For John Simmons, the effects of his drug addiction became unavoidable when he was confronted with an ultimatum given to him by his supervisor – attend treatment or face termination. John chose treatment. He entered a 28 day residential program and stayed 42 days. With an easy laugh, he jokes, “I’m an overachiever.” He has been clean and sober since 1983.
That tendency for overachievement will serve Alleghany County well in John’s new role as the Recovery Peer Support Specialist tasked with working with those in the criminal justice system. He will be connecting with those who are incarcerated, or who are on probation or parole with the goal of serving as a guide to help steer them into the best treatment options. The position is grant funded and managed by the AppHealthCare (Appalachian District Health Department)..
John was born in Japan, the son of an Air Force airman. His lived up and down the east coast from Bangor, Maine to Homestead, Florida. When his father retired from the military, he brought the family back home to Fayetteville, North Carolina.
At age 18, John took a job with a large manufacturing firm in Fayetteville. And his drug abuse intensified. He describes his drug use as abusing whatever was available to inject, inhale, swallow, or drink. For six years leading up to his supervisor’s ultimatum, John knew he needed help, but until he was faced with losing his job, he lacked the motivation to take that crucial first step.
That background alone makes John uniquely qualified to help others navigate the turbulent waters from addiction to recovery. But for John, the issues surrounding addiction are even more personal.
In 2004 his middle son, Brian, came home on leave from the Coast Guard. He went out with some old high school friends and they spent the evening in Wilmington. As the bars closed, the police estimated approximately 300 people gathered in the streets. An altercation erupted and a young man who had been using drugs and drinking alcohol fired into the crowd. Brian was struck by the bullet and died from his injuries. He was 25 years old.
John’s youngest son, Philip struggled with addiction his entire adult life. He had just been released from jail in Florida when he called John and said he was ready to make a change in his life. John offered him a room in his new home in Sparta. Philip wanted to visit his mother in Fayetteville before traveling to Sparta. John advised against this decision knowing that old friends presented deadly diversions. Within a matter of days, John received a call that Philip had died of a drug overdose.
The effects of addiction have impacted virtually every aspect of John’s life.
When John retired from his job in Fayetteville he and his wife, Lynda, began looking for a new home in the mountains. He was familiar with the Boone/Valle Crucis area but found that real estate in those communities was prohibitively expensive. Someone suggested he try Ashe County. The realtor gave him directions to travel up 421, but serendipitously John and Lynda ended up on Hwy 21 and in Alleghany County. They quickly fell in love with the area and settled here in 2011.
In Alleghany County, John continues to offer hope to those trapped in addiction. He works with the Alleghany Drug Abuse Coalition and delivers treatment materials to inmates in the Alleghany County Jail. He is active in local 12 Step programs. His combination of lived experience and his desire to help others makes him uniquely qualified for his new role.
This newly created position is a cooperative effort between the Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office and AppHealthCare. Sheriff Bryan Maines has said that much of Alleghany County’s criminal activity is drug related. By addressing the underlying issue of drug abuse and addiction, Alleghany County becomes a much safer place for all citizens and visitors.
John is quick to point out that while the 12 Step methodology worked for him, the path to recovery is different for each individual. For some it is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Others respond best to the structure of long-term residential programs. John describes his primary goal as keeping people alive long enough to help get them into a program that moves them toward recovery.
The commonality between all of those recovery options is the value of one-on-one peer support. Those in recovery need someone who understands what they are going through and can speak truth to what it takes to recover from addiction. John Simmons personifies that role.