Josh Newell figures he can relate to just about anyone who walks into Ideal Option seeking help.
“Whether you have lived the life of addiction or crime or mental health or trauma, the easiest person to talk to is someone who’s been there, and that’s me,” says Josh, 37, a peer outreach specialist in Arkansas.
“I’ve got a broad range of experience that I can share, and I can be somebody’s spark of hope.”
For years, as he fell deeper into his addiction to opioids, meth, and alcohol, Josh felt no hope for himself.
He wanted to be a better dad and to be free from the compulsion to use, but he was unable to focus on anything besides finding his next fix.
“I can’t tell you how many times I tried to stop using,” Josh recalls. “I wanted to quit probably 90% of the time, but I didn’t know how.”
Josh began drinking and smoking weed at age 12, a reaction to his father’s alcohol- and crack-fueled rages.
“He’d go on these binges and come home out of his mind, convinced my mom had a boyfriend,” Josh remembers. “He’d chase people down the road with a gun.”
Josh’s response was to “rebel against any and all authority.”
Ambitious and hardworking as a young adult, Josh threw himself into business ventures — remodeling homes, building pole barns, selling drugs. He earned enough to purchase a home and a coffee shop, too.
“At that point I didn’t consider myself addicted to anything,” he says. “I was functioning. I thought I was having a good time. My goal was to make as much money as I could, so I could buy land and whatever I wanted.”
His drug use and drinking escalated when his girlfriend — the mother of his son and daughter — left him, and he fell into despair.
“I felt like a failure, like I had lost my family,” Josh says. “Plus, I had mental health disorders I didn’t know about.”
Before long, Josh switched from pills to shooting up. “Once you do IV, there’s pretty much no going back,” he says.
Though he maintained contact with his kids, his drug use came first. “There would be times I’d drop my kids at a baseball tournament and then go use before I could come back to the ballpark.”
In an attempt to maintain an even keel, Josh balanced opioids with meth, all the while running a successful business building pole barns.
“I balanced it just right, and my customers had no clue,” he says.
Josh’s financial success only increased his drug use. “I could use as much as I wanted. I would push the envelope and use dangerous amounts. Even when others around me would get sick, I always wanted to use more.”
It was the rise of fentanyl, around 2016, that made Josh take a hard look at his life.
“Friends were dropping like flies,” he says. “I remember sitting around the table with four guys and saying, ‘If we keep doing this, we’re all going to end up dead or in prison.’ Two of them are dead now, and two are in prison.”
As heroin became scarcer and more expensive, Josh spiraled downward. He sold his house and lived in a weekly-stay motel, unable to start each day until he had his fix.
He knew he was at the end of the road. He wanted a real life, and he wanted to be a dad.
“My love for my kids was the main motivation to change,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a failure to them. I thought about them every day.”
With the goal of starting fresh, Josh sold his remaining belongings — his truck, his bike, his guitar — and started on Suboxone. He moved in with his mom and got a restaurant job.
Still, he had not yet dealt with his emotional wounds, anxiety, and depression. Prone to mood swings and angry outbursts, he landed in jail for four months on charges of assaulting a police officer and threatening a judge.
Upon his release, Josh enrolled in inpatient psychiatric treatment.
“From that point forward, I focused on my mental health. It took years of work to get where I was happy.”
On a mission to put his life experience to good use, Josh enrolled in school for social work and trained as a peer support specialist.
Today, he helps Ideal Option patients forge their own pathway to recovery, by building relationships and trust.
“I have a life filled with purpose, instead of walking around lost in the dark,” he says. “That’s what gets me up in the morning — bringing hope to others and being a part of something bigger.”
With addiction and overdose deaths on the rise nationwide, Josh feels an urgency to help all he can.
“The drug problem is worse than it’s ever been,” he says, “and I’m fighting for something as important as anything in this world: people’s lives.”