From Monster to Mentor: Lexington Outreach Coordinator Offers Free Classes on Addiction

By Paul Gaita 10/07/19

For Timothy Sanders, it's a chance to use his experience as a person in recovery "to be productive and help people."

close-up of Timothy Sanders
Timothy Sanders

With heroin overdose rates in the state of Kentucky among the highest in the United States, a man in recovery who became a peer support specialist hopes to use his story to educate his fellow Bluegrass State residents about opioid dependency.

Timothy Sanders, who serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the non-profit organization Stop Heroin Lexington, is also hosting a free class called "Alternative Perceptions" at area libraries and other locations. 

The class, which kicked off on September 28 at the Lexington Public Library, is designed to provide information to not only people with addiction but also their families. For Sanders, it's a chance to use his experience as a person in recovery to "be productive and help people."

Sanders, a peer support specialist, told Lexington's WKYT that heroin addiction in Kentucky has "gotten a lot worse. ODs are high right now. I see a lot of people dying, [and] I see relapse quite often."

To that end, he created Alternative Perceptions as a means of reaching out to the public and providing free information about addiction and recovery, a subject that he understands on a personal level.

From "Menace" To Mentor 

Sanders overdosed on heroin while he was with his three-year-old daughter, which resulted in not only an arrest but also public shaming when the incident was broadcast on local television.

"I was blasted all over the news as this monster and drug addict and all that," he recalled.

He sought treatment through the recovery program for men at the Hope Center in Lexington, and amassed 28 months of sobriety. He also found himself with a new calling. "I was a menace at one point," he told WKYT. "Today I'm trying to be productive and help people."

The inaugural Alternative Perceptions class offered free information and education to attendees, and enlisted fellow recovery advocates to join Sanders in providing testimony about their paths to sobriety. "I have a team of volunteers that want to be a part of this, to where we can actually have them in all the [Kentucky] public libraries, and we have people that volunteer to get the information out to people."

Future Alternative Perceptions events and other information on Sanders can be found on Stop Heroin Lexington's Facebook page.

Kentucky has been among the 10 states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths. However, the state reported that overdose deaths declined in 2018, the first such drop since 2013.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.