by Sharon Dargay, hometownlife.com
Jessica Lentz walked into a courtroom in March 2013 expecting to walk out in handcuffs.
The Milford mom had just spent two weeks living alone in her car, using whatever drugs she could find while cruising Detroit’s west side. She had relapsed twice after attending court-appointed drug rehabilitation programs and, while on probation for felony retail fraud, had been evicted from a sober living home for not paying her rent.
She dreaded her upcoming appearance in Oakland County Circuit Court, knowing it likely would be her last day of freedom.
“I just wanted to die,” Lentz said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it to the court date because of the amount of drugs I was using. I had all this guilt and shame.”
The judge gave Lentz one last chance to kick her drug habit and avoid prison. It would entail spending a year at Grace Centers of Hope, a faith-based residential program in Pontiac.
Four years later, Lentz, 31, is alive and sober.
She, her husband Jack, 46, and their four children will welcome the new year together in a Grace Centers of Hope “after care” rental house in Pontiac. She began the program, which includes group sessions, regular church attendance and continuing contact with a counselor, after graduating from her court-appointed one-year residency program.
Before entering the residency program, she had used both opioids and heroin, two of the drugs responsible for the greatest number of drug-related deaths from 2000-16, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In Michigan, drug overdose deaths increased each year from 2013-15. Of 1,981 overdose deaths in 2015, 884 were from opioids, according to Attorney General Bill Schuette. In September, Schuette joined a coalition of 40 attorneys general that is investigating opioid pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. In October, he and other attorneys general asked Congress to make treatment for opioid addiction more affordable and accessible.
That same month, Wayne and Oakland counties sued several drug manufacturers and distributors. According to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court, “Michigan health care providers wrote 11 million prescriptions for opioid drugs in 2015 and another 11 million in 2016 — more annual opioid prescriptions than Michigan has people.”
Lentz is well-aware of opioid statistics. She lived them while growing up.
The Florida native recalls that her mother took opioids for a back injury and multiple surgeries.
“It wasn’t like she became an addict by choice at first,” Lentz said. “She was on every drug — morphine, Dilaudid, you name it. It seemed that my mother was having a surgery every couple of years my whole life. She’d be in bed a lot. I was cooking whole meals when I was 8, 9 years old. This is just how it was.”
As a teenager, she mirrored her mother’s coping skills, using alcohol at first and then experimenting with Vicodin.
She met her future husband Jack in 2005, while working as a waitress at a seafood restaurant he managed in Orlando, Fla. They had their first daughter, Rylie, a year later. When the restaurant was sold, Jack went to truck driving school and got a job in Michigan. In 2010, they moved to Milford, where Jack had grown up and where family members lived.
Lentz worked as a waitress in Howell briefly and then became a stay-at-home mom for their son, Silas, now 6. She also made friends with other moms and dads who were “heavy partiers, drinkers and people who took pills,” just like her family and friends did in Florida. She paid friends $20 a pill and sometimes sought medication on her own from urgent care centers for non-existent medical problems.
“It gave me energy and there was no hangover,” she said. “I’d be up for days just going and cleaning. I felt like super mom. You walked into my house and it was immaculate. You walked into my lifestyle and it seemed I had everything together, but I didn’t. Everything I did, I did high.”
She initially took a pill once or twice a day, but began searching for a stronger high as her tolerance for the drugs grew. Vicodin gave way to Dilaudid and OxyContin. One day in 2011, when she couldn’t find any pills for sale, she reluctantly took a friend’s advice to try heroin. She snorted the drug at first, but it wasn’t long before she began injecting it.
When the family began receiving shut-off notices for unpaid utility bills in 2012, Jack confronted her.
“I was mad,” he said. “But we had kids together and I loved her. I knew if we could get past this and see our way through this, things could be different. I stuck it out. It was tough, a lot of tough times.”
He cut off her access to a checking account and credit cards. He paid her bond the first and second times she was arrested for felony retail fraud, but let her sit in jail for months after another arrest. A court-ordered 90-day treatment plan followed. Ninety days turned into 120 days and she eventually moved into sobriety housing in Pontiac, but was evicted for not paying rent.
“My first experience in a treatment center helped me a lot at that time, but I started using within a week of leaving,” she said. “Ninety days is not enough for anybody.”
Although she was reluctant to spend a year at Grace Centers of Hope, she found camaraderie and a sense of community. She was allowed to bring her children to the center’s day care and learned to parent while sober. The couple met with a marriage counselor and Lentz took classes in relapse prevention, addiction cycle, spiritual studies and job skills.
“You dig deep into your heart and experiences in your life to try and figure out why on Earth you stuck needles in your arm,” she said. “I was a survivor of verbal, mental and sexual abuse. These things had happened and I didn’t acknowledge them. I just medicated them.”
The couple married and Lentz was hired as a receptionist at Grace Centers. After Lentz graduated from the residential program, the family planned to move into a nearby house owned by Grace Centers to complete their two-year after care experience. While the house was being renovated, Lentz commuted each day from Milford. She gave birth to her third child, Piper, now 3, but soon found the pressures of work and motherhood overwhelming.
She relapsed and returned to the residential program three times in 2015 before the family moved into their new house in Pontiac.
Lentz, who gave birth to their second son, Cohen, nine weeks ago, is nearly finished with the after care program. She has plans to become a certified personal trainer and also hopes to minister to the homeless or victims of human trafficking. She’s teaching her children about empathy toward the homeless and drug-addicted.
“I’m not on probation,” she said. “I’m sober because I want to be. My family is strong. My faith is strong and I’m excited to see what God has next in my life.”