Veteran: Kicking addiction took more than treatment

Posted at 9:55 PM, Sep 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-13 23:31:53-04

It has been a deadly month for drug overdoses in Milwaukee County.

12 people died over Labor Day weekend, including a veteran.

More than 60,000 veterans across the nation suffer from opioid use disorders. That disorder includes people who use painkillers, heroin or a combination of the two.

After serving in Iraq, veteran Terrence Chadwick started using heroin.

"Terrence was an amazing person," his friend, Cassie said. "He was very outgoing. He was always smiling and always happy. He just brightened up the room."

Cassie says Chadwick sought treatment from the VA  and later attended an outpatient treatment program where the two met.

"He gave everyone hope that anyone can do this and get through it," Cassie said.

Unfortunately, Chadwick relapsed.

"None of us saw this coming," Cassie said. "It all happened within a couple days and it was just too late."

Chadwick died earlier this month from a drug overdose according to the medical examiner's office.

Unfortunately, drug use among veterans isn't uncommon.

More than 20 percent of veterans with PTSD have a substance use disorder, or SUD.

In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, VA statistics show about 1 in 10 returning soldiers have a drug or alcohol problem.

"I think a lot of guys have a misconception that they are going to come into a treatment program and these people are going to make them better," veteran Eric Fife said. "You have to make yourself better!"

Fife struggled with addiction for years following a spinal chord injury.

"I got in an accident on off-post housing," he said. "A balcony collapsed underneath me."

The accident left him paralyzed and put him on a painful road to recovering.

He says he started with painkillers and then turned to heroin before hitting rock bottom when he went to jail.

"I realized that I didn't have an excuse," he said. "I didn't grow up in a broken home. I didn't grow up in that environment. I had lost everything. I gave it all away."

After getting out of jail, Fife checked into a rehab program at the VA, where he says staff encouraged him to find a passion.

"Not only have they helped me with the addiction part of my life, but a major part of my network is the sports I do here," he said.

Today, most of Fife's time is spent training for triathlons.

"I can still accomplish things, it just has to be done a little differently," he said.

Fife just completed a triathlon in Chicago.

"I placed a close 2nd," he said. "I lost by 20 or 30 seconds."

However, it's the motivation to win the next challenge that keeps him going.

"You'd be surprised with what you can do physically," he said.

The VA has proved Fife with a racing chair and hand cycle, tools that help him stay on the right path.

"I don't know what I would do without them (the VA)," Fife said.

In 2015, 334 veterans sought inpatient substance abuse treatment at the Milwaukee VA.

Roughly 80-percent of people admitted ended up completing the program.

To learn more about Fife's road to recovery, click here.

If you're a veteran and need help with substance abuse, call 1-800-827-1000.

If you are not a veteran and would like help with a substance abuse problem, the following hospitals can offer assistance:

Aurora Behavioral Health Services:
2000 E. Layton Ave.
St. Francis, WI

Rogers Memorial Hospital:
11101 W. Lincoln Ave
West Allis, WI

Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital:
1220 N. Dewey Avenue
Wauwatosa, WI

6737 West Washington Street

M&S Clinical Services:
2821 North 4th Street