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Addiction impacts people differently — and there are many stories of hope

Four photos of the people featured in the Voices of Recovery and Hope Series. Three women and one man.
Submitted photos and Darian Benson
Side Effects Public Media
From left to right: Erin Davis, Anne Buchholz, Roman Griffin, Jr., and Aisha Diss.

About 40 million Americans have a substance use disorder, according to federal data. In Indiana, 1 in 12 people — almost half a million people — meet the criteria for a substance use disorder.

Everyone’s experience with substance use is different. And while there’s no shortage of heartbreaking news on the topic of addiction, there are bright spots that tend to be overlooked by the media.

That was one of the big takeaways from the series of listening sessions Side Effects Public Media and WFYI hosted on the topic of substance use and recovery. Our team of Midwest journalists set out to learn more about this critical issue with the goal of offering better coverage in the future. These listening sessions involved on-background conversations between our reporting team and people from the substance use and recovery community, including those who work in the field or have personal lived experience with substance use and addiction.

Numerous listening session participants said they only see negative stories about substance use and addiction, despite the many positive things that are happening in many states.

This series — Voices of Recovery and Hope — is our response to that feedback.

We sought out people with lived experience with substance use and recovery and invited them to share their stories with us — on the record, in the first person and in their own voice. Their stories show that there is hope for people affected by substance use, there is help available and there are many people working to make change.

Many people who re-enter society after incarceration face barriers that make it hard to find and keep a job and be successful in life. But they face more hidden barriers too, ones that are fueled by stigma.

Erin Davis works in the re-entry space in Indianapolis as a peer recovery coach at Public Advocates in Community re-Entry, or PACE. The 38-year-old explains how her work today is informed by her own experience with substance use, criminal justice involvement and overcoming the many barriers she faced during re-entry.

Click here to listen to Davis' full story.

Some substances — like alcohol or cannabis — are more normalized and don’t hold the same stigma as other substances. And many use these substances casually, which can make it difficult to identify problematic use.

Roman Griffin Jr. is a 24-year-old personal trainer from Merrillville, in Northwest Indiana. He talks about how his casual use of substances led to an addiction, and how he hopes to bring healing to himself, his family and his community.

Click here to listen to Griffin's full story.

When someone has a substance use disorder, it can upend their lives, which also affects their family members and loved ones.

But those family members may find it difficult to find support and talk about their experience because of the stigma surrounding addiction and substance use.

Anne Buchholz is 70 years old and lives in Martinsville, Indiana. Buchholz’s adult daughter has struggled with an opioid addiction on and off for the past 12 years — and that has taken a toll on Buchholz’s mental health.

Buchholz got connected with Parents of Addicted Loved Ones — a support group for family members of people with substance use disorders. She said the group has helped her learn about her own misconceptions about addiction.

Click here to listen to Buchholz's full story.

Across Indiana, numerous groups work with living in recovery from addiction. They provide services like peer support groups and educational resources.

Many also provide harm reduction services — things like fentanyl strips to identify the presence of the deadly substance, and naloxone, a lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

Aisha Diss leads some of these efforts in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with Project.ME. The 43-year-old first entered recovery from opiates 14 years ago through the justice system. When Diss was released from prison, she wanted to set goals for herself — like graduating from college and getting a job. She said she encountered stigma early in her recovery journey, and it's why she founded Project.ME.

Click here to listen to Diss' full story.

This story comes from Side Effects Public Media — a health reporting collaboration based at WFYI in Indianapolis. We partner with NPR stations across the Midwest and surrounding areas — including Iowa Public Radio, WFPL in Kentucky, Ideastream Public Media in Ohio and KBIA and KCUR in Missouri. Follow Darian on Twitter: @HelloImDarian.

This series was created in response to community feedback around substance use issues collected by Side Effects Public Media’s Brittani Howell. You can read more about her substance use-related community engagement work here.

Darian Benson is a reporter for Side Effects Public Media and WFYI in Indianapolis. She can be reached at