Former addicts say Youngstown agency helped turn their lives around

The Ohio Valley Teen Challenge program is intended to transform an addict back into a functioning member of society and prepare them to reenter the workforce

Tim Deemer, a recent Ohio Valley Teen Challenge graduate, is a recovering heroin addict.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio Valley Teen Challenge in Youngstown provides a drug and alcohol-free environment for men ages 18 and older who are struggling with life-controlling problems, like addiction.

When an addict makes the decision, or is forced by family or the court, to go into recovery, there are a number of programs available for them. The Ohio Valley Teen Challenge is one that isn’t a typical 30- or 60-day program. Addicts spend a year or more there to recover.

Many of the men at Ohio Valley Teen Challenge say they went through other rehabilitation programs. Ohio Valley Teen Challenge’s program seeks to change addicts’ way of thinking, rather than focusing on getting them immediately back onto the streets.

“I need more than a year. I’ve been doing this for awhile,” said Tim Deemer, a recent graduate of the program.

Admissions Coordinator Brian Williams says that addiction affects everyone.

“People may say that, ‘Addiction, it doesn’t affect me.’ If you’re a human being right now, especially in the Mahoning Valley, it affects you.”

Williams knows firsthand the effects of addiction. A recovering crack addict himself, he has dedicated his life to fighting the war on drugs.

“Now a man cannot come in here, and tell me what I can and cannot do,” he said.

He watches the heroin epidemic grow day by day.

“I’d like to say that at one time, addiction and the drug epidemic, it’s the inner-city, it’s the bad part of town but now in our area, you could go to Boardman and get it,” Williams said.

People who are addicted admit that there is no limit to how far they will go to get their fix.

Deemer’s drug addiction started when he was a teenager.

“I lacked identity. Didn’t know who I was, just tried to fit in with everybody,” Deemer said.

He said drugs and alcohol were the key. Deemer was voted homecoming king so in his mind, he was on the right path.

“I was always saying, ‘I’m not that bad.’ I had a great background, great parents.”

Deemer eventually turned to Percocet pills and before long, his body was dependent. It was an expensive vice and he says there came a day when he wasn’t able to get any.

Then a friend offered him something else.

“I remember specifically she said, ‘You’re going to kill me,’ and I said, ‘Why?’ She goes, ‘I got heroin,’ and I was scared to death. I’m like, ‘Heroin?!'”

But he did it.

“I immediately was not scared anymore.”

Deemer says he put on a show for his family. They were aware of his drug problems but he was always working to make them believe he had it together.

The lifestyle sucked him back in when he would try to get clean or go through rehab. As an addict, he says he celebrated small victories like when he passed a drug test.

The night Deemer overdosed for the second time in his life, he says he only snorted one line. Even the prospect of nearly dying didn’t get through to him.

He got in his car and drove home from the hospital at 3 a.m. His family didn’t even know about it at the time.

Deemer’s stints in rehab never kept him clean, and he lost job after job. With support from his family, he came to the Challenge in October of 2015 when he says he hit rock bottom.

Now he is able to know his daughter for the first time in her life.

“It’s been great as far as she’s got her dad back and I can actually be a father now, but I feel bad. For 12 years I wasn’t there for her,” Deemer said.

Travis Pratt came to Ohio Valley Teen Challenge’s program on Easter, hoping to stay sober.

Pratt was arrested in April and charged with heroin possession. He admitted coming to Youngstown to buy drugs when he was arrested.

“I had so much guilt and shame once I wrapped my mind around the things I had done throughout my lifetime to be a slave to this substance,” he said.

Pratt’s wife, April, said the Christ-based program saved her husband, as well as her marriage.

“To other couples out there, that’s the most important thing you can do. Just hold on to your faith because it’ll get you through anything,” she said.

Williams says the program is intended to transform an addict back into a functioning member of society, preparing them to reenter the workforce. If they dropped out of high school, they can get their GED at the Challenge.

“For the first time in their lives, I want this addict to know ‘I’m making this choice for myself,’ so I want them to know the good and the bad. We have people that will refuse because they have to shave every day,” Williams said.

The men stay in dorm-style halls with other men going through the program. At first, they can’t even see outside because it’s too tempting.

Eventually, they help with work. The Ohio Valley Teen Challenge is like its own self-sufficient village.

Some men work on managing websites, others work in the kitchen, and some work in the boxing and shipping room – another way the Challenge gets money.

Williams says creating self-sufficiency has been successful.

“You cant just lock up every addict. We don’t have enough prisons around here to lock up every addict, so we need to start finding more and better rehabilitation centers.”

Williams and Deemer were panelists during the town hall discussion “27 Investigates: Heroin Crisis – National Problem, Local Solutions.”

For more information on the Ohio Valley Teen Challenge, visit its website.

WKBN is launching a year-long public service campaign to raise awareness about the problem and help come up with solutions. It kicked off with a special town hall discussion, “27 Investigates: Heroin Crisis – National Problem, Local Solutions.”

See all of WKBN 27 First News’ stories on the epidemic in our “Heroin Crisis” section.


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