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The Fight For Sobriety: A Lifelong Struggle with Addiction

Published On: Jan 30 2014 06:43:00 PM AKST

By Reporter Abby Hancock and Photojournalist Shawn Wilson.  (KTUU-TV)


Josh McCollum's arms bear the scars of countless heroin injections. Though he says he has been clean for a few months, the scars will forever serve as a reminder of his battle against addiction.

"Every time you try to make a step forward, it becomes five back, and it really becomes discouraging to the point where you just say 'you know, this is what it is, I don't know how to fix it,' so you just kind of keep going," said McCollum.

That kind of disappointment has also taken a financial toll on his family, as they have struggled over the past decade to support his recovery.

"We've probably refinanced our house four times to pay for treatment and programs, only to realize that it didn't really change anything," said Josh's mother, Sandy McCollum.

Both say there should be more options for treatment in the state. The Alaska Division of Behavioral Health provides funding for 11 detox beds at the Ernie Turner Center in Anchorage, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.

The center is the only place in Anchorage with a dedicated detox program. It has a capacity for 12 beds.

Those in behavioral health, however, say demand consistently exceeds availability.

"It's impossible to take care of everybody who needs detox with 12 beds," said Rosalie Nadeau with Akeela, a non-profit that runs behavioral health programs across the state, including three residential facilities.

According to Josh McCollum, the struggle for many addicts is finding the money to pay for the services that are available. Treatment is expensive and can cost thousands of dollars. At the same time, drug and alcohol treatment programs, like the services Akeela offers, fight for continued funding.

"I'm very concerned. I'm making plans for if we have to cut, where do we cut, how do we cut," said Nadeau. "I don't want to be caught flat-footed when that happens."

Sandy McCollum is working on a separate effort to help addicts, like her son, find the treatment he needs. She runs In His Name, a faith-based organization that is trying to open a volunteer-run detox and rehab center in Anchorage. The group is currently searching for a space in town large enough for their proposed facility. Her son says sobriety is a constant fight.

"Relapse is part of addiction. And that's hard when someone has been working with you and you end up relapsing. It frustrates people, they don't want to help you anymore," said Josh McCollum.

He tries to remain optimistic and persistent. The fight for sobriety is one he know he'll face his whole life.

This is Part One of KTUU's two-part series, The Fight for Sobriety. Part Two will air Friday on the NewsHour.