Tennessee is where I was born and where I’m gonna die. Cause I love them collard greens and pecan pie.—Trolling, fishin’ and blueberry pickin—’ Ain’t even left yet, but I already miss it. It won’t be long until I’m gone, someday soon I’m comin’ back home.
During winter of 2016, in a smoky, dimly-lit garage, I remember Nate scratching these lyrics into a notebook. He would then strum his guitar, change up a few words and refrains, and take a swig from his bottle. I often hung out with the “boys”; we would sing along with the guitars, wax philosophically, laugh, and always drink, do much drinking. Later that summer, I left San Francisco and every now and then, social media posts would give a bit of an update about the boys. Nate moved to Los Angeles, and worked as a movie set builder. Pictures showed him happy and successful, that was 2017. In the years that followed, Nate’s posts were sparse until they were none.
This spring, I reconnected with one of the boys, and he told me about Nate. Back in San Francisco, Nate sometimes did lines of cocaine. In LA, his drug use was varied and frequent—rocks, bumps, pills, dabs, or whatever he could get his hands on. His addiction became insatiable. He lost his job and stole in order to get the hit he needed. Nate ended up in jail and when he got out, he no longer had a place to live. Nate’s addiction continued, and he disappeared for months at a time. Now and then, his friends would find him and give him food and money. On Valentine’s Day of 2021, Nate disappeared forever. He died alone, on a cold street in Los Angeles, from a drug overdose. He was a month away from his 30th birthday, and his brother met the same fate in Tennessee, five days before Nate’s death.
|Nate’s death still pulls at my heart, and, although personal to me, his drug overdose is not unique. According to the CDC’s preliminary findings, in 2020, there were 93,134 deaths from overdose. This is a 30% increase from 2019. The leading cause of these overdose deaths were synthetic opiates, namely fentanyl. Since 2016, the overdose deaths from fentanyl has been on the rise.|
Fentanyl is a potent pain killer, 50–100 times stronger than morphine. Illicit forms are frequently created in labs in China, supplying drug cartels. Drug dealers then mix fentanyl into methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy. Unfortunately, customers do not know that fentanyl is their drug of choice and can overdose. Why would a dealer kill their customers? Economics. Many don’t overdose, and typically crave more of the drug. Fentanyl is much cheaper than the other drugs, so dealers ultimately make more money.
When lock-downs were put in place as Covid-19 infection rates rapidly rose, so did the overdose deaths. From February to May of 2020, overdose deaths nearly doubled. Overdose from synthetic opiate deaths were 50% of those deaths. So many resources were unavailable; harm reduction, treatment, and recovery services were limited or closed. At the same time, people were under great mental and economic distress. In order to cope with the loneliness and anxiety, many reached for drugs to escape.
There is some hope from Covid, though. Traditionally, in-person programs and communities, such as LifeRing took their meetings online. Many intensive out-patient programs did the same. Those seeking recovery were also able to do their medically-assisted treatment at home, instead of at clinics. Covid forced us to rethink recovery methods, and flipped inaccessible to more accessible. In LifeRing alone, meeting attendance grew by 586% during Covid. I am one of the statistics that sought recovery during the pandemic and became a LifeRing member.
Still, there are others who are not ready for recovery and the overdose epidemic continues. However, death does not always have to be the result of an overdose. The medication, naloxone (commonly known as Narcan®) can reverse the effects of opiate overdose. Trainings on how to administer how to administer the drug and where to get it is available here: https://www.getnaloxonenow.org/#home. Having naloxone can be an opportunity to save a friend or even a stranger when they are overdosing. I wish my friend Nate had that option. He had so much more ahead of him but now he is gone, having never made it back to Tennessee.