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Signature Health screens feature on drug addiction, recovery at KSUA

Star Beacon - 4/10/2018

April 10--ASHTABULA -- Dalton Witt introduced himself as an expert in two things: "being an alcoholic and a drug addict."

Witt is one of seven recovering addicts or family members of addicts featured in a two-hour documentary called #WeDoRecovery, produced by Signature Health Ashtabula in August. In the film, participants shared their struggles with addiction and messages of hope for active users.

More than 100 people -- including those working in or seeking help from the recovery community -- screened a featurette-length version of the film Monday evening at Kent State University Ashtabula. The campus' Blue and Gold Room was standing room only.

"I wanted to feature families who had been through the struggle of addiction -- whether they lost somebody to the disease or they had someone in recovery," said Kaitie Park, coordinator for the Ashtabula County Prevention Coalition, which helped produce the video. "So people could (put a face on it). It happens to people who look just like us."

Witt said he grew up on a farm in Jefferson, in a dry house with "parents who loved me." He said he was an OK student, an athlete -- from the outside, it seemed he was living the "cookie-cutter American childhood," he said.

He became a functioning drug addict at 19. Drug use continued through college, his early career and his divorce. He eventually found himself homeless, living along a south county road between two oil wells, or near gas stations, so he could steal food or gas -- to "survive, on some level," he said.

But Witt's drug use ended two years ago. He now works at Glenbeigh drug and alcohol treatment center in Rock Creek, helping others find the same path. He calls it the "joy of the journey."

"To be on the front lines, in the trenches, in my community where I grew up has made all the difference," he told the room, as each #WeDoRecovery subject introduced themselves following the screening.

"I promise you, if you reach out to (recovery experts) in our county ... you will be welcomed with open arms," he said in the featurette. "Get around other people who understand where you have been and where you are now. ... The door is always open from another fellow addict or alcoholic."

Kenny Purtilo, of Geneva, who started using crack cocaine and opium before he was a teen and is now an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, said he was eager to get involved with #WeDoRecovery. Recovery programs are all about giving back to others still trying to stabilize themselves, he said.

"It got to the point where enough was enough and I didn't want to live that way anymore," he told the Star Beacon. "To be honest, I thought I was going to die a junkie and never do any program or stay sober. That's just the mind frame I was at.

"It was all about me and what I wanted and when I wanted to do it and how I wanted to do it," Purtilo said. "Now? It's about everybody else. It's about giving back. ... Not every day is great but it is better than what it was."

Social media denizens have liked or shared Signature Health's feature more than 20,000 times, said Paul Brickman, marketing director.

"This is what it's all about," he said. "We deserve to live. We deserve to have joy in our lives. We deserve to work hard for that, too."

For Tasha Zeigler, of Conneaut, a latchkey kid from an alcoholic and abusive home who started drinking by herself regularly at a young age and later fell into methamphetamine, the public reaction to #WeDoRecovery is emotionally "overwhelming."

"I hope that it would give (addicts) the strength to get help -- that they can see somebody that came from this and they were able to do it," she said.

Kristen Hodgson, of Ashtabula, who spiraled into drink and drugs to cope with her grandfather's death, said if sharing their stories can help save at least one person's life, "it's worth it."

"Even if you slip once or twice or 12 times ... keep trying, keep coming back, keep moving forward," she said. "There is always hope. You don't have to die."


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