rather than getting the treatment they need. They are there for drug-related crimes connected to addiction.

Richardson said a U.S. Department of Justice study showed that the average active addict will commit 140 felonies within six months, and he thinks it's higher based on his experience.

"Eighty-five percent of the people that are in this building are here because of drugs and alcohol," he said during an interview at the county jail. "As a nation, it's one of the biggest problems we face. The number of people incarcerated in this country is rapidly increasing, and it's drugs and alcohol driven."

Richardson said women are the fastest growing population in the county jail and account for about 10 percent of the inmates.

"If we can have an impact on drugs and alcohol in this community, we wouldn't need as many beds in this facility," he said. "It would be a cost savings to the community on so many different levels."

Young said she was studying secretarial word processing in college when her son died. She also worked as a bartender at a club. She tried working long hours to cope with her loss, but she eventually had to quit her job, because it wasn't working out. That's when a colleague introduced her to crack, and she said she began using it to soothe her pain.

Young said she received $40,000 from an insurance policy for her son's death. She bought a car, gave some money to family and spent the rest on drugs.

"I didn't care," she said. "I really didn't want the money because of the way I had to get it. My son had to lose his life."

Her family prayed for her to come back to God and tried to get her into treatment, she said. But she was too angry to listen.

"I was just walking around crying, getting high," Young said.

She said she shoplifted and even prostituted her body to feed her drug habit. Once she ended up in the hospital for an ulcer. She had internal bleeding and stayed at Phenix Regional Hospital for a month.

Over the years, Young said she's been arrested for shoplifting and once for armed robbery. She said she didn't actually commit the robbery but hung with people who did. In 2012, she was arrested on a possession of cocaine charge. She stayed in jail for about 15 days, then was referred to the Columbus Day Reporting Center, an alternative program for addicts on probation.

Three weeks ago, Young learned she has severe nerve damage on the right side of her brain because of her drug use. And she's worried about her future.

"I have no insurance, no income, nothing but food stamps," she said. "I can't get Medicaid until they approve me for disability."

At the same time, she's proud of her recent progress. She attends Addicts Anonymous meetings at the Safe House three times a week and church on Sundays. She said the cravings are gone, and on Wednesday she was clean 151 days.

"I feel great about myself, like the daughter my mother had," she said. "I have no intention of going back. I stay prayed up, and I'm just taking one day at a time."

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