Special Report: Long-time opioid addict restores future, his family

Special Report: Long-time opioid addict restores future, his family
(Source: Jose Zozaya/WTVM)
(Source: Jose Zozaya/WTVM)
John Burdeshaw (L) and Danny Walker (R). (Source: Jose Zozaya/WTVM)
John Burdeshaw (L) and Danny Walker (R). (Source: Jose Zozaya/WTVM)
(Source: Jose Zozaya/WTVM)
(Source: Jose Zozaya/WTVM)
(Source: Jose Zozaya/WTVM)
(Source: Jose Zozaya/WTVM)

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A drug crisis in America is now a public health emergency, according to the White House.

The opioid epidemic, impacting families right here in the Chattahoochee Valley, as these drugs continue to be accessible, and even prescribed the Centers for Disease Control reporting Muscogee County had a rate of nearly 91 prescriptions per 100 people in 2016.

The story of a local man driven to homelessness because of his addiction, who found the support he desperately needed to start a new life.

John Burdeshaw, 39, is now three years sober. Burdeshaw started doing drugs when he was 16; a student at Central High School in Phenix City.

"It started with weed and drinking," he said. "From there, it just progressed- ecstasy, cocaine, meth, pills, and acid; a little bit of everything through the years."

As his addiction grew, Burdeshaw's hopes of controlling his drug use faded, leaving him, at one point homeless and desperate.

"When I was on the streets and doing drugs, you'd take things to a measure that you never usually would, and doing whatever it takes to get the next high," said Burdeshaw.

Burdeshaw said there was nothing he felt he could do, except pray.

"I started asking God just to make a way, to guide me to a rehab or to give me help."

Then, a glimmer a hope. Burdeshaw said one day, an old friend told him about the "Journey to Recovery" program run by New Horizons Behavioral Health in Columbus.

"I gave them a call," Burdeshaw said. "They gave me a bed, and [they] helped me get to where I am now."

We talked to Harry Tatum, the program director for "Journey to Recovery." Tatum said this program is geared for people just like John.

"A lot of [members] will find themselves homeless, with nowhere to go," Tatum said, "or [they're] living in places that just won't allow them to complete their recovery process," Tatum said.

Tatum said from the time he first started working with New Horizons to now, most addicts will reveal their primary drug of choice.

"Mostly cocaine, whether it was crack, or just regular cocaine, alcohol; those were the primary things that people would come in for," Tatum said.

Tatum said he's now seen a recent uptick in the number of addicts saying they mostly abuse opioids. This, he said, makes it challenging to help them because opiates are more accessible, and something that may have already been prescribed by a doctor.

"We have to work with them to kind of get through that hurdle," Tatum said.  "I would say, especially in the last year, there's been an increase of individuals who come in and say [opioids] are their primary drug of choice," said Tatum.

Burdeshaw said he knows the price others have paid for abusing something as powerful and easy to find as opioids.

"A lot of my friends have passed away from the problem here in Columbus," Burdeshaw said.

Burdeshaw spent six months recovering at the 'Journey' house, something he called it a very painful experience. During his stay, Burdeshaw re-learned basic skills that would help him find a job once he completed his rehabilitation.

"Many who come in," Tatum said, "may have 10 years of using, so they either hadn't learned life skills or have forgotten and haven't practiced those for a while."

"But it's worth it," Burdeshaw said, "to come out and not have to deal with that anymore."

After four months of rehab, Burdeshaw began his job search, eventually filling out an application for City Premiere Graphix, a shirt design business along Macon Road.

He handed his application straight to the store's owner, Danny Walker.

"He asked me about myself," Burdeshaw said," and I had to tell him, 'I'm in rehab now.' He was very open to that."

After talking to him, Walker said he liked his spirit, but he hadn't made up his mind about hiring John.

"It was probably after three attempts of him coming by that I just kind of said to myself, 'OK. I'm going to give this guy a shot," Walker said.

For two and a half years, Burdeshaw has helped Walker grow the business, and Burdeshaw says he couldn't have asked for a better boss or, as he would put it, a better partner.

"Me and Danny's chemistry is awesome," Burdeshaw said. "No doubt that God brought me here to work with him."

"For me," Walker said, "it was really about the character and heart of the individual. Something about [John] just spoke to me."

Burdeshaw also said it doesn't hurt knowing he thoroughly enjoys his work, making customized, unique shirts and helping others achieve their creative vision.

"It's fun making shirts, and it's something that's really been a part of me staying clean," Burdeshaw said.

More than that, Burdeshaw said he's found what he calls a "Christian environment," one where can thrive and receive the support he's craved for years.

Three years sober, and Burdeshaw's road to recovery has strengthened his own confidence, restored his relationships, and renewed his faith.

"I spent a lot of time away from my children during that time, and God has restored that relationship. Coming off meth, heroin, and pills, to where I am now, it's amazing; God has been really good to me through these three years. He's answered that prayer," Burdeshaw said.

Experts have touched on several ways to solve the crisis.

For example, funding more addiction treatment centers such as New Horizons, Congress recently passed the 21st Century Cures Act, granting $1 billion to help stop the epidemic.

The CDC has also released new guidelines asking doctors to avoid over-prescribing pills for chronic pain, except in special circumstances.

Copyright 2017 WTVM. All rights reserved. | For more news, download the WTVM app here.