For 10 years, Melissa Walton practically lived in a doctor's office, seeking to satisfy her addiction to prescription drugs. "I got up, I counted the pills, and if there weren't enough pills to get me through the day, the calls started," Walton said. The addiction started after Walton, who had never taken any type of drugs before, built a crib for her twins, the Jonesboro Sun reported .
"I remember putting up a crib and thinking I was hurting," Walton said. "I took a pain pill that my doctor prescribed me. It was like God came down from heaven and (said), 'I'm giving you energy.'"
After several months, Walton ran out of pills, and felt sick.
"I never wanted to feel that sick again, and I did anything and everything I could to get a pill, no matter what it was," Walton said. Walton would call to make doctor's appointments, and would call friends for pills if that didn't work. In an average week, Walton had four to five doctor visits, she said. When it got to the point where no doctor would see her and no pharmacist would fill a prescription, Walton turned to street drugs. Her addiction, she said, took priority over her children. Still, to an inattentive observer, Walton's addiction may not have been obvious. "I was a functioning (addict)," Walton said. "I was a mom. I went to PTA meetings; I went to ball games. You don't have to go live on the streets for (your children) to feel rejection."
After years of struggling, Walton became desperate and turned to Restoration House Ministries in Harrisburg, where she found the love of God."He fills that void that we need," Walton said. "We have to choose for him to fill that void for us." Rehabilitation centers and ministries like Restoration House are prevalent in Northeast Arkansas and around the country as communities fight back against the opioid problem, which has been declared an epidemic by lawmakers, law enforcement and the medical community. Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp said he believes drug addiction affects everybody, rich or poor, and the solution isn't simple. "There's no easy answer for this," Snapp said. In his mid-20s, Snapp spent time in a Little Rock rehab for an addiction to Quaaludes. The help he received there changed his life, he said. "It touches home a little easier, a little quicker than it will for most people," Snapp said of the opioid epidemic. Quaaludes once were legal, facilitating the addiction of many, including Snapp. It wasn't until the government banned the drug that he knew things had to change.
"When the government outlawed them, I knew I had to do something," Snapp said. "...Because they were taking it away, I didn't look for the alternative. I looked for help and got it."
The supply chain for dangerous drugs must be reduced, Snapp said. Otherwise, society runs the risk of creating generational problems, as children turn to the drugs after watching their parents suffer with addiction, tearing apart American families.
Jake Guenrich, pastor of First Baptist Church in Walnut Ridge, said those often struggling with abuse lose the desire to lead their families and teach their children.
"When life just becomes about that feeling — the desire to provide for their families, to provide guidance and direction for their children, just disappears," Guenrich said.
Rebecca Whittley, program director at Restoration House, who will celebrate five years of being clean in July, said the first step to getting help is acknowledging a problem exists and seeking help.
"Seek out the proper help," Whittley said. "In my opinion, that's the Lord. He's going to fill all those holes we're trying to numb with prescription medication." Dustin Finch, discipleship minister at Southwest Church, said an addiction to prescription drugs is often symptomatic of a deeper problem, and those wanting to beat the addiction should address not just the spiritual component, but get into counseling as well.
Like Snapp, Finch can also speak from experience. After spending his high school years as a drug addict, he quit cold turkey in 2006, and has been clean ever since.
"By the time I graduated, it would be easier for me to tell you what (drugs) I haven't done," Finch said. "Looking back now, I realize I was coping with some things in my life and I just didn't know how to deal with it." In 2005, Finch became a Christian, but didn't fully understand the need to live differently. He continued to be addicted to pills, until a camping trip a year and a half later, where he finally got the message as his friends ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms.
"I had this fork in the road experience," Finch said. "It was clear to me that God had something different for my life." Whittley said the problem of prescription drug abuse may not have gotten worse, but it has not gotten better, either. After alcohol addiction, opioid abuse is the hardest addiction Restoration House deals with.
Still, stories like Walton's can provide hope to those wanting to overcome their addiction.
Years after being clean, Walton said she's still mending previously-broken relationships with her husband and her children. "There's still struggles," Walton said. "... It's hard for me to be Mom."
Nevertheless, Walton said everything is slowly and gradually getting better after overcoming her addiction.
"God promised he would bless my family and he is," Walton said. "With God, we're getting there."