Posted with permission from The Sun Newspapers, April 11, 2018.

It was Thanksgiving, 2012, and Jan and Dan Stuckey couldn’t stop crying.

After five years of “hell” and about $150,000 spent on treatment, their college-educated son John’s drug habit had devastated them. They were about to give up.

“We began talking about where to bury John,” Dan Stuckey said. “We knew we were not going to help him anymore.”

But, heaven behold, John had reached the depths of his despair also. He told his father and mother he was going to get help. He went to a clinic, got an injection of Vivitrol — a drug that takes away the urge to do drugs or alcohol — and he’s been clean ever since.

“In 24 hours after that injection, he had the clarity for his life (he hadn’t had in years),” John said. “He told us he wanted to start a business and give all the profits to treatment centers to help people like the ones he had met while doing drugs.”

The amazing turnaround — and the nonprofit business it spurred — are the good ending to an agonizing and sad story of a couple who just didn’t know what to do when their son spiraled out of control.

Dan and Jan Stuckey were examples of the American dream. He worked for Energizer for 35 years and was able to retire early in 2013. They had four children — three of them stayed away from drugs.

And then, there was John.

After graduating from Kent State University, John began doing oxycontin.

“This was in 2007 and we did not realize how bad it was,” Dan said John moved on to other drugs, and finally became addicted to heroin.

“Jan felt alone in this,” Dan said. “We didn’t want to tell or talk to friends about it. We didn’t even tell our other kids.

“We talked to our doctor, but he wouldn’t even see John. We talked to our pastor, and he said ‘I’ll pray for him.’

“Insurance would only pay for two therapy sessions a year for John. Those places (doctors, the church and insurance) are the only places we knew to go for help.

“We became great enablers.”

Dan estimated he spent about $150,000 on treatment programs, on repaying people John stole from and legal fees when he got in trouble.

After it all came to a head on that Thanksgiving day, John and Jan have invested their time and energy in helping John with his new venture — called ARCHway Institute.

“John started one of those coffee companies where you sell and get other people to sell for you,” Dan said. “He didn’t make much money but the CEO of a treatment center heard what he was doing and they called us. They wanted us to go public and help break the stigma of drug addiction.

“So we went on TV and told our story.

“All of a sudden, friends of 30 years called and told us they were dealing with the same things. Even members of our family called (and told us they had the same problem). All the time we thought it was just us — and it wasn’t.”

ARCHway Institute is six years old now and in nine states. Its focus is on recovery and the person’s total health — with the realization that most addicts also struggle with mental illness. John is president and is based in St. Louis, where Dan worked.

“We have no paid staff and no buildings,” Dan said. “But we have given away $150,000 to 300 people in scholarships (to help them pay insurance deductibles and get help). We believe overall we have helped about 3,000 people.”

The Stuckeys moved to Punta Gorda after looking for a home all along Florida’s coastline. “This felt like home.”

Now they are involved with Charlotte Behavioral Health Care and the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, helping fund aid for people like John. They sponsor an annual golf tournament and recently gave a check for $6,000 to the CCSO to provide rides to treatment for addicts and help pay for Vivitrol injections. And they are looking to fund sober houses in Southwest Florida where recovering addicts can live.

Their struggles taught them one thing they would tell anyone dealing with similar challenges. And that is, no one is in this alone. Your neighbor, your friends and even your family are likely dealing with it too. Don’t hold it in. Talk about it.

“It almost ruined our marriage,” Dan confided.

 

Pulitzer Prize winner John Hackworth is commentary editor of the Sun newspapers. You may contact him at jhackworth@sun-herald.com.
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