From Addict to Mentor: A Story of Hope

Photos courtesy of Randy Anderson

Despite his gregarious, nice-guy persona, Randy Anderson was a hard case.

He didn’t want to live anymore after his wife left him, so he took to using more drugs and selling them, hoping that would do him in. Good at sales and determined to keep feeling high, Anderson soon was easily supporting a thousand-dollar-a-day cocaine habit.

“There’s no amount you can’t find somebody to sell you,” says Anderson.

Shackled and defiant

Anderson soon was easily supporting a thousand-dollar-a-day cocaine habit.Eventually, a federal drug task force got a video of a drug delivery at his house and snagged him in a raid. For the first time, Anderson went to jail. “I kind of thought at that point that my life was over,” he says. Instead, he clung to his drug-dealing ways and ended up with federal and state charges and a prison sentence of 87 months. Eventually, Anderson was delivered to a treatment program in shackles and handcuffs.

According to Anderson, a hard-nosed addiction treatment counselor called him on his deceitful ways and told him, “I don’t know why I’m wasting my breath on you. You can’t do it.” Anderson defiantly took that as a challenge and began his first day of sobriety seventeen years ago.

Fired up to keep people sober

Having served his time and broken his habit, Anderson now tells his story over and over in order to advocate for criminal justice reform related to drug use as well as to change individual lives. He is on fire with his mission to keep others from ending up in prison – or worse. Having watched his sister, birth mother, and father all die due to drug use, “I don’t want another brother or family member to have to feel what I felt,” he says.

Anderson has used his story and his passion to influence state law, working with state legislators to generate new policies to divert drug users from court to treatment. He also worked for three years in support of legislation that holds the pharmaceutical companies accountable for the opioid crisis – the first of its kind in the nation. He has been active on a number of boards and advocacy groups, and currently serves on an advisory board for the Hennepin County sheriff’s office. Recently Anderson was appointed to the Golden Valley Police Commission.

Making recovery personal

Anderson’s work is both advocacy and person-to-person service. He travels all over the state to use his story and his passion to help addicts in person wherever he can. He has delivered thousands of Narcan nasal spray kits to addicts and family members to counter overdose effects, and he provides training to others on Narcan use.

Anderson is perhaps most passionate about training other recovering users like himself to be peer counselors. Offering peer counseling services, he believes, is one of the simplest, least expensive, and most accessible ways to address drug addiction. He even helped get state legislation passed to fund peer counseling services in some treatment settings.

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“I’m actually an approved provider for the Minnesota certification board here in Minnesota,” says Anderson, and he trains others around the world to do peer counseling. “I’ve trained well over 500 people from 35 States and seven countries,” he says, much of the training being done online.

He is now using grant money from Minnesota’s pharmaceutical opioid payouts to expand peer counseling services in Minnesota. “I just like to help other people build a career in recovery,” he says.

Anderson believes the best link to recovery is the person-to-person connection with someone else who understands what you’ve been through and can walk with you as you make a new life for yourself in recovery. That was his own experience with the get-tough counselor at the treatment center.

I don’t want another brother or family member to have to feel what I feltThat counselor had “pushed the father button in me when he said you can’t do it, because I’d grown up with a very old school father,” says Anderson. “No matter what I did, it was never good enough. He’s the kind of dad that always said things like no one remembers who won second place — or losers. He was a very physically, emotionally, verbally abusive father. I’ve been beaten with baseball bats. I’ve been thrown through sheetrock walls.

“I look back now and the driving reason why I got sober and decided to try to do recovery is because someone said I couldn’t do it, and I’ve been sober ever since. Here is a guy who had been to prison, who had done all these bad things in his life, and now he’s a counselor and he’s helping people. I just thought if he can do it, I can do it. I really related to Mark.”

The basic principle taught in peer counseling training is “to always treat people as resources, like people are an expert of their own lived experience,” says Anderson. That principle forms the top of a three-legged stool, he says. Holding up that stool are the legs of “actively listening, asking good questions, and managing your own stuff.” This latter self-management leg refers to keeping one’s own emotions and biases in check when issues come up that start feeling personal to the counselor. That may even mean supporting an addict in doing something they’d never do themselves.

Peer counselors in training also learn a process called motivational interviewing to help uncover what personal benefits and difficulties addicts may latch onto to lead themselves to make positive changes.

“We want to find out what you think is best for you and to pull that out of you,” says Anderson. “I just want people to be successful. I don’t want people to suffer. I want people to get the help, no matter what that looks like for them.”

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Trust regained

Anderson is himself a role model for finding his own way to live a productive life beyond his tumultuous life of drug use and prison. He’s experienced plenty of hurdles.

“I was recently denied insurance coverage because I have a criminal record,” he notes. Yet, he has plenty of reserves to help them through tough times. “I built up enough recovery capital through helping others and advocacy,” he says, making it possible for him to turn to others for help when he needs it. His history of service and advocacy has earned him a lot of respect, even among people who have seen his worst side.

“I think the capital — the currency — I have helps build that trust back up with people,” says Anderson.

His mother, though, still cautions him about sliding back into his old life.

“I realized like she has a reason for that distrust,” he says, “because I did a lot of bad things and that’s her experience. I can’t take that away from her. I can just keep showing her and keep doing the next right thing and I hope one day she maybe will stop saying those things to me — realize I’m never going to go back and do that again.”

Anderson is teaching this and many more lessons he’s learned as he works to develop more peer counseling opportunities around the state and beyond. He has started his own small business, Bold North Recovery and Consulting, that allows him to contract with various organizations to provide consulting and training services.  He has applied for grant funds to support expanding peer counseling resources in Minnesota. Anderson wants to see peer counselors readily available to employees in workplaces, whether they are fellow employees or from other trained peer counselors in the community. He intends to help employers offer this employee benefit and know how to use it. He also would like to see peer counselors accessible to addicts in primary clinics, in jails and sober homes, in high schools and colleges, and anywhere addicts can be found.

The next ambition for Anderson is to hold public office. If elected, he would push for criminal justice reform, using his own story to help make his case. Tax monies could be invested more wisely, in his view, than by incarcerating low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. They need medical help, he says.

“Locking me up didn’t take away my substance use disorder, but it cost the taxpayers about a half a million dollars. What an utter waste of resources!”


Pat Samples is a Twin Cities writer, writing coach, and champion of creative aging. Her website is patsamples.com

Last Updated on January 10, 2022

3 comments

  1. Stephanie Devich says:

    Randy, although we’ve walked a similar path in our past & our present, you have secretly become a huge inspiration to me. We’ve agreed to disagree on certain things, (because I’m right. Lol) But when I’ve needed help covering a training etc. You always have my back, even when you’re dealing with personal grief & loss. When you’ve got the time, I’d like to meet at Byerlys our Naloxone “dealing” spot. I’m truly in awe by your ability to not give up. 10 years #crackfree today. Stephanie

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