For years and years one Atoka couple kept giving their adult son money because he said he needed it to pay rent and his car note.
“It was just help, help, help and nothing was changing,” said Sara, whose real name is not being used. “I found out later on it was probably not going to what he was asking.”
About three years ago, Sara’s son finally told her he was addicted to opioids.
“They are so convincing,” she said. “My gosh, they can come up with a story and they’re (addicts) all this way. We say it’s like they all have the same handbook. They’re your loved ones and so of course you want to help when there’s this tragedy about to happen. It came to the point where we felt like we could do no more and he finally admitted he was addicted.”
That’s when Sara and her husband began attending Nar-Anon meetings in Bartlett. Nar-Anon is a 12-step program for friends and family members of those who are affected by someone else’s drug addiction.
After a while, Sara, who lives in Atoka, began seeing Tipton County residents at the Bartlett meetings. Sara and others decided to form a Nar-Anon chapter in Atoka. It meets every Thursday at 7 p.m. at Atoka Presbyterian Church. The group began meeting in May and its members are anonymous.
Sara’s son, who is now 33, is in jail in Shelby County. She said he’s been clean for six months and may be released this month. Though his career in real estate and a marriage ended because of drug addiction, his story could still end well.
For another member of Atoka Nar-Anon, Sherry Patrick, who has chosen to not be anonymous, the story of her daughter’s opioid addiction did not end as well. Wendy Owens died in 2018 at the age of 40 to a drug overdose.
Her son, Bryan Owens, also dealt with drug addiction in his 20s and 30s. She said he’s been clean now for 13 years and is doing very well. A 12-step program was his key to success.
Sherry saw how a 12-step program helped her son and decided she needed one for herself. She began attending Nar-Anon meetings in 2017.
“I was broken. All I could do was cry,” Patrick said. “I wasn’t sleeping, I was angry, I was hurt. The dreams I had for my children weren’t the dreams they had. When I walked into the room (at Nar-Anon) I saw people with hope who were happy and I wanted that. It was life-changing. I’m happy and I don’t obsess anymore. I live to share that with other people and give them hope.”
The statistics on drug overdoses in Tipton County and the state are not good.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, there were 21 overdose deaths in Tipton County in 2019 and 53 hospitalizations due to drug overdoses. In Tennessee in 2019 there were 2,089 overdose deaths and 16,670 outpatient visits because of overdoses.
The overwhelming majority of people overdosing are young, just like Sara’s and Patrick’s children. Many are successful people until addiction hits.
“There’s probably not too many addicts out there who were horrible people,” Sara said. “They were good people. Some had excellent jobs, a good family life, the works. It takes over and they lose everything.”
On Thursday, July 22 at 7 p.m at Atoka Presbyterian, Mark Mason, a regional overdose prevention specialist, will meet with the group to get the members certified on how to administer Narcan, a nasal spray used to treat an overdose victim.
During a normal meeting, loved ones of addicts focus on getting themselves, not the addict, healthy. Sara said that’s the main point she wants to get across regarding Nar-Anon.
“We can help them get their life back on track,” Sara said. “It’s a family disease. If they’re down in a well you don’t jump down there with them because neither one of you can get out. You have to get strong yourself and maybe you can help pull them out of there. It’s like the oxygen mask on a plane. You put it on yourself so you can help others with you.”
“We can’t fix our addicts or the world we live in but we can work on ourselves and how we perceive life,” Patrick said. “It teaches you to focus on the good things. We want to give people help, but they have to want it themselves.”