June 24, 2018
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Ryan Holets didn’t just adopt a baby, he helped a couple struggling with addiction

J. Scott Applewhite | AP
J. Scott Applewhite | AP
Albuquerque Police Officer Ryan Holets and his wife Rebecca acknowledge their introduction by President Donald Trump as they stand with first lady Melania Trump during the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.

In one of those staged moments that have become standard fare at State of the Union addresses, President Donald Trump recognized an Albuquerque police officer as a hero. In Trump’s brief story, Ryan Holets was a hero because he convinced a homeless pregnant woman who was addicted to heroin to let him and his wife adopt her baby.

In Trump’s retelling, the woman had no name and there was no mention of what happened to her after the baby was born. She was, in effect, a vessel that was tossed aside as soon as her work gestating and birthing a baby was over.

Fortunately, there is much more to the story. But, Trump’s brief inclusion of the incident in his speech Tuesday night highlights what is missing from his administration’s approach to the nation’s addiction crisis. Those with substance use disorder, like Crystal Champ, the baby’s mother, are too often portrayed as hopelessly flawed individuals who are barely deserving of our attention, let alone our empathy or help.

As a result, Trump proposes to slash funding for the national office that is coordinating the response to the opioid crisis and emphasizes instead “really big, really great advertising” to encourage young people to not take drugs. Gov. Paul LePage drags his feet on making a live-saving, overdose-reversing drug more readily available, condemning dozens of Mainers to an unnecessary early death.

Treatment, especially medication-assisted treatment, which research says is the most effective approach, is barely mentioned by either man.

Thankfully, Officer Holets saw a fuller picture when he encountered Champ. Proposing to adopt her unborn baby was a bit out of the ordinary, for sure. But, unbeknownst to those listening to Trump’s speech, he is continuing to help Champ and her boyfriend, Tom Key, too.

While training a new officer in September, Holets spotted a homeless couple about to inject heroin behind a convenience store in Albuquerque. He spent 11 minutes talking to them, according to body camera footage of the encounter. He repeatedly told Champ that she was harming, perhaps killing, her baby by doing drugs. An emotional Champ says she desperately hopes someone will adopt her baby, which Holets agrees to do.

A baby girl, named Hope, was born on Oct. 21, a month early. She has undergone treatment for drug withdrawal.

But, the story didn’t end there. Holets set up a GoFundMe page to help Champ and Key. It had raised a little more than $20,000 toward a $25,000 goal by Friday.

And, after CNN aired a story about the case in early October, a treatment center offered to help Champ and Keys. A representative flew to New Mexico to pick up the couple. At the airport, Champ broke down and did not board the flight to Florida. A week later, the couple made the trip to the rehabilitation center, where they are staying free of charge.

Holets proudly announced on Wednesday that Champ has been sober for 40 days.

“I am now elated to share that both Tom and Crystal decided to [enter recovery] and have begun the long road to freedom from addiction,” Holets wrote on the GoFundMe page. “They are committing themselves heart and soul to this process and I am very proud of them both.”

It is far from certain that treatment will end Champ’s decades-long struggle with addiction. But, recovery likely wouldn’t have been an option if Holets hadn’t treated her as a human who needed help on that September day.

That is the message Trump — and all Americans — should take from the Holets story. Those with substance use disorder are our friends, neighbors, colleagues, family members. They need our empathy and support, and they need access to treatment that has been proven to work.

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