O'BRIEN: Addiction to methamphetamine doesn't have to be a life sentence

Posted: Jan. 28, 2014 8:59 am Updated: Apr. 22, 2014 9:15 am
When Ashley Epperson needs a reminder of what life was once like for her, all she has to do is reach for her scrapbook.

Inside of it are stories written about her struggle with methamphetamine. For the better part of seven years, the drug had a hold on Epperson. Her addiction nearly cost her everything.

“I go back and read (the stories) sometimes,” Epperson said. “It just makes me sick. It makes me cringe to know that I was one of those people.”

Epperson, 27, was affected by the recent “Meth Mess” series that we ran earlier this month. Seeing all of the mug shots of those who were convicted and sentenced on meth charges last year struck a chord.

Three years ago, she would have been one of those faces. An Adams County Circuit Court jury in December 2010 found Epperson guilty of unlawful meth delivery. The headline after her trial was over was hardly flattering: “Pregnant Quincy woman convicted of meth delivery tests positive for drugs after trial.”

Epperson, seven months pregnant at the time, tested positive for meth and cannabis after her trial. She was thrown in jail by Judge Thomas Ortbal. She wasn’t going to get out until she successfully completed a treatment program.

Those moves, Epperson said, helped save her.

“I wanted to thank Judge Ortbal, who put me in jail for 2 1/2 weeks and got me into rehab,” Epperson said.

Epperson says she’s cleaned up her act.

She could have been sentenced to up to 14 years in prison in March 2011, but Ortbal gave her a chance to show that she could change her life. Epperson had been denied entry into Adams County’s Drug Court program. She wound up receiving 48 months of probation from Ortbal. Epperson has completed almost 75 percent of her probation and has a little more than a year to go until she is in the clear.

Life, she said, couldn’t be better. She has steady work. Most important, the baby she had just before her sentencing is a happy and healthy girl who soon will turn 3.

“I’m so thankful,” Epperson said as she started to tear up. “I went through the whole pregnancy wondering if I even wanted to keep her.”

Thanks to help from her family, Epperson never lost custody of her other two children during her court case.

Epperson was one of several people who contacted The Herald-Whig as the “Meth Mess” series was being published. She said she wanted a chance to tell her story and to let those people who are just now walking down the road that she once traveled know that they can come out of their situation a better person.

“I don’t want people to think I’m a bad person because I’m not,” she said. “I just made some bad decisions.”

It’s easy to see the string of mug shots of those arrested on meth charges and dismiss those people as scourges on society.

We’ve all done it. In many cases, those “meth heads” are decent people who have been sucked in by the drug. Epperson has been clean for more than three years now, celebrating her sobriety anniversary on Dec. 8. Her warning to those who are involved with meth or are thinking of taking up the drug sounds familiar.

“It’s not worth it,” she said. “It destroys your life in every type of way possible.”

The drug doesn’t have to destroy the person. Those who have been swept up in meth can overcome their addiction if they put their mind to it.

Epperson is a prime example of that.