Why changing drug addiction stigma is so important to solving America's opioid epidemic

HOUSTON – Judge Linda Davis says you simply cannot overstate the seriousness of America's opioid problem.

“I think it’s a massive epidemic. I think it’s the worst epidemic this country has ever seen,” Davis said.

It’s an epidemic of drug abuse that Davis predicts will get worse.

She says the first challenge is to change the criminal stereotypes of drug addiction.

The real faces belong to sons, daughters, moms and dads. Lawshawn Kennedy is one of those daughters.

“I was getting drunk and passing out and taking pills and going places I wasn't supposed to be,” Kennedy said.

Former addict Julio Reyes remembers how much control his addiction had over him.

“As long as I had a fifth and a couple packs of cigarettes, nothing mattered.," Reyes said. "That’s what it can do. It can completely take over you."

Vicki King lost her son to an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl.

“Just good people that just -- sports figures get hooked because of injuries. It’s just everywhere. It can be anybody,” she said.

Davis says we need to see drug addiction from a new perspective to one that is a disease that requires treatment, not jail time.

“I was a prosecutor for many years, and I put a lot of drug addicts in prison, so for me, this was a major 180," Davis said. "We talk about addicts changing -- this was a 180 for me, too."

Kennedy says she still encounters misconceptions about addiction, even with all of the increased awareness about the opioid epidemic.

“People out there in the world, they don't understand. They’re always like, ‘What’s wrong with this person? Why can’t you get it together?’ They don’t understand it is a disease,” Kennedy said.

Recovery from the disease is a long hard road. Micki Dodson is a recovering addict who tries to explain it in terms others will understand.

“Recovery is like marriage. In fact, it’s a bigger commitment than marriage," Dodson said. "You don’t have the option to walk away and still live."

To learn more about the opioid epidemic facing the Houston area and resources available to addicts and their families, visit our special section, Opioid Nation.