An HHS Recovery Story

Christopher Jones is a captain in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. He’s also the first director of the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Lab at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). That means Jones holds a position of high responsibility at the Federal Government’s Division of Health and Human Services working on the nation’s opioids crisis and serious mental illness initiatives.

It’s a fitting position too. Why? Because Captain/Director Jones has been in recovery from addiction for more than 16 years.

Really.

Like many substance abuse stories, Jones seemed like least likely candidate for opioid abuse. As a teen in Macon, Georgia, he played soccer, went to church, and did well in a small Christian high school where substance use was not the norm. He didn’t use illegal substances. He didn’t drink. And he didn’t smoke. In fact, says Jones, those things never even crossed his mind.

Then Jones had his wisdom teeth taken out and was prescribed Tylox, which includes oxycodone, a powerful opioid, for the pain. After the first pill, he remembers thinking he wanted to feel like this all of the time.

Jones was 17.

From then on Jones did what he could to prolong that feeling of euphoria. He rummaged through the medicine cabinet at home. He stole drugs from his girlfriend’s medicine cabinet. And he also started stealing pills from the pharmacy where he worked afternoons.

In college, Jones again started working at a pharmacy where he was able to pocket stolen bottles of opioids and other drugs like stimulants and benzodiazepines. When he was out of drugs and got desperate enough, he’d swish water in the empty bottles to see if there was enough opioid dust to get him high or not go into withdrawal. Jones says the desire to get more drugs occupied nearly every thought of the day. And increasingly he was experiencing consequences – health, economic and social – from his use. Those consequences included two overdoses: one during class and another during a Sunday lunch with his family.

Things only got worse

At pharmacy school one day, the dean of students called and asked Jones to stop by. Waiting in the office was Jones father and a man holding a badge and handcuffs. His secret had been found out. The officer said Jones had two choices: treatment or jail. Because Jones was a pharmacy graduate student, he was able to go to an inpatient treatment facility for impaired professionals.

"Although it felt like the lowest point in my life," says Jones in his HHS recovery story, "it was really a lifeline and the humbling experience I needed. I’m now grateful that I was able to get into treatment, to learn about addiction as a disease, and to start being honest with myself and those around me. Through treatment, I began to work a program of recovery and I engaged with peer, self-help groups."

Recovery is a life-long commitment, adds Jones, and that takes work. Even 16 years later, he still participates in self-help groups. He also continues to work with people in recovery. Furthermore, each day at HHS he has the privilege of working on substance abuse research and policy to help prevent substance misuse and to help those struggling with it.

We at Recovery Boot Camp would like to thank Captain/Director Jones for his service, his commitment, and for this HHS recovery story. He shines a bright and inspiring light on recovery; a light we’d all do well to follow.

Note

The above was taken from Christopher Jones’ “From Stolen Pills to the U.S. Public Health Service: My Story of Recovery”

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