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On the recovery road: Activist battling opioid addiction coming to Red Wing

An author, activist and person in long-term recovery from an opioid addiction, Ryan Hampton has been working to end the opioid addiction crisis across the United States. Submitted photo1 / 2
Ryan Hampton published his book about the opioid addiction crisis in August 2018. Hampton has been traveling throughout the United States talking about his book and the crisis, and will be at Red Wing Public Library 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2.2 / 2

Ryan Hampton is three years into recovery from a decade of an opioid addiction. Now, he is traveling around the United States as an advocate for recovery. On Friday, Nov. 2, Hampton will be in Red Wing talking about his new book, "American Fix," and how to understand and end the opioid crisis.

Hampton entered recovery in 2015. However, he said he still felt ashamed of his addiction. The shame resulted in silence. About eight months into his recovery, however, Hampton began to lose acquaintances and friends to opioid addictions. Hampton began to tell his recovery story when others were looking for help. The act of sharing his story grew into telling other people's stories about addiction and recovery.

Now as a national advocate and author, Hampton focuses on telling stories, both his and others. His website, books and social media accounts are filled with accounts of individuals hurt by an opioid addiction in some way. Hampton explained that he emphasizes stories over facts because stories lead to more empathy. He stressed that people need to see and understand that it could be their neighbor, parent, child, employer or employee that is struggling with an addiction. When people become more empathetic and compassionate, Hampton said, more funding and change is made than when people hear facts and statistics alone.

"People have been pushing facts for some time and we certainly haven't seen our way out of the crisis yet," Hampton said.

Telling stories about addiction is a key part of "American Fix." The book begins with Hampton recounting his experience trying to find pain meds in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. Other individuals are also highlighted throughout the book. However, "American Fix" is more than a memoir or personal narrative.

About 16 months ago, Hampton was going through a bookstore looking for a book on the opioid crisis. He found many memoirs and some technical books, but nothing that included a focus on activism.

"(I) came home that night and just started writing about the stories and people I had met," he said.

That led to trying to write a piece on how people could combat the opioid crisis. About a year later, he had a book.

"We didn't set out to write a book, we set out to write a road map on how to end the crisis," Hampton said.

One of Hampton's main focuses for combatting the addiction crisis is seeing, and treating, addiction as a long-term illness, not an acute issue. According to Hampton, if people get to the five-year point of recovery, there is an 85 percent chance that they will live the rest of their life without relapsing. The best outcomes come when treatment is community centered, explained Hampton.

"Addiction Across America: A Traveling Web Series," is one of Hampton's advocacy projects. He and a friend drove across America to speak with and hear from people with addiction stories. The third video in the series, "Right Turn Left Turn," focuses on how one community is working to end the opioid crisis.

Chesterfield County in Virginia has a program in the county prison called Heroin Addiction Recovery Program. HARP, according to Sheriff Karl Leonard, brings in doctors, addiction specialists, psychologists and peers in recovery to talk with inmates. Even after the men are released, they are allowed to return to the prison every day to participate in the program.

Leonard tells the men, "Once you get released, if you ever feel yourself going back to that dope-dealer, if you ever feel yourself (getting) that urge to shoot-up again, come back to jail. Two o'clock in the morning, three o'clock in the morning, come here. Everyone in this group, in HARP, has agreed to let us wake them up, and they'll be their peer, they'll get them through that tough spot."

According to Hampton, the Chesterfield County Jail's HARP offers re-entry support that includes housing and jobs for program participants. Housing, income security and peer support are very important in combating the opioid addiction according to Hampton. And, he explained, the positive outcomes from providing those three things to people who are addicted to opiods can be seen by HARP's results. There has been an 80 percent reduction in men who participated in HARP returning to the jail.

Though the HARP program works well in Chesterfield County, Hampton emphasized that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the opioid epidemic. What works in Minnesota may not work in California, and what works in California may not work in Virginia, he stated. Instead, programs should be community centered and community focused.

Hampton will be at the Red Wing library at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2.

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