This Week in AG History -- May 3, 1970
Dr. Howard Thomas (1927-2016) had a promising career as a physician, but a drug addiction almost destroyed his marriage and professional life in the early 1960s. After hitting rock bottom and ending up in a private sanatorium for treatment, he turned to Christ and experienced a radical transformation. Against all odds, Thomas was allowed to keep his medical license. He became a dedicated member of the Assemblies of God and frequently shared his testimony of his deliverance from addiction to drugs. The May 3, 1970, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel published his remarkable story.
Thomas was raised in a rural Tennessee community where alcohol was a way of life and where religious influences were minimal. Recreational activities always seemed to include liquor bottles. Thomas partied hard, but he also worked hard. He married, attended college, studied diligently, and graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in 1954.
Thomas and another doctor purchased a clinic in Henderson, Tennessee. Thomas and his wife, Ann, seemed to be living the American dream. They were respected members of their community, and their future was bright.
However, the Thomases’ lifestyle of partying led them into trouble. They began attending private parties hosted by local professionals. Drug use and sexual sin were commonplace.
Dr. Thomas recounted: “Practically all the people at these parties were church people. The parties got worse and worse. I would have to describe them as vile and vulgar. Yet on Sunday morning you could see these same people in the pews and teaching Sunday school classes and serving the churches.”
The Thomases joined in the hypocrisy. They maintained a veneer of respectability, even while they adopted destructive lifestyles. Their hearts were far from God. Dr. Thomas later said, “Our morals got lower and lower.”
Family and work pressures took their toll, and Thomas began taking pills to help him stay awake. He learned to depend on stimulants and began injecting amphetamine. He soon moved on to harder drugs, including Demerol and morphine. When Ann was feeling ill, he gave her a shot of Demerol. Soon, she was also addicted.
Life was spinning out of control. They tried to escape their problems by leaving Henderson and moving to Arizona, where he accepted a position as a company doctor. Their drug habit, however, was not solved by distance. Dr. Thomas, increasingly, was unable to focus sufficiently to perform surgeries, and Ann became mentally disturbed and could not be home alone.
Ann’s condition deteriorated, and her parents came from Tennessee to help with the children. The family decided to move back to Tennessee, where Thomas opened up another practice. He thought he could “snap out of it” and that everything would be all right.
However, Thomas could not kick his drug habit and things got worse. He developed festering abscesses on his hips and shoulders, and he had difficulty hiding his addictions. Ultimately, his parents had him committed at a neuropsychiatric hospital in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He escaped from the hospital. He went on to hold a series of failed short-term positions as a doctor, until he deteriorated to the point of being unable to function. He slept in his car in the woods or in a gravel pit, and patients never knew where to find him.
Dr. Thomas was recommitted at the Murfreesboro hospital, this time behind locked steel doors. He was devastated. He was confined for seven weeks, where he went through withdrawal. However, he still had cravings for drugs. He knew that he would return to his former lifestyle once he was free. In the meantime, Ann had filed for divorce.
One day, in July 1965, a truck driver asked Thomas to attend a men’s religious retreat. Thomas tried to say “no,” but the truck driver was persistent. Thomas went, and the services were unlike anything he had ever seen.
The men were not trying to impress anyone. They were not playing church. They testified how God delivered them from lives of sin, they prayed, and they called on God in prayer. Thomas came to realize that these men had something that he desperately needed – he needed God’s power in his life.
A Spirit-filled Methodist electrician and plumber led Thomas to the Lord at the meeting. Thomas later recalled, “I felt clean. I felt the same way as the other men. I was full of praise. I wanted to testify. My first thought was to go to Ann and tell her about Jesus. I knew she was lost.”
Thomas returned from the retreat and told Ann that he accepted Jesus and was a new man. She was skeptical. Her mother warned her to not go back to him. He had promised for years that he would kick his addictions, but never did.
Thomas began attending a local Methodist church, where the pastor invited him to share his testimony. Word spread throughout the region of Dr. Thomas’ remarkable deliverance from drugs, and he began to receive invitations to speak at schools and churches. He also reconciled with his wife, Ann.
After accepting Christ, Thomas began reading the Bible. He became convinced from the Bible that Christ provided an experience subsequent to salvation – baptism in the Holy Spirit – that provided empowerment for daily living. He had heard some of the men at the retreat talking about the experience. He knew that he needed God’s power in his life.
The Thomases met Ralph Duncan, an Assemblies of God pastor in Rutherford, Tennessee, and invited him to hold special services in Saltillo, the small town where they were living. Ann received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in those meetings, and she became a different person. She said, “Honey, it’s real. It’s real!” Dr. Thomas was likewise baptized in the Holy Spirit a short time later.
Meanwhile, the Board of Medical Examiners had started the process of revoking Thomas’ license to practice medicine. Dr. Thomas made a full written confession of his addictions and misdeeds, and the board had no intention of giving him a second chance, based on his dismal record.
At Dr. Thomas’ hearing, the board grilled the Thomases and their parents for two hours. The board asked Ann, “How can you be so sure that he won’t go back on drugs?” She replied, “You don’t know the power of God.”
Stating it was against its better judgement, the board decided to permit Thomas to continue to practice medicine, on the condition that Ann write the board a letter every month assuring the board that everything is fine.
Dr. Howard Thomas went to on to be a successful physician and a longtime Assemblies of God member. He frequently shared his testimony, including on television and radio. A widely-distributed booklet, Drugs, Despair, Deliverance: The Story of Dr. Howard Thomas, was written by C. M. Ward, the host of the Assemblies of God’s Revivaltime radio broadcast. In 1975, David Mainse interviewed Thomas for the Assemblies of God’s Turning Point television program. Thomas had so many ministry opportunities that he became credentialed as an Assemblies of God minister from 1975 to 1981.
When Thomas went to be with the Lord in 2016, he and Ann had been married almost 70 years. While the first 20 years of their marriage was marked by addictions and destructive patterns, they spent their last 50 years as devoted Christians active in Assemblies of God churches.
Thomas’ testimony provides insight into the problem of drug addiction. From personal experience, Thomas understood that institutional care is not the answer to the drug problem. He wrote, “A man can be taken off drugs, but as soon as he is returned to society, and the same pressures set in, that man will return to drugs.”
Thomas also understood that psychiatry is limited in its ability to treat addiction. Psychiatrists recognized and analyzed Thomas’ addiction, but they could not cure the addiction. A cure required a change of heart. Addiction, Thomas came to realize, was a spiritual problem. He spent years attempting to treat his own addiction. However, Thomas found deliverance only after he placed his faith in Christ and allowed his heart and desires to be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Read “I Was Hooked on Drugs,” by Howard W. Thomas, on pages 2-3 and 13 of the May 3, 1970, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Marriages Can Be Mended,” by C. M. Ward
• “From Black Magic to Christ,” by Armand Helou
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.