The mother of one of those who did not survive shared her thoughts with us this Overdose Awareness Day:
Hear Our Cry – Joshua’s Journey
Sleepless nights, endless prayers, and tears that could fill an ocean. These are just a few realities for the mother and family of a loved one struggling with addiction.
“How do you…?”
“How can you…?”
“How can this be...?”
Questions like these become everyday expressions in your communication to others and self and the one trying to overcome their addiction.
"We won’t give up. We will stand beside you. Together we will help you overcome this." Statements like these are stated with love and conviction to your loved one.
"SON!!! I can help you..." I said these words so many times … my heart and words quivering, begging, pleading, and praying. And I never stopped believing that we could find a way …
And then, the call you hoped you would never receive comes in. And that is when your heart simply drops to your feet as you fall to your knees.
I recall screaming, “Not my son, not my beautiful boy!”
I prayed that call was only a bad dream, but somehow deep in my soul, I painfully realized the addiction had won.
Addiction doesn’t have to win. And that is why I am sharing our story of heartache and unimaginable grief, a story that has forever changed the life of our family and friends.
Early in 2018, I lost my son, Joshua, after a 10-year battle with addiction. My son loved life and was raised with a biblical foundation, family and friends that supported and encouraged him, and in a middle-class family with endless opportunities available to him. No one ever expected addiction would become our journey … his journey.
As a young boy, Joshua was so full of life and energy. His energy was endless and he loved to make people laugh and wanted others to know that they are loved. He always was pointing to the silver lining in every cloud and his focus was always on others. Even in the darkest of nights Joshua’s beautiful blue eyes lit up a room with every smile. He had no boundaries when it came to reaching out and helping others and extending encouragement and grace. My son stood for what he believed in and took a stand for those that could not stand up for themselves.
I remember the time I received a call from school because my son was defending a girl that was being bullied by another boy. Joshua never let anything get in his way when it came to helping others and wasn’t afraid to face any giant. He always fought the good fight and was relentless in facing battles.
And then my son came up against one of the greatest battles our nation faces today.
Joshua began his career and was injured on the job. He went to the doctor and was prescribed opioids to help with the pain of the injury. This changed my son’s life and ours trajectory forever, as his need for pain relief evolved into an addiction. Joshua hated his addiction and fought tirelessly to overcome it but the stronghold was just too much.
Addiction - that word was not who he was, but it became how society defined him and no one deserves or chooses to live with that stigma.
For years, Joshua sought help, and we tried everything that we could to overcome his opioid dependence. In his decade-long battle with addiction, my son was in long term rehab nine times. The fee for each treatment would range in the thousands of dollars, and the result was always the same; hope followed shortly by the disease’s return.
Joshua stood, fought, and overcame time after time. And yet then the battle would need to be fought again … to overcome again. His life was like David fighting the giant Goliath, only this battle continued for 10 years.
I remember as he completed one program, as I wrote a check for the final payment as I prepared to take him home, the counselor said to me your son will always struggle with addiction. “What?” I remember thinking, “He just completed one of the best programs available. Shouldn’t he be cured?” I choose instead to believe this was a new beginning. Little did I understand ten years ago, the battle had really had only just begun.
My son had dreams, and he wanted to use his experience with addiction to help others. Joshua wanted to give back and help others facing the same battle. When he maintained sobriety for a year, he planned to go back to school to become a substance abuse counselor, to impact the lives of young men and women like him and to help them avoid years of pain and addiction. After all, who can pour hope into one like a champion that has already overcome? That was his vision.
The Hebrew meaning for the name Joshua is “to save.” I think that Joshua’s struggles have given us the chance to bring awareness and the opportunity to save others in our community.
The epidemic is real.
Addiction is an epidemic, and it is a disease. Having walked through addiction for a decade with Joshua, I know our current process firsthand. I would spend days at a time seeking opportunities for treatment and pray for an opening because most treatment facilities have limited openings. Those struggling with addiction are stigmatized, because they don’t fit the status quo and are viewed as not making the best choices.
If you were in a room and the air that you breathe was dissipating, you would do anything you could do to breathe. That is what addiction is like. It’s a dependence. It’s not a choice. When undergoing treatment, only the addiction is spoken about and not the person suffering. Then after treatment, when trying to rebuild their lives by seeking housing and employment, they are met with rejection time and time again because of the stigma.
Addiction does not discriminate. Age, race, class, and gender mean nothing to addiction, and it’s time for us to treat this problem like a disease instead of a crime.
Did you know that opioids, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs accounted for 68% of the drugs that led to unintentional poisoning deaths in that same study released in 2013? Has it improved? No, it hasn’t. In 2017, the National Institute of Drug Abuse reported that North Carolina’s rate per 100,000 people was 19.8 deaths from opioid overdose compared to the national average of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 people. The greatest rise occurred among deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methane, rising from 116 deaths in 2013 to 1,953 deaths in 2017.
What is one the biggest contributors to this problem?
In 2017, North Carolina providers wrote 72.0 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Read that again! How is that even possible? The average rate in the U.S. in 2017 was 58.7 prescriptions per 100 people. How is that possible? Are there really 72 people out of every 100 taking opioids in North Carolina and 58 out of every 100 nationally?
We know now that a part of the problem is over-prescribing. The Office of National Control Drug Policy (ONCDP) stated back in 2010 that the widespread prescription drug abuse occurring in North Carolina was due to the ease in which prescription drugs in North Carolina were obtained. Nearly 10 years ago, this was cited. That was two years into Joshua’s 10-year journey trying to beat his addiction.
A study by Duke University students and faculty revealed that before 2010, two-thirds of the state’s opioid deaths were the result of prescription painkillers, but since 2013, illicit heroine and fentanyl have become the dominant forms of opioid overdose.
How could Joshua win? How could anybody win when the availability to more dangerous opioids grew instead of diminished? How can anyone win when treatment is just that, treatment, and not truly giving a person a hand up and a way out of their addiction?
It takes a village, and a different approach.
No matter how hard Joshua tried, the stronghold was just too much. The focus on every front was on the addiction and not him as the person. Because of his addiction, society constantly told him he was a failure.
Joshua had a heart of gold, and his goal was to change lives and encourage others. But first he had to win this battle for himself.
Addiction is not the problem; the way it is being treated is the problem.
When it comes to cancer, there was this turning point in our society where it reached a level of everyone being able to say they knew someone. It was then that it finally hit home as a crisis that needed to be addressed. No one was immune from being touched by cancer, either personally, or through a loved one, friend, or co-worker.
We have reached this pivot point withaddiction. Everyone now knows someone. However, because of the stigma, it has been kept hidden under a rug of guilt, embarrassment, and shame. Based on the statistics shared earlier in this article from almost ten years ago, we reached this pivot point a long time ago. There is no more time to waste.
It takes a village and more. I know because all I tried with my son and it wasn’t enough. My efforts, my tears, my endless nights of prayers were not enough. Thousands of dollars our family spent on recovery was not enough. Begging the attorneys to get him help was not enough. No matter how many times I called the doctor’s office and shared my son’s struggles with addiction, begging that opioids would not be prescribed, it was not enough. No matter how many times I stood by his side, and he committed to another recovery, and we helped him start over … IT WAS NOT ENOUGH!!!!
Through this year of grief and unimaginable loss, I have come to realize that, even though I thought I could save him, I and our family alone was not enough.
Where do we go from here?
It’s time we all do more on a united front. Lincoln County has the opportunity to lead the way and save our community and our state. The current process for treatment is not working. My Joshua was devoted to recovery and worked at it over and over again. But it wasn’t enough, and it’s time that we do more.
We need to have direct resources for our family and neighbors who are battling this disease. This crisis is a Goliath, but we can all be Davids to win this battle once and for all.
Anyone who knew or met Joshua could recite one of his favorite sayings. Wherever he went to whomever he met, he would say, “If no one has told you today they love you, I love you!” Joshua understood the power of encouraging others. We need to do the same.
I hope sharing this story of Joshua’s journey will help other families struggling with addiction. The system teaches tough love. That is not the answer. Real love is the only way!
We can face this crisis, but we have to do it together. David overcame Goliath, and we can do the same. Let’s not be suffering in shame and silence. Let’s let the world hear our cry!
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