Recovering Shelby Addict Crystal Oertle Meets Obama

Crystal Oertle joins panel discussion with President Barack Obama

Crystal Oertle Featured in the Mansfield, Ohio News Journal

MANSFIELD, OHIO — A 2-minute video audition for a TEDx Talk has led a recovering heroin addict from Shelby into the national conversation on America’s mounting drug problems.

Crystal Oertle’s public debut discussing her addiction came late last year before 900 people in Columbus during an 8-minute Technology Education and Design speech on “Disruption,” something she’s experienced for more than a decade.

“I was on the stage by myself,” the 35-year-old said. “No chair, no podium, a circle red carpet that I stood on. It was so nerve-wracking.”

A few months later, CNN approached her about asking Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders a question regarding addiction during a televised town hall in Columbus. She asked Sanders what he planned to do about failed drug policies.

Oertle then received a Facebook message from President Barack Obama’s staff asking if she would like to be on a White House-supported drug summit panel. On March 29, sharing a stage with Obama in Atlanta, she spoke about addiction and the need for more treatment centers, having made the drive south with her sister and niece.

Oertle said meeting the president was awesome.

“He’s really nice. I liked him before. I was a supporter of him before that,” she said. “He put everyone at ease.”

“It was a pretty big room, like an auditorium with press there and tons of cameras clicking away,” she said.

On April 22, Oertle will celebrate a year in recovery. She said she had a small setback a little more than a month ago, but her current recovery is the best she’s ever done.

She continues to attend counseling sessions at the Urban Minority Alcohol and Drug Addiction Opportunities Program and her plan is to be off Suboxone in a year.

Her ultimate goal is to get a college education and work at a treatment center, Oertle said Friday. She would like to travel and make public appearances telling her story, too.

Oertle and her kids currently live with her mother. She isn’t working, but would like to find work as an administrative assistant. She studied business and secretarial careers at Pioneer Career and Technology Center while she was a student at Shelby High School.

“I think addicts are some of the strongest people on the planet, so if they put their minds to stop using along with support from family, community, treatment, then anyone can be in recovery,” she said.

She grew up on a farm in Shelby, and participated in 4-H, showing horses. During high school, Oertle said, she smoked marijuana and did cocaine.

“It was just a social thing at first,” she said.

In her 20s, she started using pills such as Vicodin and Percocet before progressing to stronger pills. Heroin became her drug of choice when she couldn’t get any pills.

“I did other things before it was opiates, but then it was opiates for over a decade,” she said.

She said she was placing herself in dangerous situations while addicted to heroin, including trips to buy drugs in Columbus on a daily basis, taking her young daughter with her. Her addiction to heroin also has caused her health issues. She now has Hepatitis C.

Oertle said she spent 10 days in the Shelby jail after a theft charge.

“I stole from family and friends to get money for drugs,” she said.

She has lots of regrets as her 17-year-old son has witnessed a lot she has been through. Her 10-year-old daughter knows of her mother’s past, but doesn’t comprehend everything fully.

Support of her family and friends are a huge part of her recovery.

“A lot of peoples’ families are ashamed of them being an addict. It puts a hole in their recovery. I see a lot of that with people. I’m very lucky,” she said.

In all her talks, she said she shares about being a mother and trying to raise her kids while being in withdrawal.

“It was a daily struggle getting my kids ready for school and then trying to make money somehow and get well and then do it all again the next day,” she said. “I’m so glad I’m where I’m at now.”

Oertle believes everyone should have a chance for treatment.

“Jail will not make them quit,” she said.

Oertle said she decided one day she was going to stop using drugs, after countless attempts to stop.

“Something was just different this time,” she said.

“You can’t make an addict stop no matter what you do. Ultimately, it was me, I was getting older, my kids are getting older. My mom, she had health issues and still does,” she said. “For one, I want her to see me doing well.”

She said she has learned a lot of about addiction and the brain process and how to stop urges and know situations that trigger her to want to return to drug use.

“I use those tools today,” Oertle said. “It’s people, places and things.”

Her life has changed.

She no longer can hang out with the same people she did in the past. She spends most of her time with her family at home.

“I love animals, too,” she said, noting she has a really old boxer she loves.

Source: Lou Whitmire, Mansfield News Journal