“We never get up one day and say I want to be an addict and get involved in criminal activity,” the speaker at Tuesday’s Buckhannon Rotary Club meeting said. “We just can’t handle life on life’s terms and people often turn to addiction issues to handle the problem and that was me.”
Lou Ortenzio is the ministry leader with Clarksburg Mission’s Celebrate Recovery and has been in recovery from a narcotics addiction for 13 years. Ortenzio is also one of the state representatives for Celebrate Recovery and works to promote CR throughout West Virginia.
“Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-based recovery program,” he said. It was founded by John Baker in 1991 who began the first program at his church, Saddleback Church with the encouragement of Pastor Rick Warren.
The format of CR is the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous which correspond to the Beautitudes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.
“He knew that Jesus Christ was his higher power and God gave him the vision of the 12-step program that would be solution specific,” Ortenzio said. Whether than be focused on a particular problem, it was focused on the solution of Jesus Christ.”
Celebrate Recovery is not just for addiction problems but for anyone who needs help.
However, what Ortenzio spoke about Tuesday was the severity of addiction in the Mountain State.
“We have certainly a terrible drug problem in West Virginia,” he said. “We have a terrible problem with opiates right now.”
Ortenzio has attended some meetings organized by the West Virginia State Attorney Office’s to get the faith community involved in addressing the drug problem.
The W.Va. overdose rate in 2015 is 41.5 per 100,000, according to statistics released by the WVSAO’s office. The 2016 numbers are going to be up to 46.5 percent, according to Ortenzio.
“The next closest state is New Mexico at 30 and the national average is 15 so we are three times the national average of drug overdose deaths in West Virginia,” he said.
“We do indeed have a crisis. More people die from drug overdose deaths in our country and our state than die from car accidents and homicides. In West Virginia, 844 people died last year as a result of drug overdoses. It is tragic.”
Ortenzio, a former family physician, shared his own story of drug addiction. In the 1990s, it became the standard of care for doctors, health care professionals and nurses to inquire a bout a patient’s pain level.
“You would have to report the patient’s pain level. Shortly after that, it became mandatory to try to treat that pain.”
At the same time, more powerful narcotics were coming on the market to treat pain such as Hydrocodone and Oxycodone.
“It was promoted aggressively and it was promoted to us as physicians that these drugs were not addictive so patients who had legitimate pain could take these medicines and not be addicted,” he said.
Ortenzio was raised in the Catholic Church, pursued a medical degree and became a doctor practicing in Clarksburg before a drug addiction ruined his life.
“I got all caught up in trying to take care of as many patients as I could, make as many patients happy as I could and meet all the demands. It was absolutely impossible. I worked myself too hard and I had access to Hydrocodone samples and other samples.”
To combat headaches or stress, Ortenzio helped himself to the sample closet.
“What started as one sample of a pain pill ended up becoming 20, 30 and 40 a day just to keep going up,” he said.
Soon, Ortenzio was writing prescriptions for patients who would fill them and give them back to him and then be began writing fraudulent prescriptions for himself.
“My life got completely out of control,” he said. “I became depressed and suicidal.”
In the process, Ortenzio lost his family. He soon met a new woman who shared the message of Jesus Christ with him and three months later he was delivered from his addiction issues.
“This nurse that shared the good news with me and I got married, and a month after we got married the feds raided my office. They found this paper trail of fraudulent prescriptions I had written and very sloppy medical records.
“Two years into our marriage, I got convicted of felonies of prescription fraud and insurance fraud,” he said. “My medical license that I worked all my life for got revoked,” he said.
Suddenly, Ortenzio found the only job he could find was as a landscaper at Stonewall Resort. From there, he became a pizza deliveryman.
“I knew God had done an amazing work in my life and I had experienced God’s grace because I didn’t go to prison,” he said. “That was a miracle.”
Ortenzio became more involved in church, earned a master’s degree from West Virginia Christian University’s campus at The Way of Holiness Church and became an ordained minister.
“I got involved in our church and then I met the director of the Clarksburg Mission about nine years ago and I was hired on as the director of ministry there,” he said. The only recovery program Clarksburg Mission offers is Celebrate Recovery and Ortenzio immersed himself in the program.
“I came to understand that on the outside I was dealing with addiction issues, substance abuse disorder but deeper than that I was dealing with codependency, with people pleasing, trying to fix everybody and make everybody happy.”
Ortenzio worked the steps, became a ministry leader of Celebrate Recovery.
Five years ago, CR moved downtown to Clarksburg Baptist Church.
About three years ago, there were 15 CRs in the state and now they number 40 with more being added.
In Buckhannon, there are two CR groups, one meeting Tuesdays at Living Word Church of God and one meeting on Thursdays at Horizons.