Matthew Barnett of LA Dream Center: Opioid Epidemic Is Destroying Us — Here’s a Way Forward

Matthew Barnett, co-founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center, shares regarding the opioid epidemic that is destroying the lives of people, and the role we can play to bring hope and healing to those who need it.

Matthew Barnett: If you are heartbroken by this opioid epidemic, I encourage you to volunteer with the Dream Center or other similar organizations.

Beau was a young man with a bright future ahead of him. He began his first year of college while still a senior in high school, and he earned good grades. He enjoyed baseball, basketball and snowboarding. He had a desire to help others, especially in their worst moments, so he chose to pursue a degree in emergency medical studies. Upon graduation from college, he had a stable job as a medical professional at a hospital.

Yet, Beau’s life was not what it appeared to be.

After he finished his shifts at the hospital, Beau sold prescription opioids across state lines. Soon, Beau was using high quantities of prescription Oxycodone himself on a daily basis. His life began to spiral out of control.

With a life now saddled with addiction and illegal drug sales, Beau eventually found himself in jail. However, if he stayed clean for a year, his charges would be dropped. But not long into his probation Beau was arrested twice in the same month on drug charges.

“I was in a pretty dark place,” Beau told us.

Beau met with his probation officer and pleaded for mercy. She told him that if he would commit himself to an inpatient rehabilitation program for six months and make it through, then his charges would not be held against him.

In the turmoil of his drug addiction, Beau learned about the Los Angeles Dream Center. Although Beau initially balked at the idea of traveling 3,000 miles from home, he sensed something was telling him to go. He arrived in November of 2016 and planned to stay only six months.

“The first two weeks were really hard,” Beau said. “I was sober for the first time in years, and I felt good. I didn’t have that want.”

It was such a positive experience that Beau decided to stay. He is now entering his third year at the Dream Center and is in the Transitions Program, a residential program that helps prepare men and women to return to independent living after recovering from addiction or abuse. He has a job and is studying to retake his EMT certification, with hopes of joining the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

“I’m so grateful for the Dream Center,” Beau said. “Without this program, I don’t know where I would be.”

Beau’s story is one that resonates with many Americans. Today, our country is in the midst of an epidemic unlike anything we have ever seen. If this opioid crisis is not reversed, thousands more lives will be destroyed.

From 2011 to 2017, in my home of Los Angeles County, there were approximately 2,784 opioid-related deaths. In fact, deaths from opioids peaked in Los Angeles County in 2017, a significant increase from past years.

We at the Dream Center believe that in order to defeat any kind of addiction, the deeper reasons why people like Beau fall into this trap have to be identified. Most of our residents who have a past with addiction have dealt with sexual abuse, abusive parents, the death of a loved one, bullying or peer pressure throughout their childhood. As these traumatic events linger into their adult years, many turn to opioids to cope.

We find a holistic approach (attention to mind, body and spirit) is the only way to fully heal from drug addiction. An addict needs an internal to external transformation, a way to reform a person’s identity that will in effect transform one’s mindset, decision-making and behavior.

For the first few months, residents in our program go through detox in order to clear their minds and prepare them for the classes and work therapy included in the later stages of the program. The classes they take are a combination of life skills (finance, boundaries and character traits) and faith-based teaching.

The typical 30-day programs readily available simply aren’t a sufficient amount of time for someone to withdraw from addiction, physically heal and then transition back into society. Our residents agree that the one year they are required to commit with us is the most effective amount of time to fully recover.

I’ve met many men and women who, like Beau, battle the demons of drug addiction. In reality, Beau’s story could be any of ours. Any one of us could fall prey to addiction. Check in with your spouse, children, siblings, friends and colleagues. The important thing is acknowledging when it’s happening and getting a hand up to beat this vicious cycle.

If you find that you are heartbroken by this epidemic, I encourage you to volunteer with the Dream Center or other similar organizations. This is a national problem, and it will take the transformation of a nation — one life at a time — to end it.


Matthew Barnett is co-founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center and senior pastor of Angelus Temple. The Los Angeles Dream Center is a faith-based non-profit dedicated to transforming the lives of individuals and families in Los Angeles through residential and outreach programs.


To read more news on Compassion Ministry on Missions Box, go here.