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Ex-drug felon: America’s churches need to help the 2 million opioid addicts

Why your church should host Sept. 27th

I was a slave to opioids that ruined my entire life.  It started when I was 30 and my doctor prescribed me hydrocodone, a generic compound opioid of Vicodin and Tylenol, after a car accident revealed during an X-ray that I had a congenital defect in my lower back called spina bifida occulta.  The crash aggravated that disc, causing debilitating pain. 

Courtesy of Survivors and Victims Empowered (S.A.V.E.)

Initially, I took just one tablet at night before bed.  My prescription said that I could take up to two tablets a day as needed.  Within three months, I was consuming two hydrocodone tablets, three times a day.  When the opioids coursed through my veins, I felt invincible. They not only made my double shifts bearable as a geriatric charge nurse – responsible for 30 patients and nurse’s aides – but they helped me cope with my job’s stress between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm.

My raging opioid addiction led to criminal behavior

Within a year and a half, I’m ashamed to admit, I was ingesting six hydrocodone tablets, four times a day!  I became increasingly erratic, rude, and short-tempered as I experienced manic mood swings.

But it got worse.  I began stealing!

When my doctor’s monthly prescription ran out in four days, I resorted to breaking the Seventh Commandment.  I stole opioids from the nursing home where I was employed, claiming that I had given the patients their drugs when in fact I had pocketed them.  Plus, I also stole hydrocodone tablets which were on the verge of expiration. When the pharmacy, came to retrieve them to safely destroy them, I lied, claiming I didn’t know where they had disappeared to.  All told, I had stolen 500 hydrocodone tablets.

It didn’t end there. 

I was so enslaved to my opioid addiction that I even stole $800 from my beloved father by cashing checks and buying the pills on the street for $5 a pill. My life became a vicious cycle of stealing, using, and acting erratically. The payoff was no longer there. I was pathetic.  In fact, I became so disgusted with myself that I contemplated suicide several times.

15 months in prison didn’t reform me

To her credit, my sister, a fellow nurse at the same facility, turned me in. I was arrested in February 2009. Ultimately, I surrendered my nurse’s license, pled guilty to a felony of fraudulent possession, got 10 years of probation, and was locked up for 15 months.  But, ironically enough, when I got out from behind bars and entered a sober living facility, my sinful flesh ached for that “hydrocodone high” again.  Not only did I fall under the spell of opioids again, but I had the audacity to write $1,700 of hot checks from the halfway home to pay for my addiction.

There’s one Bible verse that explains my frame of mind to a “t” at the time.  Proverbs 26:11 says, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.”  That was me.  Foolish. Without excuse.  Out of control.

Once I got out of the sober living facility, I binged on cocaine for a couple of months. I still hadn’t learned my lesson. On April 24, 2013, I was lying in a dark apartment with blood running out of my nose. As the sun was coming up, I cried out, “Satan or God, whoever is more powerful. I just wish you would kill me right now.”  On my drive to a friend’s house, I planned to take my life by overdosing on a bottle of Ambien.  I couldn’t take it anymore!

But God would spare my life once again.

He sent a policeman to save me from myself.  As I saw his flashing red and blue lights in my rear-view mirror, I pulled two oxycodone out of my bra, swallowed them down, and lit a cigarette. After pulling me over for expired tags and registration and “failure to identify”, I sat in the back of the cop car, tears streaming down my cheeks on my way to prison. I vented. “I'm tired of being a junkie. I've lost everything. My good paying job as a charge nurse. Relationships with those whom I love the most.  I just took a couple of oxycodone that I really don't even want. And I'm hungry.”  The cop listened compassionately while watching me in the rearview mirror.

After bonding out, I foolishly got drunk on May 7, 2013, the day before a 30-day rehab stay at Oakhaven in Marshall, Texas.  But thank God, since May 8th I’ve been totally clean. 

You know what made the difference?

Two things.  First, I had come to the end of myself. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  Second, after the Sober House had filed felony charges on me for writing $1,700 of hot checks, my father agreed to cover the stolen money if I promised to (a) pay him back every penny and (b) enter a 6-month Christian rehab program at Morgan’s Mercy Mansion in Winnsboro, Texas.  That was a deal I couldn’t resist. By the way, it was no mansion in the physical sense, but an old, run-down 1955 former nursing home which believers had redeemed and named to remind its residents of their future mansions in Heaven. It was just the Godsend I needed.

Christians loved me despite being unlovable

I’ll never forget what Sherrie Hansen, the director, told me. She said, “Deanna, I’ll believe in Jesus for you until you can believe in Jesus for yourself.” She was genuine, loving the world’s unlovable.

Frankly, I was suspicious that anyone cared. I thought to myself, “Either these people are crazy or they might be for real. And, if they are for real, I might get out of this place sober and stay sober.”

During my stay there, we attended a women’s retreat in October 2013 at Brookhill Ranch in Hot Springs, Arkansas, organized by 83-year-old Hettie Lou Brook.  Between the lake and the lush forest, I soaked up the beauty of God’s creation and the Biblical truth that my sin had separated me from a holy God. 

Jesus took away my opioid sin and shame

I picture my heart has many doors in it. No matter how horrible or shameful, I decided to open every door to Jesus. I wanted Him to see my sin in all of its ugliness. And I needed Him to take it away, along with my crippling guilt and shame.  It had become an unbearable burden, like the sin-burden was for the character, Christian, in John Bunyan’s book Pilgrim’s Progress.  What’s amazing is that He already knew what was behind every door and was ready to forgive me for all of it. I told Him, “I surrender. I’m tired of running. I recognize my sin and I own it. I can't carry it no more. I gotta let You help me.”

Psalm 34:18 says that "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."  That’s what I’ve experienced. I was brokenhearted, crushed in spirit, and He gave me fresh hope, a new life.

Every morning at Morgan’s Mercy Mansion, we recited several “I am” Scripture-based affirmations which cemented our new identity in Christ.

  • “I am the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”)
  • “I am more than a conqueror.” (Romans 8:37 says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”)
  • “I am the head, not the tail.” (Deuteronomy 28:13 says, “The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.”)

I’m a transformed woman, from the inside out

Today, I take better care of myself.  I deal with stress by turning in prayer to Jesus, my best friend.  I minimize my back pain by wearing good shoes and, when necessary, I take 2 Advils at night.

In God’s providence, for the past four years, I’ve worked as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor for the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice in the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility located in Winnsboro, Texas.  That’s right. He gave me a job in the very place where I once served prison time myself.

As I strive to be transparent about my previous addiction to opioids, my theft to pay for it, and a God who loves the unlovable, He uses my testimony to draw jaded prisoners to Himself.  They are initially as dumbfounded as I once was that anyone cares.  In fact, one prisoner recently wrote me a note which said, “You were like someone who came into a dark house and started to turn on lights.”

I daresay that those words of encouragement fill me with greater genuine euphoria than my chemical opioids ever delivered!

My story of addiction is all too common. 

America’s churches need to help the 2 million opioid addicts

In fact, according to the Addiction Center:

  • 2 million Americans have an opioid addiction. 
  • Between 1999 and 2017, more than 700,000 Americans died from overdosing on a drug.  400,000 of them, more than half, died from opioid overdoses.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.
  • LifeWay Research asked 1,000 Protestant pastors about their personal connections to the opioid epidemic.
  • Half of pastors – 52% – say someone in their church is dealing with an opioid addiction.
  • But 60% of pastors say they do not offer a 12-step program or other support groups for substance abuse. 

How Recovery Sunday on September 27th can be a lifeline

That's why I am thrilled that three years ago, pastors and addiction recovery professionals teamed up through Mission Recovery, led by Pastor Ron Smedley, to start the fourth Sunday of every September. It’s coming up this Sunday, September 27th.

The goal is 2-fold.

1.    Pastors can dedicate their entire church service to Christ-centered recovery from addiction featuring recovery-themed worship music, a testimony like mine, and a recovery-themed sermon with illustrations and relevant Scriptures.

2.    Churches can launch a free, Christ-centered recovery program for their members.  When they register, they’ll get access to a 52-week plug-n-play curriculum, Recovery Strategies 4 Life, featuring 30-minute videos and access to the pdf of workbooks. Typically, 10% of the congregation will attend.

Addiction is no respecter of persons.  No matter one’s race, one’s gender, or one’s economic status, Satan prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone, anyone, to devour.

Take it from a woman who lost a good paying job as a charge nurse, who sold my household of new furniture for $400, and who damaged my closest relationships.  There are people sitting in your pew in your church each week who are battling demons you cannot begin to imagine in your worst nightmare.

Throw them the lifeline of Christ-centered recovery. Email your pastor my story and urge him to host www.RecoverySunday.comthis Sunday, September 27th.

God wants to help them like He helped me.  If you speak up today, perhaps the life verse of the addicts in your church will become John 8:36. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Deanna McFarlin, an advocate of this Sunday, September 27th, can be reached at

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