ALBANY – When the addiction recovery support personnel at The Change Center speak, they’re speaking from experience.

So when Jeff Breedlove, chief of communications and policy for the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, kicked off a statewide tour of organizations that aid in recovery from drug and alcohol recovery, he started at the center in downtown Albany.

The Change Center offers non-clinical, peer-led activities to help people looking to stay clean. Employees, including program director Kathryn Newcomb, are themselves recovering from addiction.

Breedlove also speaks from experience, as three years ago he was fired from his position as chief of staff to a DeKalb County Commission member after his arrest and admission of his addiction to crack cocaine.

“It almost killed me,” said Breedlove, who spoke to a gathering of Change Center employees and local elected officials on Wednesday at the Pine Avenue facility. “The thing that almost killed more than the drug is the stigma behind the disease. (But) it changed my life and it saved my life.”

The stigma he referred to leads people to deny their addiction and makes them reluctant to seek treatment.

“More people are dying from the disease of addiction than any other disease in the country,” he said. “That’s the message, (that) there’s this reality of an epidemic across the state.”

In Georgia, 2 million people, including addicts and their friends and families, are depending on recovery efforts. Breedlove said he hopes to have similar meetings in the other 158 Georgia counties to rally local governments to bring the issue to the attention of state and federal lawmakers.

“It’s important for elected officials to know that when they’re making budgets,” he said.

Breedlove said that he was fortunate in that he was able to receive treatment at an expensive facility. That’s not the reality for most Georgians. That is one reason he made his first stop in southwest Georgia, where resources are more limited than they are in the more economically vibrant Atlanta area.

“We deliberately started here,” he said. “One of the reasons we literally started here is because of how awesome The Change Center is.”

Daniel Fleuren, outreach coordinator at center, told the audience that he got a second chance at life in Albany. A Florida native, Fleuren said he entered substance abuse treatment in Albany two and a half years ago.

“I had that one more chance as well,” he said. “It’s allowed me to be the person I always wanted to be.”

Fleuren said he registered to vote for the first time in years in 2019 and purchased his first car.

“The state that used to think the greatest thing for me was to incarcerate me is now employing me,” he said. “A place like The Change Center gives people who don’t have a job or don’t have this or that a place to come hang out and talk to other people (who’ve been through similar circumstances).”

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