SOUTHERN INDIANA — An Ivy Tech student is leading the charge in speaking up for people facing addiction — and she's urging others to do the same.

At 11 a.m. Friday, the Sellersburg campus will host its first Recovery Rally, an event for those who have been affected by addiction to tell their stories, to celebrate those in recovery and remember those who lost their battles. Information on drug overdoses, treatment and other resources will be available. 

Indiana Drug Czar Jim McClelland and Ivy Tech President Sue Ellsperman also will speak at the free event.

For Tracy Skaggs, a human services major who was the driving force behind the event, the topic is close to her heart. Skaggs is now three and a half years into recovery herself, and wants to use her experience — and her voice — to help effect change she says is needed in Southern Indiana to address addiction.

That's why when presented with the chance, she and others in the national collegiate honor society Phi Theta Kappa sought to focus on recovery, and to help shed more light on the drug issues in her area.

“I don't feel that the topic is addressed enough in Southern Indiana,” she said. “I'm a community member and I still face it every day as an addict. I see these people each and every day and I see the pain in their eyes and I see that there's nowhere for them to get treatment. I see them being arrested for having a disease.”

Skaggs' addiction started with pain pills she was prescribed for health issues, which eventually led to a dependence and abuse of the drugs. When she found herself switching to heroin, she recognized that her abuse was no longer something she could control.

“Heroin is a drug that controls you,” she said. “There's no way you can control your addiction with heroin. And it scared me.”

She knew she wanted to stop, but was afraid of the hold heroin had on her. She prayed for answers.

“I prayed and I prayed and I prayed and I ended up in the hospital for six days with pneumonia,” she said. “And I came out free and clean of heroin.”

The hospitalization helped Skaggs safely detox from the drug, but that's just one part. She's now working on herself in her recovery, vocal about what she's been through and what needs to change within the community to provide support for others who are struggling with their addictions. 

Right now, she said, change starts with conversation. That means everyone coming to the same table — community leaders, residents, health and law officials and the people going through it on the front lines, those who are facing addictions themselves. 

“The recovery community, they will talk about it, but they talk about it within their environment,” she said . “Here's the thing — even though we want to be heard, most people don't think anybody is going to listen, so they don't say anything.

“Well you know what? I'm tired of not being heard. I'm tired of being judged. I'm tired of being stigmatized ... just because I'm a drug addict doesn't mean I'm not a human being.”

Rebecca Wells-Gonzalez, an instructor at Ivy Tech, said it's rare that a student so inspires a teacher the way Skaggs has, with her passion to help others and her refusal to back down. She first had her as a student in a public speaking class, where Skaggs delivered the speech “ Faces of Addiction.”

Wells-Gonzalez said that too often, people say “they made that choice, let them die,” about those with addictions.

“That's not the kind of discussion we need to be having,” she said. “We need to be having the discussion of 'how can we help these people?'”

And she said Skaggs is the right person to bring it all together. She's already started meeting with some community leaders to help fuel the discussion and isn't stopping there.

“Tracy is the kind of person that spearheads something and it happens,” she said, adding that she hopes people can take away inspiration from the woman's experience.

“If you are struggling...and you see someone who is facing that struggle overcome it and come through, that allows you the hope that you can also overcome and come through. So it really is essential that people — not just Tracy but people like Tracy — step forward and grab ahold of this narrative and really make it their own.”

And Skaggs' determination doesn't start and stop with Friday's rally. She's already started talks with some of her representatives, and has told her story at other events. Her goal is to one day open a nonprofit, holistic, multi-generational rehabilitation complex. 

Friday's rally will be a mix of voices, sharing their stories, wearing their recovery dates proudly. She said for her, doing this is "letting people know that my mess has become a message. We have a problem. Wake up. Talk about it."

Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at aprile.rickert@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.