MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - James Boyd has a hard time turning off his thoughts - especially late at night when he can’t help but worry about heroin addicts, and how many of them are shooting up yet again.
He also worries about convenience store employees working the graveyard shift, and the problems they may face in the wee hours when things can quickly get out of hand.
“Sometimes I toss and turn so much that my wife will actually tell me to go out and check on them,” Boyd said with a shy smile, pausing for a moment before beginning to talk about the many people - including many addicts - he’s met while making these early-morning rounds on a regular basis.
No stranger to heroin, Boyd first got addicted when he was a curious teenager in Newark, New Jersey - an opioid problem that escalated while serving in the Army in Vietnam, because it was a way of coping after having been thrust into a war zone.
“I started using heroin when I was 14, and that continued when I went into the military three years later. I was in a place I didn’t want to be, and didn’t know if I would live long enough to leave. It was a matter of having to kill someone, or they would kill you,” he said.
Heroin soon took over his life, and it didn’t stop after returning home.
“Once I used, I couldn’t stop,” he said, recalling various unsuccessful attempts to kick his heroin habit.
Now, however, that’s all in the past.
And he’s making a concentrated effort to share his experiences - more than 30 years of using heroin, followed by 21 years of sobriety - with others.
Boyd - who quit using heroin when he was 44 years old - credits God for his transformation, and is determined to help others change their lives - a role that he never thought possible during his active addiction and failed stays at various VA rehab facilities.
“I’ve been there, and I’ve done it all, so I know how that man standing outside a store feels and what he’s going through. At one point, I lived in a refrigerator box - it was a couple of times, actually, and that was after rehab. But I don’t give my power away to heroin anymore,” he said.
Today, he’s a well-known local activist and volunteers with several nonprofit organizations.
He often talks - and posts on social media, including the Berkeley County Heroin Epidemic and Awareness Facebook page - about the local opioid problem, as well as the thousands of days he’s been clean -part of his motivational message to take things one day at a time.
“My hashtag #staystopped is a way of encouraging folks to live a clean and sober life. I want them to know it is possible to replace unhealthy decisions with healthy ones. For example, one decision was to stop smoking. I’ve also made a conscious decision to reconnect with society. I want to be present with the people I am bonding with now - my family, my church and in everyday life
His sobriety, coupled with his work with the area drug court program, has not gone unnoticed at the state level - and it’s the reason he was asked to appear in a campaign ad for Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin, who is seeking re-election in the May 10 primary.
Additionally, Boyd was recently invited to speak at a VA meeting in Washington.
Even though this kind of recognition is flattering, Boyd still spends plenty of time on local streets - and is more concerned than ever about the continuing lack of treatment facilities.
“An addict is a person who’s not well, and we either ignore their needs - or we put them in a place that causes their illness to worsen. And then we punish them for not getting well, so that this problem is only being compounded,” he said.
Social stigma is a big part of the problem locally, he said.
“We’ve been looking at addiction as an individual disconnect, but the reality is that there is also a social disconnect - and we have to work on addressing that too,” he said.
Now is the time to change the future.
“I don’t want the kid who is using today to have to wait 30 years to get better, but right now that’s the way things are heading. There’s no magic bullet, but I’d like to see there be some more healthy options available in Martinsburg,” he said with a sigh.
Information from: The Journal, https://journal-news.net/
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