Devin Reaves introduced himself to the class as a person in long-term recovery. But he acknowledged later on that his, and many other people’s, addiction was not an isolated occurrence.

Reaves said he is a product of the crack epidemic of the ’80s, citing that the disease is generational. He discussed the war against drugs that was spearheaded by President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy in the 1970s that has been proved ineffective repeatedly. On the business side, Reaves said that the heroin epidemic’s structure has shifted from horizontal to vertical integration —meaning dealers control the making, transportation and distribution of the drug.

He explained these big ideas to us through grounded examples, patient answers to our questions and drawings with an EXPO marker. But Reaves also told us about the work he’s doing out in the field. He received his master’s in social work from the University of Pennsylvania and is part of several organizations, including Young People in Recovery and Life of Purpose Treatment. He opened Brotherly Love House, a recovery home that offers programming like life skills training, meditation and group discussions.

Reaves said this work is his attempt to resolve big ideas on the ground level. During his talk, I felt overwhelmed at times, and his talk amplified some of the concerns I’ve had about the project. How can we sufficiently cover the topic of addiction? How do we ensure people in the recovery community are not overlooked by our reporting? If anything, connecting with Reaves is relieving in itself, because he can explain or reaffirm some ideas that we may be confused about in the future. And, through his work, he reminded me that problems are important to identify, but solutions are the next step in tackling the disease.