Opioids take good people to bad places—something I know firsthand.
An accidental heroin overdose ended my son Greg Humes’ time on earth on May 19, 2012, months shy of his 25th birthday. He was a sensitive and intelligent young man, an AP student raised in a good neighborhood in West Chester, Penn. Greg ultimately fell victim to a disease that ravages the lives of families and communities across our country.
Today’s overdose epidemic, one that kills 129 people every day in America and a majority of which is caused by opioids, is no longer found only in celebrity homes or on the streets. It’s a public health crisis that touches all Americans.
It’s even more important to remember Greg’s life and lives of far too many others on this day, as we observe National Recovery Month. It is a time dedicated to educating those who have not been touched by this epidemic on the dangers of opioid misuse and how preventable overdose can be.
Greg’s story starts like many other young adults who face substance use disorders—alcohol and marijuana use at a young age led to a cocaine habit in late high school, and eventually forced him out of college and into his first stint in rehab. Unfortunately, his situation did not improve, and Greg eventually found even worse influences who introduced him to heroin.
This drug use led to petty crime, robbery and eventually prison. It led him to a cycle of institutional living, from treatment center to court to prison in a repeating sequence. There were moments where we thought he had finally figured it out and got his act together, but it seems he would find a way to sabotage his success.
On the fateful night of his overdose, he was driven in his car and left in a hospital parking lot. No one with him called for help or tried to get him attention from the Emergency Room—they found him after it was too late to revive him.
The investigating detective later said to me: “If we had a 911 Good Samaritan or Narcan law, your son might very well be alive today.” Greg may have survived if there had been access to naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal antidote, or a 911 Good Samaritan Law in place—a type of law that provides immunity to those individuals with someone who is in medical distress, thus encouraging them to make the call to emergency services to save the life.
With this in mind, I channeled my grief into a newfound motivation: advocating for opportunities to save a life in Greg’s name. I chose to support efforts that will ensure no other parent will have to learn their child could have been saved if the right intervention—like naloxone—had been administered sooner. Specifically, I initiated the Pennsylvania Overdose Prevention Action Network (POPAN), where we worked to implement 911 Good Samaritan and naloxone access laws in the state.
The reality is that most overdoses occur in private homes, meaning family and friends are often the first on the scene in an overdose situation. Every day parents, caregivers, police officers and community members find themselves in situations with someone who has overdosed, and they must race against the clock—and the odds—to save a life. Luckily, today there are ready-to-use naloxone nasal sprays that are FDA-approved and intended for community use. They are meant to be used by non-medically trained professionals, like you and me, in order to treat an overdose within a person’s home and when seconds matter. It’s a life-saving medication.
I can’t reverse the events that took place to bring Greg back, but I can encourage others to arm themselves with tools that can save future lives. If you know anyone who is struggling with opioid addiction and is susceptible to an overdose, having readily-available naloxone is a critical step in ensuring a life is not lost unnecessarily. By bridging the gap between saving a life and moving someone towards addiction recovery, we are addressing this public health crisis one person at a time.
Currently a majority of states throughout the country have issued standing orders for naloxone, which permits pharmacies to dispense it without a physician’s prescription. This means you can walk into your CVS pharmacy and request naloxone nasal spray without a prescription—something that I wish would have been available to me during stressful times.
I’ve worked tirelessly since Greg’s death to support ongoing efforts to promote education, treatment and prevention of opioid addiction in his honor. I hope to move the realities of substance use disorder into the public light and end the stigma surrounding addiction for both the individual in active use and their loved ones.
We can all take the necessary steps to start making changes in how we view, prepare for and treat overdoses.
Where there is life, there is hope.