In 2011, Joseph Engle lost his 19-year-old son Reese to a fatal heroin overdose. Instead of drowning in grief, however, he decided to do something positive and proactive to both honor his son’s legacy and prevent more tragedies like Reese’s from happening in the future. And so Engle, who is 22 years sober from drugs and alcohol, started a non-profit very aptly named the There is No Hero in Heroin Foundation. The organization was created to help newly clean, post-detox heroin addicts find and pay for secure sober living.
First of all, mad, mad props for the clever name and I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. Second, way to actually take concrete action in fighting an epidemic that’s causing so much suffering (and death) for so many people. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, deaths related to heroin went from 1,842 in 2000 to 8,257 in 2013. Not only has the drug become easier to get in the past 10 or so years but it’s also cheaper than it was before. Easily accessible and affordable is not a good combination when you’re talking about highly addictive substances.
Engle is doing plenty to earn his hero status. In addition to running his foundation, he also takes part in Las Vegas Mayor’s Faith Initiative and its informational support groups around addiction, and leads recovery support groups himself at Solutions Recovery, Inc. He reports that There Is No Hero In Heroin has financially assisted at least 16 individuals now in recovery from heroin addiction. Part of the deal when clients receive help for the cost of living at these establishments is that they are expected to be actively involved in a 12-step program. In this regard, it’s safe to say There Is No Hero in Heroin is giving a hand-up as opposed to just a hand-out.
Engel’s foundation provides grief support groups for families struggling with the loss of a loved one to heroin but helping to cover the expenses of sober living after detox may be its most significant contribution. Samantha Long, one of the people who received help from the organization, points out how crucial the longer-term support is. “Transitional living is essential to long-term recovery,” Long told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I’ve done the whole go-to-treatment, go-back-home thing, and going back to the same environment never really works out.”
Long’s statement resonates because I think a lot more emphasis seems to be placed on the importance of residential and outpatient treatment as opposed to sober living. This is unfortunate because staying sober in the confines of rehabilitation is certainly a cake walk (as cake walky as possible considering that it’s rehab) compared to trying to stay sober in the real world. Also, getting insurance to cover the cost of actual treatment is usually easier than getting it to cover the cost of a transitional care facility. So a resource that helps fund the often shaky step back into reality is definitely one worth praising—and the man who established well worth being called a hero.
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