Surviving landmines

Published 9:39 am Wednesday, January 10, 2024

“My drug addiction started when I was 12 or 13,” said former drug addict Matthew Osborne during the Stand in the Gap Coalition meeting on Jan. 8. “I’d never seen or experienced drugs until moving to Middlesboro. I was in sixth grade, age 12, and I didn’t have any friends, didn’t know anybody. When I did start making friends – man, they were the wrong ones.”

Osborne said he learned just how a young person can be duped into their first tastes of street drugs.

“I hung out with people older than me. That’s where a lot of the problems start, trying to fit, trying to be cool. I started smoking weed. I knew people who took pills but I always judged them until I became one of them,” said Osborne.

By the age of 15, he had picked up the habit of ‘eating’ xanax.

“They were the easiest to find. At that time, you could walk into any doctor’s office and get as many pills as you want.”

Two years later, Osborne caught his first legal charge – receiving stolen property.

“That goes back to hanging out with the wrong people. I wasn’t stealing or anything at the time but I did pawn (the merchandise),” he said, adding that his ‘day job’ was supporting his habit.

Osborne, now 45 years old, was a ‘functioning’ addict through much of his teens and adult life, holding down good-paying jobs while feeding his addictions which he says began with the ‘gateway’ drug marijuana.

Marriage and kids straightened him out for a while. But the siren call of drugs proved too strong and Osborne bailed from his family.

“I was a coward. I got right back on pills again. Quit going to see my son. Quit paying child support. I got completely lost. When I went back there, I was gone. I was doing 50 xanax a day and chasing them with a bottle of Nyquil. I don’t know if I was searching for death or what.

“I caught my next charge for shoplifting. I was actually working a good job but there was no amount of money that could ever keep up with my pill addiction.”

Osborne, who was arrested while at work, received five years probation “and a slap on the wrist” (his own characterization).

“No drug test; no nothing. So, I kept my job but I was still using.”

The downhill slide kicked into high-gear as Osborne began dealing his drug of choice earning him some $10,000 a week all while living with his pregnant wife in a $50 a month rental.

“I haven’t met an addict that’s going to say ‘no’ to that,” said Osborne.

His mother, his wife and entire family desperately tried to convince him to quit the dope.

He was arrested again in September 2015, charged with four counts of drug trafficking.

“When they placed me in the Bell County Jail, I knew I was finally in real trouble.”

The district attorney first offered him 45 years in prison, dropped one trafficking charge, hit Osborne with organized crime and eventually settled on charging him as a drug kingpin. By that time, he had several underlings assisting him in his illegal activities. He was wanted by seven law enforcement agencies.

The district attorney reduced the plea offer to 20 years in prison. The charge was further reduced to ten years with five years already served via probation.

“I made a lot of promises. We tell them what they want to hear on the phone. That’s just the criminal way of thinking. We’re great liars. We can manipulate anybody. We’ll swear we’re not high when we’re three sheets to the wind and make people believe us – and I was good at it,” said Osborne.

Facing possible early release into the Drug Court, he began questioning himself about whether he could stay clean.

“I was scared to go home. I wanted to be there, but could I go back to the same environment and be someone different? Could I be a dad?

“I came home and left everything alone for a month or two. But – no job; no vehicle. I did what I’ve always done; I went right back to selling.”

Drug Court eventually offered him a venue to start covertly selling marijuana.

“I was employed the whole time (at a local factory) making good money but that wasn’t enough for me because of my greed. Growing up poor, when you get a taste of that real money – I always said if I ever had kids, I would give them the life I didn’t have. I did that in the wrong way. I was not a father. I was an absent dad. I was there but only financially.”

Toward the end of his previous stint in Drug Court, Osborne says he was ‘living the lie’ while chairing his own meetings.

“I would go right out in the parking lot afterwards and I would sell weed to people. I did keep that promise to stay clean but the greed – I was a slave to the dollar bill.”

All through that period, Osborne says he kept telling himself he wasn’t harming anyone, that ‘it’s just weed.’

For a while, he managed to settle into a contented family life, his estranged son living under his roof. Pressures got the better of his determination and he found himself once more chasing the drug high – this time with methamphetamine.

“From the first time I tried it, I never had anything grab a hold of me like that in my life and I’ve done nearly every kind of drug there is. It controls your mind, your heart, your emotion – everything about you, it changes.

“My wife found out I was doing it, and she said ‘it’s the drugs or me’ and I said ‘get out.’ I put her and my daughter out of the house. The day they moved, I sat there high and rushing them so I could get higher.”

The addiction got so bad that Osborne says he contemplated suicide, sitting one day for upwards of five hours under a noose he had hung in his garage. Osborne says the early return of his son on New Year’s Eve saved him.

“Today I realize that God saved me; that was an intervention from God.”

The appeal to suicide might have been quelled but the hunger for meth continued, eventually sending Osborne back to prison and to the Perry County Recovery Cell where he worked a 12-step program that melds Alcoholics Anonymous with the teachings of the Bible.

His latest arrest netted a plea agreement of 10 years at 85 percent and another round of Drug Court. He and the DA negotiated the initial 20 years sentence plus the 10 years from an earlier plea agreement that had been ‘shelved.’

Today, Osborne continues in Drug Court and is 11 months clean with a good job and vehicle for which he paid with his salary and not drug money. He is reunited with most of his family and working to restore his relationship with his son.

“I think God needs to be put first in recovery. I’m here today because of answered prayers. I’m not here because of my own will. These judges and prosecuting attorneys were done with me. I’m here because family didn’t give up on me and because of God’s grace.

“My thoughts today are sobriety and eternity. I choose the Bible.”