Pills (copy)

Just a quick warning: This week’s column is a bit of a bummer and talks about the rise of drug overdoses in the area.

Around this time last year, I was doing a lot of walking. Besides binging a show on streaming services, it was pretty much my only other go-to form of entertainment.

I remember a particularly beautiful evening, when I called a close friend of mine from my hometown. In the darkest of times, his quick wit and our shared weird sense of humor have helped those days pass by a little easier. With him also being an addict, I worried about how he was dealing with quarantine and gave him a call.

When I heard his slurred, depressed voice, I knew he had fallen off the wagon. When he asked for money for food, my heart broke. I knew he was lying, but offered to get a pizza delivered as a compromise. He agreed to that. An hour later, when I asked for his address, he didn’t reply. He had overdosed on a combination of drugs, including heroin. By the grace of God, he survived and is still alive.

It’s situations like this that I think when I read on social media how overdoses are skyrocketing in the area. According to the St. Kolbe-Puckett Center for Healing, there has been more than 110 overdoses in the area in 2021, with more being added every day.

It angers me when I read the comments on social media from people saying “Just stop doing drugs” or “They did it to themselves,” as if addiction boils down to something that simple.

I thought about those comments and the call I made to my friend when I watched the four-part YouTube documentary “Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil,” about the former Disney star, her struggles with addiction and her near-fatal heroin overdose that caused her to have multiple heart attacks and a stroke that now leaves her unable to drive.

Comparing my friend’s situation, living from paycheck-to-paycheck and relying on the generosity of others for food, to Lovato’s, where she’ll never struggle for money or resources for the rest of her life, you see that the opioid epidemic doesn’t care about a person’s social status or how well they’re able to provide for themselves. It worms its way into people’s lives through various means.

When I hear the friends and family of Lovato recount hearing about her overdose through texts and the news, I’m taken back to 2020 when my friend’s sibling told me through text that he had overdosed. He was found near death, alone in his room, hours after I talked to him. Social or financial status doesn’t matter, the reactions remain the same: helplessness, anger and confusion.

I think of how there are stories like that multiplying across our city on a daily basis, as so many people are being ripped apart by this national epidemic. And some people have the audacity to laugh and throw hurtful comments out there.

I don’t have any solutions for how to solve this. I’ll leave that to medical professionals and people putting in the hard work, like the good people at the St. Kolbe-Puckett Center for Healing. But I know that we need compassion as more stories like these pop-up. As a community, we need to lean on each other to get through this and, Lord willing, beat it.

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Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug

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