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Family turns loss into crusade to help addicts avoid drug ODs

Lynette Oliver holds a portrait of her son, Michael, entitled "Into the Light." Lynette Oliver holds a portrait of her son, Michael, entitled "Into the Light."

The pain returned, still raw, as Lynette Oliver remembered that awful day nearly four years ago when she found her son dead.

“I knew that night he was high,” Oliver said as tears welled in her eyes and a slight crack in her voice began. “I said, ‘We are going to have to do something.’”
Oliver knew that night her son, 36-year-old Michael Oliver, needed help with the opioid addiction he had struggled with for years. She knew his month clean was over, and Oliver wanted to get her son back on track with his recovery.
Her plans evaporated the next morning.
“When I went in the next morning, he was gone. He had been dead two hours,” she said. This time the crack in her voice transformed into full on sobs that rose from the grief Oliver could no long hold in check.
Oliver was working with an addiction ministry at the time of her son’s death, trying to help others become and remain sober.
She quit her job shortly after Michael’s death.
“I just needed some time,” Oliver said.
Oliver took the time she needed to heal and reflect.

‘God opened doors’

By the time two years had passed since that awful day she found her son dead from an overdose of Fentanyl, Oliver knew what she needed to do. She needed to help other families mired in the confusion and pain of addition.
“It just came upon me,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone else to go through what we were going through. God just opened the doors.”
Oliver and her husband, Larry, opened Back On Track Resale Store and Addiction Ministries in July 2020.
The store, located at 1900 Spartanburg Highway in Hendersonville, looks at first glance like any other thrift store. Donated clothing, furniture, jewelry and other odds and ends fill racks, shelves and floor space in the building’s front room.
The difference at Back on Track takes shape in spaces beyond the store in the front. The 9,000-square-foot space also houses a recovering addict class for people who need that support, space for teen education about drugs and room for Bible study and leadership classes.
Office space where the Olivers manage the thrift store in the back also includes a white board with the names of people they are trying to help get admitted into rehab and their status.
What the Olivers have done for the 180 people they helped during the last two years, some with their own money, is comprehensive.
Back on Track works with the legal system including jails and probation officials to move addicts from the legal system and into mostly faith-based recovery programs.
Some go through rehab and move on with their lives while many others relapse into using again. Some find they need to move to a new town to get away from the triggers that lead them back to addiction.
Back on Track is there for them each step along the way.
The Olivers found that more than half the people they have tried to help go back to using after their first trip to rehab.
“Sometimes it takes several times in rehab before it takes,” she said. “Seeing relapse is tough. We want them to know we’re here whether they go through 12 times or 20 times. We are always here regardless.”
Back On Track covers the between $500 and $750 per person cost of entry fees and travel to rehab. The ministry also helps pay for transitional housing for people leaving rehab.
Beyond its work with addicts and their families, the ministry meets other needs in the community as well. It helps homeless people with everything from supplying them with sleeping bags to offering meals every now and then.
Back On Track also steps up in other ways to help those in need.
The ministry recently paid for a hotel room and transportation costs back home for an 18-year-old Oklahoma girl who found herself stuck in Hendersonville after her boyfriend wrecked a car she did not know was stolen. Another time, the Olivers helped a husband and wife in their 80s get back to Alabama after their money was stolen while visiting the area.
“We not only do addiction. We try to meet the needs of the community,” Oliver said.
Back On Track relies on donations from churches and individuals and on the resale shop to fund all its outreach. The store is always in need of volunteers, and it provides employment to nine people, some of them recovering addicts.
Any donation, either in the form of items for the resale shop or money, helps people in need.
“They are saving someone’s life, basically. You’re feeding somebody. You’re helping somebody else,” Oliver said of those who donate to Back On Track.
Beyond the classes, support groups and work to find rehab programs for those they serve, Oliver also shares her story with other parents struggling as she did with an addicted child.
“I’m not going to be embarrassed about my son. I’m not going to be embarrassed,” she said. “I have people say, ‘My son or daughter died from addiction but I can’t say that.’”
Oliver said she encourages other parents to be open about what happened to their children and to try as she has to pass their experiences on to people struggling with addicted children.
“I’d give anything if I had known then what I know now,” she said.
Recent statistics show more and more families in North Carolina and the nation are coping with addiction and overdose.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced this month that an average of nine North Carolinians died each day from a drug overdose in 2020, a 40 percent increase from the previous year.
The increase during 2020 aligns with the increases experienced nationwide with the nation exceeding 100,000 deaths. In North Carolina, the number of drug overdose deaths from illegal drugs and/or medications increased by nearly 1,000 deaths, from 2,352 in 2019 to 3,304 in 2020. There were also nearly 15,000 emergency department visits related to drug overdoses in 2020. Provisional surveillance data suggest these increases continued through 2021. Both overdose deaths and the increases disproportionally affect historically marginalized populations, according to the NCDHHS information.
The numbers represent sons, daughters, mothers and fathers who left behind grieving families trying desperately to make sense of the deaths of their loved ones.
Oliver described her son, Michael, as a bright boy growing up who loved hiking and being outdoors.
“If you ever met him, you couldn’t forget him,” she said.
Michael began experimenting with marijuana in high school and eventually escalated to harder, more powerful drugs, including opioids.
“He was very intelligent. Michael was smart beyond his years,” Oliver said. “He thought he was smarter than the drugs and he could control it.”
Her son dealt with his addiction for 10 years and eventually moved back home in 2017.
Then, he disappeared one day in February 2018.
“I went home one day. He was gone,” Oliver said. “We didn’t know where he was.”
The Olivers later learned their son was roaming from state to state “jumping trains.” Jumping trains is the practice of traveling by train without paying and eventually inspired the name of the Olivers’ resale shop and ministry.
Over the next few months, the Olivers received calls from time to time from people who let them know Michael was alive.
Some strangers fed him, allowed him to take showers in their homes and prayed with him.
By the time he returned home on Mother’s Day, Michael was sober and had accepted Jesus as his savior.
He remained clean for 34 days before the morning his mother found him in his bed.
Michael’s son, Gavin, was 11 when his father died. The Olivers help care for their now 14-year-old grandson and he helps out around the resale shop.
“I hope he takes over,” Oliver said.
The Olivers’ plans for the future include expanding their outreach and one day opening a kitchen on the property to help feed homeless people homecooked meals.
As much as she looks forward to a future of serving more people and seeing more people through their struggles with addiction, Oliver is also proud of the ministry’s commitment to living up to its name and putting people back on track.
“I’m very proud of where we’ve come. We’ve had a lot of people come through. We’ve been able to supply their needs,” she said.
But perhaps the most important thing Oliver offers to families is understanding.
“Some people need to talk to someone who understands,” she said. “I’ve been there. I know that pain of watching your child turn into someone you don’t know.”


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Back On Track’s resale shop is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. More information about the shop and the programs the ministry offers is also available on its Facebook page.