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Beating the odds of drug addiction

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There's a growing epidemic throughout the country, but especially in Tennessee. The epidemic we're talking about is drug abuse.

Whether it's because of movies or what we see on tv, there's a stereotype for someone who abuses drugs, but in our investigation, we learned there is no 'one' type of person'. In fact, we met four people for our stories, all of them are employed and are celebrating drug-free milestones every day. Jason Howington is beating the odds. "I was running around older guys that was using and I wanted to try it and after i tried it was downhill from there," says Jason, who is in recovery.

That was when he was just 13 years old. Drug use of all kinds eventually landed him in prison for nearly five years.

Like many drug users, Jason suffered from a co-occurring disease. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports there is connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances. Jason was an adult and out of prison when Dr. Stephen Loyd diagnosed him with a mental illness a well as drug addictive disease. Jason says, "If it wasn't for Dr. Loyd and this medicine, it saved my life. When I got out, I would have been the same way as I was when I went in. It was either I was going to die or overdose, it was one of the two."

Dr. Loyd, treats people with addictive disease. He says, "Medication levels the playing field, it gives people like Jason and my other patients a chance." People with substance abuse problems make up nearly 50 percent of the prison population. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals says if those people received treatment for their drug addictions, 75 percent of them would never be arrested again. But studies show only about 10 percent get that treatment while in prison. The results according to the Bureau of Justice, 68 percent of prisoners are arrested for a new crime within three years of their release.

Dr. Loyd says, "Whenever you tag someone with a felony because they have addictive disease which is what happened to Jason and you restrict there ability to get treatment and a job for the rest of their life because of a felony drug conviction, what else do you expect? Jason says the prison system expected him to be back, but it's been nine years. He's drug free and has a good paying job. "I am a whole different person. I feel like i missed out on a lot. The only fix is to have treatment and I'm proof of it. I'm proof of it."

Insurance doesn't pay for treatment for addictive disease like what Jason has, so that's one more obstacle for people to get the help they need.

Dr. Loyd says he's made it his mission to help these people. He says doesn't turn people away because they can't pay. Dr. Loyd says the Affordable Care Act is making health care for mental illness and substance abuse available to all, although there are still some holes that need to be worked out, but it's a start.

It's also important for us to point out that Dr. Loyd is also a recovering addict. He's been clean now for about 11 years. He says he hopes he can take what he's learned and share it with other people.

As part of this investigation, we looked at the impact drugs have on all of us. Check out that story here.

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