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Special Report: Overcoming Addiction

Updated: Thursday, November 14 2013, 09:28 PM EST
Special Report: Overcoming Addiction story image

To look at Richie Tannerhill of Waynesville today, looking strong and buff, and organized with all aspects of his life from his job to raising his young children, you might never imagine he came so close to death.

"I know what it's like to be homeless, hungry, lonely, tired and most of all hopeless," said Richie who misused prescription drugs and a litany of other drugs for decades.

"My first drug experience was at four years old smoking marijuana with my mom," said Tannerhill who said his childhood was a nightmarish struggle for stability with what he said was an irresponsible mother and a father nowhere to be found.

"My first arrest was at 9-years-old. My first prison sentence was at 16. At 20, I landed in the North Carolina penitentiary. I was into heavy drug use. Intravenously using drugs," said Tannerhill. "I was fearless."

At 24, Richie said he was back in prison for five DUI's.

"Three of em because of prescription medication Xanax's and other pills."

In 1997 Richie said, when a drug deal went bad he got stabbed in the chest.  He was hospitalized had open heart surgery. Surgeons he said put five stitches in his heart.

"You'd thought that would get my attention. Unfortunately, it didn't." By the time he was thirty Richie said he'd overdosed on cocaine twice. At times homeless, at 31 and back in jail again facing fifteen years because of drugs including methamphetamines and prescription pill abuse, Richie said he finally had had enough of his criminal drug-infused life.

"That's when I began to realize that, regardless of life's circumstances in all the things that i'd done, all the experiences I had had that although they were a part of me that's not who I was."

Richie said he dug deep finding a way out. Though it may sound cliche it wasn't for Richie while he sat in prison. He focused on a rebirth and new beginning with a focus on God. Richie now shares his story of resiliency and perseverance. He has a passion for kids and volunteers as a youth pastor at Crabtree Baptist Church in Haywood County.

"If you got one wish, and you could have anything you wanted. Any particular gift that you could think of, BAM! You got it. What would that be?" said Richie as he spoke to kids on a typical Tuesday evening at the Church.

"Wisdom. BAM!"

It's wisdom Richie now has with his own strong opinions on prescription pill abuse.

"The problem today is the drug dealers are becoming the parents, the grandparents, because our kids are getting them straight out of the medicine cabinet," said Richie.

"The laws we have right now aren't strict enough. When people can go to pain clinics states away, and go in the back of a tractor trailer on one end, and get X-ray and go through see a doctor and go to the other end and get a prescription of 400 pills."

Richie now works as a peer and support specialist for the Smoky Mountain Center often coming into contact with people who are struggling and need help like he once did.

"Our managed care organization for this part of the state, saw something in me and were willing to give me a chance," Richie said as his voice began to break with emotion.

He now spreads his word of confidence in a new beginning and clean living. From fitness to food to a drug and crime free life.

"Look ya'll has anyone told you how amazing you are," said Richie to his class at Crabtree Baptist.

Every chance he gets he shows his passion for building up kids' self esteem. Something he sorely missed as a child.

"There is always hope. I believe in all my heart there is no such thing as a hopeless case."

Richie was surprised to learn North Carolina officials with the state health department are honoring him as a "Recovery Champion" for his work rebuilding his own life as a sober man, along with his many contributions helping others find their path through a wide range of life challenges.
He teaches the story of Solomon and a story of humility.

The Recovery Champion Award is given to people who have dedicated their individual talents, whether through professional work or volunteering, to successfully promote mental health and/or substance abuse recovery. When the call came out for nominees for this award, some of Richie’s co-workers knew he would be a great nominee. Richie has brought his dedication and passion to all three of the areas that a Recovery Champion could be nominated for; promoting recovery-oriented programming, creating system-wide recovery oriented change, and supported the recovery process of specific individuals he supports.

"Give me an understanding heart so I can govern your people well," Richie said reading from the Bible.

As the sun sets in behind the church at Crabtree Baptist, Richie knows from his own path how precious life is.

"Thank you," he said out loud before the children in prayer. "For your many blessings."

Special Report: Overcoming Addiction
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