The Disaster We Don’t See

August 30, 2022

Tornados cut paths of snapped trees and flattened homes, scattering photographs, insulation, and children’s art work for miles.

After floods, sofas, refrigerators, books, clothes, stuffed animals, and curtains are left by the curb. Lifetimes of belongings are ruined by the rising muddy water.

Hurricanes rip off roofs, knock down walls, and blow trees into homes and across roads. They down power lines, leaving neighborhoods in the dark.

Covering natural disasters is standing in the ruins of what used to be and listening to survivors trying to make sense of lives turned upside down. It’s watching neighbors share what’s left to care for each other. The worst of times bring out the best of people because it’s easy to see what everyone else is going through.

The opioid crisis is the disaster that we don’t see. Pain pills, heroin, and fentanyl have spread through our communities and devastated lives, but there are no groups cleaning up debris, chainsawing trees or cooking hot meals. There is no Red Cross or FEMA setting up field offices to help people back on their feet.

Instead, the opioid epidemic strikes quietly, person by person. It’s overdose deaths in bedrooms or living rooms and families carrying the pain. It is thefts for drug money, children raised by grandparents, law enforcement running out of Narcan used to to reverse overdoses, and overdose emergencies adding stress to a healthcare system still recovering from COVID.

There is no accurate count of lives lost or upended. Methadone clinics, AA meetings, recovery groups, and rehab centers provide a glimpse of people getting help, but these don’t include the many more still in addiction. There are no numbers representing the family and friends who also suffer.

Since January, I have talked about substance use disorder and overdoses with folks at gas stations, coffee shops, grocery stores, art festivals, parking lots, homeless camps, drug courts, and churches. I talked with officers on duty, people mowing grass or neighbors sitting together in the front yard. Almost every one of them told stories of husbands, wives, children, nieces, nephews, aunts, mothers, fathers, best friends or themselves. Many said it was a secret they kept inside.

The opioid crisis has killed more than one million Americans, but there are few government agencies or politicians providing solutions. The Gulf Coast is behind even the rest of Alabama in resources. There is no center for detox or drug treatment, and addiction is often seen as a moral lapse by the user.

Despite the lack of resources and leadership, help is coming from people in recovery providing peer support-the ones who understand addiction from the inside. They open rehabs and halfway houses, volunteer or return to school to become counselors. Help is coming from parents who have lost a child speaking out, hoping to save other parents from the same unbearable pain. It’s also coming from law enforcement and emergency systems bearing the brunt of actions from addiction and a surging supply of fentanyl.

Tomorrow night is a chance to start changing that and make the opioid crisis more visible. The Drug Education Council is presenting “After Dopesick: A Conversation with Steve Loyd and Friends.” Loyd is a doctor from Tennessee who became addicted to pain pills. After his full recovery from opioid addiction, Loyd’s focus became assisting people suffering from substance abuse in Tennessee. He is now responsible for the care and treatment of at least 5,000 patients a year. His early medical career and addiction became the inspiration for the doctor played by Micheal Keaton in the Hulu series, “Dopesick.” Based on the best-selling, non-fiction book, “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America,” by Beth Macy, the series was watched by 10 million viewers and was nominated for 14 Emmys. Macy will also be on the panel, along with Judge Duane Sloan, who has been an innovator in addressing the opioid crisis from his courtroom in Tennessee. I will be on the panel to tell stories of what is happening in our area.
After Dopesick starts at 6 p.m. at the Saenger Theater. Admission is free. Organizations that provide assistance for substance use disorder and recovery will also be there with booths and information.

If addiction has touched your life in any way, please come to “After Dopesick.” You will realize you aren’t alone and may even find resources, encouragement or a little hope to help you through.



  1. Al Pennington

    A superb piece. I don’t have the answers, but what we are doing now isn’t working.

    We desperately need innovative thought and collective will to make the necessary changes.

  2. Kent Fletcher

    Very informative. Remember that even Rush Limbaugh was addicted to pain pills, I forget the name but he was honest about his recovery. A sad situation.


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