INDIANAPOLIS — Overdose deaths in the U.S. topped 100,000 a year for the first time ever last spring. Based on the numbers, it may look like this is a war we are losing. But are we? A story of hope started in a little town called Hohenwald Tennessee and is spreading here to Indiana.
Families, communities, and children have felt the impact of drugs across Indiana. There is a chance it has touched your family or someone you know. This war is at our doorstep.
“It is a $43 billion problem. That is how much we have paid out as a state,” said Terrance Wheeler, director of Wheeler Mission. “Funerals, workdays lost, crime, and the emotional toll on broken families, ultimately breaks our communities.”
It has gotten to the point where some policy stakeholders have sought national action in designating fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction. In December, President Biden declared a national emergency in respect to the international trafficking of illicit narcotics, including fentanyl.
Wheeler has worked as a recovery specialist for years before joining Wheeler Mission as program director. He says it’s not just the homeless. It’s cities, suburbs, schools, and more and more of our young people in middle school, high school, and college.
“It’s an equal opportunity drug,” Wheeler said. “They’re thinking this is a one and done, I’ll do it once, I’ll give it a try, I’ll experiment with it not knowing very well they’ve just signed their death warrant.”
A community responds
Hohenwald Tennessee, a community of 12,000, was losing 2-3 young people a week to drug overdoses…until someone decided to do something different.
“The community formed a coalition, and they went out and they started rescuing their young people and setting them free, and now they are winning the war on drugs,” said Kerry Pharr, Producer of Hope Lives in Hohenwald and host of the talk show In Your Corner.
Pharr and his team happened to be in Hohenwald when it all started, and He kept coming back documenting everything. He showed the real raw side of addiction, overcoming addiction, and how the people of Hohenwald transformed their community saving countless lives.
“These people had enough sense to just invite the hurting people in and say how are you, let’s talk about it, let’s eat, let’s break some bread, and just love on them. And what it does is it loves the life back into people,” said Bobby Hayden, co-host of In Your Corner.
Hayden grew up in Indiana and moved to L.A. to play in some of the most famous bands in the 80s. He has gone to the depths of drug addiction many could never survive.
“Injecting 10-15 times a day living in a cardboard box, skid row downtown L.A. My body’s mutilated with injection sites,” said Hayden.
Near-death, in a dumpster at 122 pounds, Hayden found hope.
“You couldn’t beat that hell out of me, incarcerate that hell out of me, preach that hell out of me for sure. But when this man Jesus came along he loved that hell right out of me. This is the real miracle,” Hayden said. “12 churches across denominational barriers formed a coalition and said ‘we’re going to take our city back and set our children free. We’re tired of going to a funeral each and every week.’”
Those churches and the residents of Hohenwald let Pharr’s cameras roll, documenting the monumental transformation of hearts, lives, families, and, ultimately, their town.
Spreading the word
Kerry and Bobby just released the documentary making it available for free all over the U.S. One of the first stops is Bobby’s hometown Central Indiana and Wheeler Mission.
“It will get the message out there so people can realize this is a bigger problem than we see and our community needs to come together,” said Brandon Andrews, director of the men’s residential center at Wheeler Mission.
Residents at the center watched the documentary and reacted. They say the key to lasting hope for them and others, is filling the void in their lives spiritually, through a relationship with God. Hope lives not only in Hohenwald but wherever people will go out and help rescue people.
That’s the key Hayden will tell people. He is grateful his sister found him, loved him, and rescued him. He is also grateful she brought him home to finish healing.
He calls this movement a revival. That movement is spreading. Wheeler Mission is hoping to lead a coalition in Indiana to save lives.
You can download the entire documentary for free by visiting hopelivesinhohenwald.com. They just won best documentary at a recent film festival.