Columbus-based ministry tackling opioid crisis

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - It's a growing crisis in America. Opioid addictions or overdoses led to 64,000 deaths last year alone.

We went to a local faith-based organization to see their solutions in action, including a new one they're exclusively telling us about. We also talked to a pair of former drug addicts who have seen how prescription painkillers can ruin lives.

"I broke my hand playing baseball and I was exposed to codeine then," former opioid addict Johnathan Taylor said. "You take a little more of the medication than you really need and it gives you that euphoric feeling."

"I started using drugs about the age of 13," former drug addict Amanda Taylor told us. "My life spiraled out of control from there. I ended up on the streets looking for my next high."

"I was addicted to oxycontin for intravenous use -and also methadone. I came into the program (Teen Challenge) to get my life straightened out," Johnathan Taylor added.

He overcame a four-year addiction to opioids, thanks in part to the Teen Challenge ministry. Now, he leads adult programs for the Columbus-based non-profit. His now-wife, Amanda, also went through the structured 12-month residential program after years of meth and crack cocaine.

She told us, "I just remember having hope and I knew it was over. I could breathe again."

"There are 90 people that die every day because of an opioid overdose," said Brice Maddock, the president and CEO of Teen Challenge Southeast Region.

He also says Georgia is one of the top 11 states for prescription opioid abuse. Last year, out of the 25 people in Columbus who died from drug overdoses, most were related to painkillers which can lead to more dangerous street drugs.

"It starts with prescriptions," Maddock said. Seventy percent of those who are actually on heroin start with some kind of opioid prescription, such as Vicodin or oxycontin."

Teen Challenge, based in Columbus, plans to open a first-of-its-kind 90-day residential treatment facility later this year for females with life-controlling issues. It will be licensed by the state, which means they can accept private insurance, opening it up to different addicts than the year-long program that Johnathan and Amanda Taylor graduated from.

Now, on the other side, they're seeing a huge increase in opioid addictions.

"Right now, the opioid crisis is at the height of where I've ever seen it," Johnathan Taylor said.

Teen Challenge Southeast tackles the opioid crisis with a holistic approach, including a spiritual component and peer-to-peer counseling.

"We have a 70 percent success rate in Teen Challenge for those who actually graduate our program. Five years after they leave, they're free from alcohol or drugs,"  Maddock said. "The core piece of what we do is try to connect people back to God."

The organization has 20 centers and a total of 1,000 beds in six southeastern states. It is now about to add that 90-day option.

"Wherever we can reach them, whatever place they're in, whatever they can commit to, we want to find them there," Amanda Taylor added.

Local police, court officials and pastors refer drug addicts to Teen Challenge, which also has a seat on the opioid commission formed by President Trump.

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