Former heroin addict now helping others beat back problem

Former heroin addict Jessica Brooks talks about her family and the devastation wreaked upon them as a result of her addiction to opioids and Xanax during the community forum on heroin held Oct. 4 at Huntington North High School. Brooks now leads one of several programs designed to help individuals break their addictions. The photo on the screen shows Brooks with her family, reunited after being split apart by her addiction.
Former heroin addict Jessica Brooks talks about her family and the devastation wreaked upon them as a result of her addiction to opioids and Xanax during the community forum on heroin held Oct. 4 at Huntington North High School. Brooks now leads one of several programs designed to help individuals break their addictions. The photo on the screen shows Brooks with her family, reunited after being split apart by her addiction. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Oct. 20, 2016.

In an amazingly short amount of time, Jessica Brooks’ five-month-long heroin habit had become so bad that she overdosed on the drug three times.

She shared her story on Oct. 4 with those who came to the Huntington County Sheriff’s community forum on the heroin epidemic that has strafed the county.

Today, Brooks is helping other women overcome substance abuse and addiction as the director of the Indiana Dream Center women’s ministry, one of several local programs offering help for those addicted to drugs.

The Dream Center offers a similar ministry for men, with both ministries rooted in seeking help from God.

The Bowen Center and Parkview Health also offer programs designed to help individuals recover from substance abuse.

Indiana Dream Center women’s ministry
At the Dream Center’s women’s ministry, Brooks oversees an intense, closely-supervised program that helps females in much the same way that she was helped.

“One of the goals is, you’re in the program, but at some point, you’ll be helping with the program,” she explains. “So it will raise people, because nobody can relate or help somebody out of it better than someone who’s been in it.”

Currently, seven young women live in Marilyn’s House, named for the woman who donated her home to the Dream Center. Each woman works to obtain a high school equivalency diploma, get a driver’s license and learn to be responsible.

They perform chores around the house, including cooking meals, and volunteer their free time at the Dream Center Thrift Store or meal ministry. They can work out at the gym, thanks to free memberships from the YMCA; they attend the church of their choice and they go through the equivalent of a free year of Bible college through Covenant Seminary. They also go nowhere unless they go in pairs.

“To be held accountable, they don’t go anywhere alone,” Brooks says. “We’re pretty radical. We really live how the Bible says. Jesus sent them out in twos, so we go out in twos.”

A woman coming into Marilyn’s House will likely spend a year living there. Residents may go through detox, with others walking and praying them through the process. There are no prescription medications; residents are 100 percent clean of all substances, including nicotine.

One of those young women is Destiny Bowling, of Huntington. She says she began smoking pot and drinking alcohol at age 12, graduating to harder drugs in high school. She didn’t finish classes at Huntington North.

“I started using pain pills and stuff like that,” Bowling says. “I got pregnant and I had my son when I was 22, and I got put on pain medication at that time and started to abuse that. Eventually, years after that, I started using heroin.”

Bowling went to prison for theft in 2014. She says she got clean while incarcerated, but stayed that way only a week after she was released; she went back to hanging out with her old friends and old habits soon followed.

“My family had completely given up on me, really,” she recalls. “They didn’t trust me. It came to the point where my mom completely cut me off of everything and wouldn’t allow me to go to her house.”

Two months after her release, Bowling was found in violation of her probation and went back to prison. She was finally released in March. That’s when she got in touch with Brooks, who was an old friend with a new outlook on life.

“She came to see me when I was in jail, and she talked to me about this program. So when I got out of jail I came straight here,” Bowling says. “I’ve built an awesome relationship with God that I’ve never had before … I’ve just learned all kinds of stuff — how to deal with life without drugs, and responsibility, and just a whole different life.”

Bowling now serves as a house parent at Marilyn’s House and she has even landed a job. She sees her son about once a month and has begun to mend her relationship with her family.

Both Bowling and Brooks want other heroin users in Huntington County to know that there is hope for them to break the chains of addiction.

“If I could do it, they can do it,” Bowling says. “There’s hope that’s in God. There are so many other things that I’ve tried on my own so many times. It’s not possible without God. That’s the truth.”

Indiana Dream Centermen’s ministry
Men can find a similar program through the Indiana Dream Center’s men’s ministry, housed across town with five men currently  in residence.

Ministry Director Greg Galloway, himself a former drug and alcohol addict, uses his own experience to show the men how to find hope, and recovery.

“We just figure that you can’t take someone where you’ve never been,” he explains. “What we do is I show them how I got out. I show them the drugs and the alcohol and all the stuff I was doing, and show them how I got out — and that was through God.

“I tried lots of different ways to make it out, and the only way I found that actually works is through God.”

Galloway says there is room for more men who are sincere about getting out of the addictive lifestyle.

Their recovery includes discipleship and attending college classes in Huntington and Fort Wayne to learn new job skills. The group is also tied into five or six local churches, which help them with everything from haircuts to jobs in a supportive, Christian environment.

“That’s why we’re trying to get the whole community involved, so these people, when they go back, everybody is giving them a chance,” Galloway says. “It takes a whole lot of us working together to make this work.”

The Indiana Dream Center men’s and women’s ministries are funded by donations and profits from the thrift store. Once a month, the homes receive a food donation from the Love In The Name of Christ food pantry.

The ministry is overseen by a board of directors. A portion of the funding is provided by several area churches, including The Awakening Community Church, which helped the ministry get off the ground.

The women’s ministry welcomes donations of supplies, especially hygiene items such as laundry soap, paper towels, toilet paper and feminine products. Both ministries need volunteers to act as one-on-one mentors.

“People that actually come and pour into the men and women … that can take them out for an afternoon to get some coffee and go to lunch and be normal,” Brooks adds, noting that most drug addicts come to the Dream Center without any family support.

“We’ve burned all that when we get here,” she says. “So just to feel loved and just to come in and love on them and spend time with them.”

• To donate money, items, volunteer or inquire about obtaining help, call the Dream Center office at 200-1155. More information can be found at the Indiana Dream Center Facebook page or its website,

Bowen Center
The Bowen Center started its Medication Assistive Treatment program (MAT) six months ago in answer to the growing heroin epidemic. Huntington Director Shelly Snyder says there has been an uptick in doctor referrals, with around 20 people currently going through the outpatient program.

Snyder says she and a Bowen Center psychiatrist recently gave a presentation of the MAT program to a group of primary care physicians at Parkview.

“We’ve seen a big increase in the amount of referrals that we’ve received, and sometimes patients just hear about our services through word of mouth from each other,” she says. “They now know where to turn, and what local resources are available here.”

The Bowen program does not offer detox, but Snyder says if anyone knows of an addict they can call the Bowen Center and receive advice on how to begin the rehabilitation process.

Snyder says relapses are common in those who go through treatment for heroin and opiate addiction, but motivation is key to getting clean for good.

“There may be times where it takes the individual several times of coming back to be able to maintain sobriety,” she says. “But we have success stories too. Our priority in the MAT program is for pregnant individuals, so of course they have the incentive of trying to stay clean for their baby. So we’ve seen more success with the pregnant women who come in.”

Snyder applauds Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel for holding the meeting to educate the community about the heroin problem.

“That’s the first step, is getting people to talk about it. And then, to organize such an event where it’s impactful to have someone who has gone through it. People tend to listen to someone who’s already been through addiction,” she says.

“It takes a person ready, willing and able to make the change. And what other people in the community can do is lead them to services, but then it’s up to the person.

“I think that families tend to get overwhelmed with the ‘enabling’ process, and they’re trying to do the best they can, but really, it’s up to the person to want to get the help.”

• More information on the Bowen Center program is available by calling toll-free 800-342-5653.

Parkview Health
Parkview Health also offers substance addiction recovery through Parkview Behavioral Health, in Fort Wayne.

However, Parkview spokeswoman Leslie Megison says people in Huntington County can attend Narcotics Anonymous support groups, which meet at Parkview Huntington Hospital. The group meets on Wednesday, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

• For more information on the narcotics support group, call 224-3431.