Mark Anthony Lopez, 28, of Lubbock is celebrating nine months of being sober after battling a nearly eight year addiction to synthetic marijuana. Now he's telling his story because he wants others to know they aren't alone.
Synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice or K2 is a toxic potpourri mixture coated in an assortment of chemicals. The drug has gained popularity across the country. Texas passed several laws in 2015 trying to crack down on the synthetic drug, but the production of chemicals in the drug industry often outpaces regulators' ability to ban the variations of the drug being marketed.
Law enforcement officers on the South Plains have been trying to crack down on the illegal drug as well, in January the District Attorney's Office raided a Lubbock smoke shop and found what they believe to be over 100 packets of synthetic marijuana.
Lopez said he first heard about the drug when he was 19 and became interested when his friends told him the drug wouldn't show up on drug tests. At first he described himself as a recreational user, he promised he'd never become like his friends who were ruining their reputations and relationships over the drugs.
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But eventually, his life came to revolve around his addiction.
"Selling everything [I] had, just to accumulate the money to get it," Lopez explained. "It took everything, it took everything from me."
Lopez estimated that he spent tens of thousands of dollars over the past eight years on synthetic marijuana, sometimes spending up to $300 day. He explained that during some periods he would smoke the drug around ten times a day.
"I should be dead now," Lopez said reflecting on his drug use.
Lopez also lost several jobs and lost contact with friends and family members as his addiction progressed. He would often find himself in severe pain or vomiting during the day as a result of his drug use.
Lopez said he would steal from family members and disappear for long periods of time. He knew his habits were growing concerning when he realized his family had made missing posters for him during one of his absences.
"I was always able to drive while I was high and one day I stopped and got some, it was so strong it made me feel really tired, so I pulled over and ended up falling asleep for maybe five minutes at a stop sign," Lopez explained. He added that afterward, he fell asleep again on the road, but the next time he woke up surrounded by police, he was arrested and put in jail.
That incident combined with the realization that he was cutting himself off from his loved ones, was what brought Lopez to quit cold turkey.
Lopez prayed to be free from his addiction and in 2015, his prayers were answered.
"I'm back! " Lopex exclaimed, "[being sober], that is one of the best things I've felt in my life."
But Lopez knows that many other people are struggling with addiction to synthetic marijuana, and he wants to offer them words of encouragement as they work to become sober as well.
"One thing I've learned from this is that you need to be able to talk to somebody, no matter how much you think you have it under control, you need to be able to talk to somebody," he said. "One of the things I've learned is that it's really hard to talk to your loved ones about something like this."
Lopez said he sought out the help of a counselor in fighting his addiction, and recommends that other addicts seek out a person they trust who is able to listen.
He said it's a misconception that the people who are hooked on synthetic pot are bad people, he said more often than not they are just in need of help and support.
Now he is proud to have restored relationships with his family as well as a full-time job he's very happy with. He's especially happy about his relationship with his girlfriend, Alyssa Correa, who stayed with him as he battled his addiction.
"I stayed with him because he needed me, he needed someone who could help him through it," Correa said of her boyfriend's addiction. "It's hard, but my main message to people is just don't give up."
Correa feels fortunate that her boyfriend has been able to free himself for the drug that was controlling his life.
"Drug addiction does end, whether it's getting sober or it's death, I'm just really glad his [addiction] ended with getting sober," said Correa.
Lopez said that he's happy to offer advice or friendship to people who are also struggling with addiction, you can reach him through is Facebook account (CLICK HERE).