I could either be a statistic or an example: Why Russell Phillips is Fighting Drug Abuse
On average, at least 130 Americans die every single day from a fatal drug overdose, according to the Center for Disease Control.
That could’ve been Russell Phillips. Phillips is a Maryland resident and former addict who says he spent close to two decades addicted to drugs. He didn’t get clean until he was sentenced to ten years in prison. Now, three years since his release, he’s sharing his experiences, mentoring youth and fighting to change policy and the stigma against drug use- particularly in light of International Overdose Awareness Day, held annually on August 31.
“I think people are scared to discuss addiction because people who don’t understand it, they bash both addiction and addicts as well,” he explained. “People who are addicted or families of addicts, don’t always want to face the severity of the issue at hand. I think it’s easier just to forget about it or even pretend the problem isn’t there.”
Phillips was addicted to drugs for more than 18 years, experiencing homelessness and damaging relationships with his loved ones- particularly his mother and his daughter.
“I began selling drugs when I was 16. I would hang out and party with friends on the weekend. So, it started with alcohol and weed.”
He was eventually sentence for cocaine distribution and in jail he got clean. For his mother. For his daughter. For himself.
But that was just the start of another journey.
“I came home October of 2016,” he said. “When I first came home, I didn’t have anything. No money and my license was suspended. I had no car, I had no job and my mom was gone. The house that she lived in got foreclosed. A family member stole a life insurance policy that my mom had left for me. I literally had nothing.
But he said he was motivated by the last two decades. He wanted to make up for those mistakes, be a role model to his now 17-year-old daughter, Danielle, and simply put, make a difference. So he began mentoring youth, speaking publicly and formed a coalition called Light in the Shadows.
“Light in the Shadows is an organization that looks to shed light on people living in the darkest of places and situations…People living in the Shadows,” he said. “I founded it for the sole purpose of helping people realize that they are bigger than their circumstances, and that no matter where they’ve been in life, no situation is too big to overcome.
What’s next for this change maker? He said he plans to continue raising awareness around recovery, overdosing and addiction overall. He said he’s not just doing that through mentoring though:
“I also have a novel called “Dear Mom” coming. That will be out sometime next year. I’m speaking as well, trying to use my story as an inspiration to anyone who feels lost in life. I’m also in the process of reaching out to schools to help with kids. We all share a responsibility of helping and teaching the next generation. This world desperately needs change and direction, and I want to be a part of that.
You can learn more about Phillips and support his work by visiting his website (https://russellphillips.com/)