The Story of Matt Kerner

I want to start out this conversation by being transparent about the fact that I am a person living in long term recovery from a substance use disorder who through the grace of God and the utilization of an effective (and no cost) program of recovery has been freed from the bondage of over twenty years of active addiction to alcohol and a variety of illicit drugs. To me being a person in long term recovery means that for 12 years I have not had a drink, or used any mood or mind-altering substances to alter my perception of reality. The impact that living in recovery has had on my life has been nothing short of miraculous. Recovery has allowed me to take the darkest parts of my existence including periods of homelessness, incarceration, and poverty and turn them into my greatest assets. My personal journey in recovery has allowed me to spend the last decade as the Executive Director of Opportunity House, Inc. leading others out of the seemingly bottomless pit of despair, humiliation, degradation, shame, and guilt that I once found myself in. My experiences with recovery both personal and professional make me uniquely qualified to provide the insight needed in our legislature to create effective strategies to combat the most pervasive problem that we face in West Virginia. In 2016 West Virginia after years of leading the nation in per capita overdose deaths experienced an increase in those deaths of nearly 26 percent, for a total number of 884 total overdose deaths. Overdose is now the leading cause of death for 18 to 54 year old West Virginians. Substance abuse impacts every area of life in West Virginia various studies indicate that the medical cost for opiate abuse alone is nearly 99 million dollars in West Virginia. The total economic cost of substance abuse when all factors such as incarceration, lost worker productivity, and treatment are considered rises to almost Three Billion dollars a year. This number continues to rise because we continue to utilize approaches to the problem that are not only not productive but in many cases, are counter-productive, exacerbating an already deadly problem. West Virginia struggles to attract employers, and professionals such as teachers and doctors to our state because of our reputation for drug use. Addiction is a family disease and our state is home to thousands of grand parents and great grand parents who are sacrificing their what should be their golden years to become parents to children who due to addiction have parents who are not available to raise them. Over six thousand children in West Virginia are now living in foster homes with 800 placed out of state because there are not enough willing and qualified foster homes to care for them here. That makes foster care a very expensive proposition. Once example of how my experience can help is a small experimental program that I ran for three years that allowed us to work with families to provide them with supportive services such as recovery coaching and housing to help support family reunification efforts. In three years with just a few housing units we returned fifteen children to healthy families at a lower cost than keeping the children in foster care. I also have experience operating programs that have save vast amounts of money by keeping drug offenders out of the criminal justice system by working with courts from across the state to provide housing and recovery supports for people participating in Pretrial Diversion, and Alternative Sentencing programs. Currently we spend too much money for programs that we know to be ineffective when successful programs are available. People may disagree about the nature of addiction and we can have those disagreements, but I am one of 25 Million people living in the United States of America who are living proof that long term sustained recovery is possible. “If you always do what you have always done you’ll always get what you always got” Henry Ford