Former addict believes new classification of ‘drug addiction’ will save lives

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Just five days ago, recovering addict Justin Ray lived behind bars, but now he's trying to live a normal life in a recovery house, something he has never really done as an adult.

"I started using drugs and alcohol when I was 13, and I'll be 25 tomorrow," Ray said.

Ray's addiction led to jail time.

He said he would still be using drugs today if he hadn't learned about the McShin Recovery Foundation while in jail.

"When you're in the grips of addiction and the drugs have control of your life, it's almost like being mentally ill. You're not aware of what you're doing sometimes," Ray said.

Ray said news that, as of Thursday, the federal government recognizes addiction as a chronic disease of the brain, not a character flaw, gives him hope for the future of addiction treatment.

"I've been waiting for this change," Ray said.

Justin Ray

Justin Ray

The U.S. Surgeon General's report urges policymakers to put resources into prevention and treatment programs like McShin.

The report also supports the use of drugs like Methadone during recovery.

McShin's CEO Honesty Liller said methadone works for detox purposes, but must be used in combination with recovery programs.

"You need lived experience in your life, not just take this medicine every day," Liller said.

Also in the U.S. Surgeon General recommendations: higher alcohol taxes and banning Sunday alcohol sales.

Liller said she's not against either idea, but she's not so sure they'll help someone who is already an alcoholic.

"If someone has an alcoholism problem, I think they're going to get alcohol either way," Liller said.

Honesty Liller

Honesty Liller

For that reason, Ray said eliminating the stigma associated with addiction will do the most to solve the problem.

"The stigma is what's keeping people from getting treatment," Ray said.

The Affordable Care Act has increased access to addiction treatment.

President-elect Donald Trump has talked about repealing the ACA, so it's unclear what will happen to the report's findings under the new administration.