International Overdose Awareness Day, which began in Melbourne, Australia, in 2001, has been recognized on Aug. 31 each year since.
“Sally Finn, manager of a Salvation Army needle and syringe program, was touched by the sorrow she observed among the friends and families of those who had overdosed. She witnessed their inability to express that sorrow because of the stigma surrounding people who use drugs. Eleven years later, that one event in the back yard of a suburban crisis centre has evolved into International Overdose Awareness Day, which is now celebrated around the world. Its global significance reflects the universality of the human emotions triggered by the tragedy of overdose – a tragedy that’s preventable.” (From:http://www.overdoseday.com/about-us/)
It seems fitting with this day of remembrance approaching that I share part of my story as I myself was one of the lucky ones. I survived an overdose that left me barely clinging on to life. Here is the story about my overdose experience as written in my book,The First 30 Days to Serenity:
After completing yet another 30 days of treatment in 2006, I stayed clean for 60 more. I took my sobriety very seriously at that time and even made it through a breakup with my then girlfriend, Anna. She had grown tired of my antics and lies for which I could not fault her. A breakup seemed best for both of us but nevertheless dealt me a serious emotional blow. In my eyes, she was the perfect girl and I had traded perfection for drugs.
My recovery was short-lived though, and unbeknownst to me I would soon be on a fast track toward death. During this time both Chicago and Philadelphia were having a very bad epidemic of Fentanyl laced heroin sales on their streets. As many as 100 or more deaths had been attributed to people taking this deadly cocktail. And it wasn’t long before I would have it in my system.
Shortly after my stint in rehab, fortune shined and I landed a great job as a computer consultant. Having lost all my former clientele, my entrepreneurial mind came up with a plan to quickly gather up new ones. The premise was simple—I show my employer’s clients that I can do all of their work better, faster and cheaper. They abandon my “employer” and presto, become clients of mine! Once I had enough clients to call my own, I could re-start my business. Everyone kept saying that I needed to ease slowly back into life and not be too ambitious to recapture what I had lost to my addiction, but of course I didn’t listen.
I had just moved in with a new girlfriend and to get to her house from work I had to drive through a very bad neighborhood—the same one I most often went to in order to purchase my drugs. One particular evening while driving home, I was hit with some major cravings. They were brutal. I will never forget the intensity with which they ripped at my soul. The assault seemed unbearable so I prayed for the strength to make it home safely without relapsing. I suddenly felt weak and can remember thinking that I could beat this craving. I didn’t need to stop the car. I could keep driving all the way home and then I’d be OK. All I had to do was apply what I’d been taught in rehab and use the tools that I had learned there to make it home where I would be safe. Everything would be fine if I could just make it home.
But the temptations proved too great for me. I couldn’t resist this latest urge.
I picked up a girl and loaded up with $500 worth of crack and $500 worth of heroin. We had enough to last the entire night. We drove to a motel, got a room and started our little party. As usual, I headed for the bathroom and I’d come out only as needed for more drugs. I didn’t know people were dropping like flies in Chicago from bad heroin, nor did I know I was about to become one of them.
For the first hour or so, going in and out of that bathroom I smoked crack with the girl I had only known for about that same amount of time. I was so high. My heart was racing a hundred miles an hour and I was drenched in sweat like I was every time I had previously smoked crack. I am sure I wasn’t a pretty sight to look at. But this time I had pushed myself too far. Fear gripped me. It was an “out-of-control” high and I needed to come down quickly. The only way I could come down as quickly as I needed to was to do a downer drug, just one line of the heroin. I needed to do something NOW!
Little did I know, people were dying from this same batch of heroin I was about to ingest.
I pulled out the foil, scooped a line onto the table next to the bed and snorted it. I must have looked ill immediately because right after doing it the girl asked me how I felt. The only memory I have is jumping up on the bed and saying that I felt amazing. The next thing I knew, I was awakened in the hospital by my brother, Marc. He later told me that he, the doctors and my new girlfriend had been attempting to wake me for hours.
I had already been there for almost an entire day.
Later I would find out just how blessed I was to be there and to be alive. Apparently, upon collapsing, the girl I was with went through my pockets and discovered my phone. She was smart enough to call the last person that I had dialed, my brother, Marc. She told him that his brother was not doing so well in a motel room located off Cicero Avenue in the city of Chicago and that he’d better come quickly. After that, she hung up without providing him any more information. To this day, I have no idea how she knew Marc was my brother, but if she hadn’t called, I’d certainly be dead.
After some fast thinking, Marc contacted my girlfriend Tara and she drove from motel to motel in search of my car, finally finding it in the parking lot of one of the seediest motels in Chicago. She searched through the windows until she finally spotted me on the floor, lying naked and face down. The manager refused to let her enter and told her that if she wanted to get into the room, she would have to call the police. Given the times she said this was all happening, I estimate I had been alone and unconscious for approximately 45 minutes before she arrived. My life was hanging in the balance and whether I lived or died depended on how quickly she could get the police and paramedics to that room. Just minutes later, after having placed the call to 911, the paramedics gained entry and immediately gave me five shots of Narcan. To anyone who isn’t aware of how serious five shots of Narcan can be, I would later find out that administering that much at one time was in itself as serious a threat to my health as the overdose had been. I will be forever grateful to Tara and those paramedics for their heroic efforts because according to the doctors, if they had not arrived when they did, I would have been dead within four to five minutes. So, if you are reading this, Tara, thank you.
As you can see, I was fortunate to have survived that dark and rainy night in Chicago and am grateful to be alive following an overdose from drugs. My heart goes out to the many families and friends that today are struggling to face the loss of someone they loved because of drugs.
So on Aug. 31, International Overdose Awareness Day, I will take a moment and remember all the beautiful lives of those who have lost their struggle with addiction and I will continue to do whatever I can to educate and inspire others in hopes of preventing this tragic scenario from happening to others.