South Hadley man credits needle exchange program with beginning his road to recovery

  • Will Oldershaw discovered the Northampton needle exchange while locked in the depths of his drug and alcohol addiction, and it helped him take the first step on his road to recovery. Recorder Staff/Tom Relihan

Published: 7/5/2016 10:54:51 PM

South Hadley resident Will Oldershaw, 29, says a needle exchange helped him take his first steps back onto the road to sobriety that he’d left in his teens.

In his early teens, Oldershaw experimented with drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana like most of his friends, but those substances affected him very differently from the rest of his friends, he said.

“Something happens to me when I drink and when I get high that doesn’t happen to the average person,” he said. “When I’d do it, I didn’t want anything else. You see it a lot — at least I do, because I recognize it — but there’s a certain kind of person who really can’t take a drink safely. I’m that guy.”

Soon his substance abuse escalated into harder drugs like heroin, and he found himself kicked out of school and running afoul of the law, with a few stints in rehab facilities and prison between periods of homelessness on the streets of Northampton. His unpredictable nature, brought on by his drug use, saw his relationship with his family erode.

“From, like, 16 on, that was my life. By 20, I had to steal every day to support my habit,” he said. “I’m thankful today, but the authorities were always on my back, teachers at school were always catching me. There were a lot of consequences for my actions right away, but I was enjoying what I was doing so much that I didn’t really care about them. I felt like there was no hope for stopping. I didn’t think you could have happy and sober in the same sentence, so why even try?”

Alone and lost amid his addiction, Oldershaw heard about the Northampton needle exchange program, probably through word of mouth, and decided to pay it a visit, he said.

“It was nerve-wracking, you don’t want to be seen going in, but it gave me a little bit of hope, and that’s a valuable thing for a guy like me,” he said. “I met Liz (Whynott) and they made it clear, that you can come here and get the needles, and you can use their resources. If you need to go to detox, you can sit here and make phone calls. This is a safe place you can get help and education.”

It still took multiple attempts and a five-month stay in jail for Oldershaw’s sobriety to stick, he said, but he now owns a contracting and moving business and has a 3-year-old son.

He also entered recovery without a hepatitis C or HIV infection.

— TOM RELIHAN




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