WAAY 31 is taking a look at the fight against opioid addiction in North Alabama from the perspective of a woman who has been there. Now, after turning her own life around, Jocelynn James has big plans to help others.
"My name came across the TV screen and was like, 'Franklin County's most wanted, Jocelynn James.' I just threw my hands up and I'm like, 'I'm tired.' I called the sheriff and asked what to do. He said, 'Come turn yourself in,'" said James.
James was charged with third-degree receiving stolen property, fraudulent use of a credit card and criminal possession of stolen credit cards. She said it was her addiction to opioids that led her down that dark path. It began after doctors found cancerous cells on her ovaries. After six surgeries, James had a hysterectomy, and doctors prescribed her opioids for the pain.
"When I had my final surgery, I couldn't get the medicine anymore and I became an IV user. I was shooting up about 16 times a day," said James.
Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing told WAAY 31 these types of cases are echoed all across the state. He said, too often, the situations don't end with people getting the help they need. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2017, there were 422 overdose deaths involving opioids in Alabama. Of that number, 167 people had a prescription for opioids. That means the rest obtained the drug illegally. Just last week, the federal government awarded Alabama two grants totaling $400,000 to alleviate rural opioid abuse. Forty states received grants of $24 million in total as part of an initiative to implement prevention, treatment and recovery programs for substance use disorders in rural communities.
"In Alabama, from what I understand, local attorneys are involved in class actions. Alabama is either one or two on the number of opioid cases and addiction levels of citizens in the country. We have a high problem. Locally, we have a drug problem with opioids, and the drug problem has increased every year. It has been to the point to where I would say it is out of control," said Rushing.
After going to jail, James got the help she needed through a rehabilitation program. Now, she's working on creating Franklin County's first full-service rehabilitation center exclusively for women who are working to overcome what she went through. James says it will be called "The Place of Grace."
"All of the legal documents have been done. A board has been established, and we're waiting on the funds. We've already started t-shirts, and we're doing a fundraiser at Pizza Hut next week," said James.
Rushing says he has faith in James and she has a lot of community support for what she is trying to accomplish.
"I've known Jocelynn through her bad times and her good times. I've never seen anyone with a genuine heart to try and open a program like this and who has tried to get it open. She knows because of her own experiences, she knows Franklin County desperately needs this rehab," said Rushing.
James told WAAY 31 she plans to have the facility open by next year. So far, she has raised $8,000 for the project. She also just applied for a $1 million grant for the program. James says she needs $100,000 to open the doors to the facility in Franklin County.