Tallassee Police Department Lt. Christopher Owenby has a personal reason to help drug addicts turn their lives around and break the vicious cycle of dependency.
“My brother and sister and I grew up in foster care,” said Owenby, who works in the narcotics division. “My biological mother was a drug addict and she disappeared when I was a small child. My father went to prison, which is really what drives me when it comes to fighting dope out here. It's the kids. Grown folks are going to do what grown folks do but kids do not have a choice in the matter. A lot of people don't realize what drugs do to the kids. They are in and out of mom and dad's home or bouncing from place to place. Kids need a solid foundation but with dope it is tough to find.”
In the last seven months, the TPD has sent more than 100 individuals to the Recovery Organization of Support Specialists (ROSS) to help end their addiction.
“Being that I work in narcotics, I was trying to find a program to refer people to but there was no one around that was willing to go as far as ROSS does,” Owenby said.
ROSS certified recovery support specialist Elizabeth Harrison praised Owenby’s compassion and determination to help addicts get clean and stay clean.
“He exemplifies the characteristics and professionalism that is resulting in a better city and a better community for all citizens of Tallassee,” she said.
Owenby said most of the addicts he deals with can’t afford rehab.
“People that would come in contact with me would be begging for help,” he said. “I would call ROSS and Elizabeth would come down and meet with them. She would set an appointment for their assessment and she would come back and pick them up and get them into treatment.”
The state-funded program accepts male and female patients and some even allow children to accompany their mother to a recovery facility and offer services to the children.
“They have 15 state facilities for men,” Owenby said. “Unfortunately, they only have five state facilities for women. Three of those facilities are for women with children. They can bring their children with them. They have facilities that help the children adjust, which is important because a lot of the women we come in contact with do have kids and are on the verge of losing their children. If they go to this facility and they start working the program then they can have kids come there and live with them and all of them get the treatment they need.”
Harrison said the ROSS program is yielding successful long-term results.
“It is the goal to take individuals from the active addition level to the recovery level so they are given the chance to live their best life in recovery and be prosperous,” she said.
Tallassee Mayor Johnny Hammock said addicts deserve a second chance and the ROSS program helps provide it.
“No one chooses to be an alcoholic or an addict,” he said. “I am all about getting people into recovery versus throwing them into the system. I think we need to get them treatment, get them into recovery and when they do get out they can be a productive part of society. Everybody deserves a second chance after addiction.”
TPD chief Matthew Higgins agrees, saying incarceration is only a short-term solution.
“We have to do something more than just throw people in jail,” he said. “Now there are times that we have to throw people in jail but if we can get them cured that fixes the problem long term. It helps us, it helps them and it helps the community.”
Higgins said the impact of the ROSS program is already being felt.
“In some, the ones who stick with it, because you are not running across them again and again,” he said. “We are not spending money on the same people over and over again.”
Only two individuals referred to ROSS by the TPD declined recovery services.
“All others are still utilizing recovery support services, many of which have completed treatment and have remained clean and sober to date,” Harrison said.
Because the program aims for long-term sobriety, it benefits both the individual and the community as a whole and that is why Harrison said Owenby is an “unsung hero.”
“He has been diligent in personally following up on his referrals to see that they were successfully placed into a treatment program and to determine that they are successfully progressing in the treatment/recovery process,” Harrison said. “He has become an integral part of the solution as opposed to being a part of the problem.”