Newt Gingrich tours and speaks at addiction recovery center in Marietta

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Apr. 22—MARIETTA — Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives, once asked Missy Owen for a favor — her vote.

Years later, when she was seeking supporters for her Marietta-based nonprofit, the Davis Direction Foundation, she asked him to return the favor.

Gingrich, who has supported the organization ever since, toured the foundation's The Zone facility Thursday, and came away impressed.

"I think it's breathtaking," Gingrich said. "I think it's extraordinarily impressive. Marietta is very lucky to have something like this here."

The Zone, founded in 2016, provides recovering addicts with social connection, recovery coaching, yoga, music and art, a coffee shop, haircuts and more. It is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 365 days a year.

Led by people in recovery, their family members, friends and allies, The Zone is an arm of the Davis Direction Foundation, an organization that fights opioid/heroin addiction by helping people in recovery stay in recovery.

Missy and Michael Owen started the Davis Direction Foundation after their son, Davis Owen, died by drug overdose.

Missy Owen first connected with the Gingrich family when her friend and Newt Gingrich's oldest daughter, now Kathy Lubbers, would spend the night at Owen's house. But Missy Owen didn't get to know the former House speaker until she was in college, when he popped into the pharmacy where she worked to ask for her vote, which she agreed to give him.

After her son died, Missy Owen decided to reach out to Gingrich to ask for his support with the Davis Direction Foundation.

"I wrote him a letter and I said, 'you once came into my place of employment, and asked me for a favor, for my vote, and now I'm coming into your place of employment, and I need a favor from you,'" she said. "And ever since then, Newt has been one of our best advocates."

Gingrich was given a tour of the facility by Missy and Michael Owens and Chelsea Cronin, who formerly abused drugs but has since become a recovery coach professional.

Gingrich admired The Zone's client-run thrift stores, which generate revenue and create employment opportunities for those in recovery, helping them obtain skills with which they can making a living, he said.

Following the tour, Gingrich offered strong opinions about how to address America's drug problem while speaking with Missy Owen and the media.

"I think we're gonna have to close the border," he said. "I mean, nothing's gonna work if you have 19,000 people coming across the border a day because the Border Patrol is so busy dealing with people that they can't go after drugs. They can't go after any kind of illegal activity other than just managing the sheer volume of people coming in."

And high-ranking drug traffickers must face more severe punishment, he added.

"The people at the top making an immense amount of money ought to face either life in prison or the death penalty," he said. "I mean, if you're knowingly out there running an organization that's distributing something which kills people, then you ought to be held accountable."

Before he left the facility Thursday, Gingrich said he plans to write about the foundation in his newsletter and release a podcast episode featuring Missy Owen and some of the people who have had their lives changed by The Zone.

According to Missy Owen, there were nine deaths by drug overdose in Cobb County over just the last two weeks.