A Community in Pain: struggling with addiction

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Evansville native Anthony Burris is serving a nine-year prison sentence at the Branchville Correctional Facility in Perry County. That’s on top of the 17 years he’s already spent locked up for various offenses. At 39, Burris said he made a promise to himself – the last time he got out of jail – to become a better person. He broke that promise just days later when a trip to the gas station for a pack of cigarettes led to a chance meeting with old friends and an old addiction.

“Those old friends offered me some drugs and I was off to the races after that,” said Burris. 
Burris said not only did he once again begin giving into his cravings and taking those drugs everyday, he said he felt like he needed it.

Burris began selling them too, leading some of the people he loved the most to also become under the control of heroin.

“I see a lot of close family members that are being addicted to drugs at this time. It hurts because I feel like some of them  — addictions might have come from me,” said Burris.

According to Burris, his heroin addiction grew after life became more complicated. When there was a problem, he said heroin was always there to numb the pain.

“At the time, I thought I was helping myself with just solving one problem, but in all actuality I was creating a thousand more,” said Burris.

Like Burris, Brian Leep is back in jail. This time, he’s serving a 20-year sentence after a repeat affair with drugs.

“I thought I had my addiction under control,” said Leep, “I was naïve to … how fast it can suck you back in.”

Leep is serving time for dealing heroin.

He’s from Scott County, Indiana – a community thrown into the national spotlight for its rampant heroin-use and HIV epidemic that led the county to offer a free needle exchange program for its many heroin users.

“Looking back now, I realize that I was probably the main cause that most people were on it,” said Leep.

Like many heroin users, Leep’s addiction to the drug began shortly after he started abusing prescription pain pills.

“In Scott County, it was from the Lortabs, the Percocets, to the Oxycotins, to the Opana, then to the heroin. Some people took Methadone going to the Methadone clinic, but it all snowballed into heroin and before you know it, the whole town is on heroin,” said Leep.

Leep said almost everyone he knew in his small community was using heroin. To him, he said it seemed normal.

In his mind, he said he wasn’t doing anything wrong by offering it up for sale.

“I always thought I had good morals and values – that I wasn’t selling to kids. I wasn’t selling to pregnant women and I would tell myself things. It was my mind tricking me – telling me it would be okay doing the things I was doing,” 

While serving out their sentences in Branchville, both Leep and Burris have taken part in religious prison ministries, and from that, they say they’re learning how to live their lives drug-free.

For Leep, he wants to now set a positive example for his five children.

For Burris, he said he feels like he’s giving his mom the greatest gift that he could ever give her – beating his drug addiction.

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(This story was originally published November 15, 2017)

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