When Chris M. Richard suffered a major fall at his job as a Maryland state highway inspector in 2012, he had no idea of the painful journey that awaited him. He suffered two herniated and ruptured discs in his back. To manage the pain, a doctor prescribed an opioid pain reliever.
But the effects of the cure proved worse than the injury itself, as he began to abuse the drug.
“Before I knew it, I was hooked — physically, emotionally, and mentally,” says Richards, now 32. In time, it became harder to legally obtain the drug, and some friends introduced him to heroin, both much easier to procure and less expensive.
Richards entered a world of complete misery. Over the next two years, he was in and out of rehabilitation centers and jail — due to minor thefts fueled by his drug habit.
“I was living life on installments,” Richard says. He finally masterminded a fraud scheme, convincing a loved one to help him obtain drugs via false prescriptions. But eventually a pharmacist discovered the fraud, and police arrived at his door to arrest him. He was sentenced to 2½ to 5 years in a Pennsylvania state prison.
While incarcerated, he made some progress. The facility had a rigorous boot camp program. Wanting to avoid some of the intense workouts, Richard instead signed up to see a pastor, who introduced him to the love of God. In January 2019, after his release from prison, Richard began attending church on the outside. Admittedly he just went through the motions of attending on Sunday morning, and living for himself the rest of the time.
In less than a month, he began using again. His devastated relatives demanded he choose them or the drugs. Having failed after eight secular rehabs, he despaired of ever being able to quit.
“I felt destined to be a drug addict,” Richard recalls. The addiction had cost him his job, his reputation, his freedom, his peace, and ultimately it fractured his family.
Richard tried to commit suicide by purposefully overdosing on opiates. But God intervened, and first responders resuscitated him with naloxone. Richard didn’t feel thankful that his life had been spared.
“I woke up mad that it didn’t work,” he says. Richard thought death seemed better than the hopelessness of addiction, but God had another plan. From the Baltimore hospital where he recovered, he called numerous treatment facilities seeking help. Only Pennsylvania Adult & Teen Challenge (PAATC) agreed to admit him that Sunday. A center staff member drove 2½ hours to pick him up.
Once at the center in Rehrersburg, Pennsylvania, Richard signed up for the yearlong treatment program.
“There I finally knew what it was to really experience God’s love,” he remembers. “And I learned how the stories of the Bible actually apply to our lives today.”
He also discovered a gift of music. The center had no music for services except for YouTube videos, so Richard and another student started singing, recruiting other musicians, and leading live worship. Together they wrote songs based on Scripture.
“We quickly learned how awesome it was to help bring God’s presence into a service,” Richard says
After graduation from the program, Richard stayed an additional year for an internship, and then accepted a job offer to stay. Today he serves as the community outreach coordinator. The worship band he leads, It Is Written, performs at churches and festivals.
Richard is celebrating three years of sobriety, the opportunity to be a godly father to his young daughter, Ava, and his upcoming wedding to Brittany Morris, whom he met at church. It’s a future he couldn’t have imagined five years ago.
“It is our hope that each person who comes through our doors will come to a saving knowledge of Christ and experience a holistic life change,” says PAATC President/CEO Kris J. McFadden Sr. McFadden himself overcame a drug addiction that started with an opioid painkiller.