Five years ago this week, former Gov. Peter Shumlin called for a statewide response to drug addiction. Wayne Miller of White River Junction is in recovery from opioid addiction, and he's spent much of the last five years working to help others stay clean.
When Miller was in his teens, he started using substances - first alcohol, then prescription pills. After a few years, he started dealing drugs to fund his habit.
"There is some layer of, like, adventure to it, but you know, it all stemmed back to just trying to self-medicate having issues with anxiety and PTSD and depression, and being able to use was a significant escape from all of those issues until it's not," Miller said. "Eventually the scales kind of tipped and then you're just depressed while you're using."
Listen to Wayne Miller's conversation with VPR's Henry Epp above.
Miller later enrolled in the Community College of Vermont just to get the student loan money to buy drugs, he said. But as part of a class assignment, he went to a 12-step meeting. Something in him changed.
"It was people's stories. It was hearing their experiences," said Miller.
Through group meetings, Miller eventually got sober. He graduated from CCV and started working in peer-based recovery. Now, he’s a program manager at the Center for Recovery Resources in Claremont, N.H.
Below are some excerpts from Wayne Miller's interview with Henry Epp:
His Work At The Recovery Center
Miller said his work with people looking to recover from addiction starts with a check-in to determine their needs.
"We're sitting there looking at those resources for them, whether that's housing, getting assistance with food, transportation is one of the majors, getting into a medication-assisted treatment program if that's the route that they want to go, letting them know about other recovery peer support meetings that are in the area," Miller said.
"It's a one-on-one kind of recovery planning, so looking at setting goals and breaking those goals down into small achievable milestones."
Looking To The Roots Of Addiction
Miller hopes to broaden the conversation around drug addiction to focus on the root causes of substance use.
"More often than not there's some kind of trauma, traumatic experiences when they were young. So a lot of the addiction and poverty and mental health issues … seem to be generational," he said.
"I think we need to go back before the opiate use, and one way to work on that, I think, is bringing more people to the table that have the experience, the lived experience, as people that have experienced addiction."
Public Fatigue With The Opioid Crisis
Miller said he's concerned that after several years of intense focus, the public might be getting tired of hearing about opioid addiction.
"It's like a zombie movies, like everybody is tired of it," he said. "With this, like we're tired of talking about the opioid epidemic."
"I feel like I'm looking to the future where we worked so hard to talk about, how do we change our language, and to look at people as people ... we're not looking just five minutes ahead at the backlash of that, where people are just over talking about it.
Miller said he thinks the conversation needs to broaden. "Open it up for people to say, 'Well, what's your addiction?' Let's remove some of the stigma there."
This is part of a series of interviews airing on VPR this week to mark the five-year anniversary of Shumlin's State of the State speech on addiction. Check here for more stories throughout the week.