Opioid epidemic: Where will you be when someone needs help?

Published 2:00 am Saturday, September 8, 2018


Where were you on September 11? Everyone over 23 or 24 probably can answer that question instantly. For the past 17 years, I have remembered that I was having a root canal in Richmond, Va., …. not that far away from D.C. where the Pentagon was hit. I watched the first tower fall before I left home that morning. By the time that I arrived at the oral surgeon, the second tower had fallen. We all know where we were.

But for the last two years, all I have been able to think about was, “Where was I on September 11, 2016?” I was doing something so frivolous that it makes the memory painful. I was trying my hand at riding a bike again as an adult. All I could think about was that they say you never forget how….but I had forgotten how and ended with a small crash in a very public place with tears of humiliation and a scrape or two for my physical efforts. How can you forget how to ride a bike? Maybe she was wondering the same thing.

The phone rang on September 11, and I let it go to voice mail after seeing who was calling. I had already had a bruise to my ego and legs that morning. I didn’t want to ruin my afternoon as well. The message played aloud as someone I had never seen in person cried out. My sister was gone. “She is dead,” he said. “She finally took too many pills,” he wept. “I couldn’t save her, I tried CPR, the police already came, they have taken her body, I don’t know what to do. Please call me April. She loved you so much, and I know that she would have wanted me to call you first.”

Despite seeing my sister’s name on my phone, I chose not to answer, because too many times she had called for money. Too many times she had called begging for another chance. Too many times she had driven under the influence. Too many times she had broken our parents’ hearts. Too many times and too many promises. Too many times of going to rehab with no lasting results. Too many times I had found my niece and nephew acting way beyond their years as they looked for her latest stash. Too many times I had watched her husband accept her promises of change and welcome her back home. Too many times of wondering when she would lose her job, her family, her hope and her willingness to try again. Too many times of hunting her down at local motels and desperately beating on the door to awaken her.

Too many times I had fallen for a back ache or a kidney stone or a hurting knee and taken her to get medical help in the form of pain medicine. Too many times she had gone to doctor after doctor, to ER after ER. Anything for a brief moment of relief from the pains of this world.

In reality, the allure of sleep, mindless hours to forget everything around her and the cry of her body to float mindlessly above the rest of the world in peace was stronger than her body could take. The doctor who wrote her a prescription for 99 Lortab should have known better; he should be punished for what he has done, but the cash across the exam table bought her what she wanted. Enough. Enough to be done with short term escape.

Enough to briefly remember the happy days of her children playing around her. Enough to remember the students that she taught to love reading and writing and journalism for more than 20 years. Enough to forget that she had walked away from everything. Everything. Time and time again. Walked away from the husband who only wanted his laundry done. Walked away from a chance to spend time with her first grandchild. Walked away from a sister with a traumatic brain injury. Walked away from help and 77th chances. Walked away from a 3,000 square foot home with her beloved dogs. She walked away from the ‘normal’ life that we all live so that she could overdose in a small cabin in the woods with a fellow addict that she willingly married after divorcing the father to her children.

Where were you on September 11? I can tell you where I wish I had been. I wish that I had been chasing down my sister to the ends of this Earth to help her find healing. Healing from addiction. Healing from thinking that she no longer had a choice. Healing of any kind that would have satisfied her opioid addiction long enough to find another path in this life.

Where will you be on your September 11? Will you answer the phone when that family member or neighbor or co-worker calls? You know that their problem is real. They might have forgotten how to ride that bike….how to do this life sober….how to ask for help…how to be the mother or father that they need to be. You don’t have to know how to ‘fix’ it, but please be willing to walk with them toward healing and hope. Please don’t wait for the voice mail to pick up. It may be too late. And I now know, there is no such thing as too many chances.


April Thrower is a teacher, sister, mom and minister’s wife. She lives in Andalusia.