You might think it won’t happen to you, but it could. It’s a truth writer and recovering addict Steve Wildsmith wants to impress on everyone. The opioid and overdose epidemic now sweeping the country spares no one.
I’m with Steve.
In April, I published “The Dark Underbelly,” my first blog about this topic. Since then, yet another friend has lost her child to a fentanyl overdose. She had no idea her adult child was using, and now her grief has no bottom. Why hadn’t she seen the signs?
As sad and depressing as this topic might be more can and should be said about it. We could argue endlessly about our open borders that give drug traffickers easy entry into the country. We could talk about societal ills. Or we could ignore the issue entirely. But burying your head and thinking it won’t happen to you won’t make the crisis go away.
On this point, Steve is adamant.
An Especially Pernicious Act
In two separate incidents just a few weeks ago, folded dollar bills were found at gas stations in Perry County, Tennessee. Both contained a white powdery substance that tested positive for methamphetamine and fentanyl.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, takes a central role in the ongoing overdose epidemic. Even a small amount is enough to kill, and it’s now being found in heroin, weed, illicit opioids.
And now on money.
What if your kid or grandkid, nephew or niece picked up those dollar bills? Not unimaginable. Finding money on the sidewalk, in a parking lot, or on the floor of a restaurant is every kid’s dream. Payday.
And you think It won’t happen to you?
Getting Back to Steve
Getting back to Steve. He’s passionate about doing his part to end the misery.
For 15 years, Steve was a functioning addict. Despite his addiction to heroin and other injectable drugs, he maintained a career as a journalist…until “the wheels fell off” in the late 1990s. Lucky for Steve, his editor battled addiction himself and urged Steve to get clean through detox and recovery.
Steve’s life began.
“So many people in Blount County (Tennessee) were desperate to have a conversation,” Steve says, referring to The Daily Times column he started writing in 2003 about addiction and recovery.
In fact, he met Jan and Dan McCoy, a local couple whose son died of an overdose in 2014, because of his column. “I was at a tire store. He recognized me. I didn’t know him. He told me my column gave him comfort and he broke down. He’s a husband, a pilot, a Southern man, tough. It wrecked me.”
Steve became friends with the McCoys, and in 2018, Jan and Steve put together the first “Hijacked” seminar, an annual event held at Maryville College. The day-long seminar features presentations by recovering addicts, authors, public officials, doctors, and non-profit organizations dedicated to helping battle the problem.
As noted by one of the Hijacked speakers this year, it’s likely many of those who attended the seminar this year never thought addiction and overdose would happen to them…until it did. And perhaps many were also unaware of the issues that led to their loved ones’ troubles.
Understanding the Issues
According to experts, some people are genetically predisposed to addiction. For others, a traumatic experience—divorce, abuse, or the death of a loved one—triggers the dependence. Some even believe trauma can happen in the womb.
For these hurting people, drugs and alcohol offer a way out. These substances interact with the brain’s neurotransmitter systems—the brain’s natural reward and stress circuits—and produce a pleasurable high, and for some, the only means of feeling normal or at peace.
But repeated use and abuse rewires the brain, and before too long, the user must consume greater and greater quantities just to get the same high. At that point, the craving dictates all behaviors. Obtaining drugs becomes the user’s sole purpose in life, even though these substances could contain fentanyl.
It won’t happen to you? Think again. Drug overdoses claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people last year. In the 20-year-long war in Vietnam, the U.S. lost 58,220 soldiers. A sober comparison.
“The addiction problem isn’t necessarily getting worse,” Steve says. “The problem has always been there. The substances are becoming more deadly. That’s what has changed.”
He continues. “We must keep talking about it. A huge stigma still surrounds addiction. Addicts aren’t bad people who need to be good. They are sick people who need to get better”—before they buy something that could kill them almost instantly.
Detox is the first step, he said. Recovery through counseling and support groups lasts a lifetime.
Unfortunately, many people refuse to think about the epidemic. “No one thinks it will happen to them…until it does.” Here’s a wake-up. “The problem is not going away anytime soon, Steve says. “What are we going to do? Give up and let people die? I’m not going to do that.”
Stop thinking it won’t happen to you.