Jim Hood: Facing Addiction Head On

In 2012, Jim Hood suffered a parent’s worst nightmare: His son Austin died of an accidental drug overdose. He was 20 years old, and had been a student at Loyola University in New Orleans.

Here in Westport, Jim and his wife Julia — Austin’s stepmother — felt unbearable pain. Austin had been a wonderful young man, and a brilliant musician. He had a loving heart, a keen wit and a hopeful spirit.

His parents also felt helpless. During Austin’s struggles with addiction, Julia says, “There is so much I wish I had understood differently.” As they tried to help their son with his addiction issues, they felt as if they’d been dropped into a foreign city. They had no maps, and did not speak the language.

“We didn’t know who to turn to for help, or if we could talk publicly about the issue,” Julia says.

“We didn’t know if we could trust the people we chose to help him, and we didn’t know if we could trust our own decisions along the way.”

Jim Hood, and Austin.

Jim Hood, and Austin.

They did not fully understand that addiction is a disease– not a choice or a personality trait. They did not realize that an addict’s brain is “hijacked, and chemically altered.”

Nor did the Hoods know that drug addiction affects 1 in every 3 families in the United States. At least 22 million people are addicted to drugs — including alcohol, for it too is a drug — while 23 million more are in long-term recovery.

Jim could have retreated into his grief. But that’s not who he is. And it’s not how he wanted to memorialize his son.

So, for the past year and a half, he and group of very dedicated men and women have worked to form a new national organization. Called Facing Addiction, it will be launched October 4, with an enormous rally in Washington, D.C.

The date could be a turning point in a fight that has taken far too many lives, most of them far too young.

Facing Addiction logo

“After Austin died, I realized how horrific this disease is. It’s hell on earth,” Jim says. “I also realized there was no well-funded national organization tackling it.”

Even the best-known groups — Partnership for Drug-Free Kids  and Faces and Voices of Recovery work with budgets of less than $10 million.

Cancer organizations, by contrast, raise $1.7 billion annually (“as they should,” Jim says). Heart groups operate with $800 million.

Addiction organizations are run by “good, skillful people,” Jim says. “But they’re woefully underfunded. They compete against each other at times. And there is no overarching strategy.”

Jim brings a very successful business background — in advertising, Wall Street and consulting — to Facing Addiction.

Austin Hood

Austin Hood

He calls the fight against addiction “a cottage industry. There are thousands of small players competing for money. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you know to call Sloan-Kettering. When you have heart disease, you turn to the American Heart Association. With addiction, you don’t know what to do.”

That’s understandable, he says. Addiction is a disease shrouded in shame, stigma and denial.

“When you see an obituary for someone in their late teens or early 20s, if it doesn’t expressly say ‘cancer’ or another disease, you can assume the reason was addiction or suicide,” Jim says.

“And if the obituary asks for donations to ‘a charity of your choice’ — even if people know the cause was addiction — no one knows who to write a check to.”

Jim adds, “Addiction is not about ‘bad people.’ It’s about bad things happening to good people — decent, loving, smart people from good families.”

Austin Hood (left) and his siblings, at their Compo Beach home.

Austin Hood (left) and his siblings, at their Compo Beach home.

Jim has used his talents to bring many separate groups together, all under the Facing Addiction umbrella. They’re collaborating, he says, because they realize “we’re losing the battle.” Opiod use has spiked; heroin seems to be everywhere, and drug use starts earlier than ever. 90% or more of all addicts first use drugs in adolescence.

Facing Addiction’s focus is on “big-impact ideas to help more people, more quickly,” Jim says. “We’re developing a full strategic plan.”

It’s a daunting task. But, Jim asks, “what’s the alternative? The problem gets worse every year.”

Facing Addiction’s first public event is an October 4 rally on Washington’s National Mall.

Jim Hood - logoThe site — where Martin Luther King proclaimed “I have a dream,” millions protested the Vietnam War and many more wept at the AIDS Quilt — has “enormous symbolism,” Jim says.

“It focuses the country’s attention. It’s a place to open hearts, so we can open minds.”

Performers include Joe Walsh, Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, Johnny Rzeznik and The Fray. All have been affected by addiction.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have recorded videos. Drug czar Michael Botticelli and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy will speak.

The next day, thousands of citizens will meet with senators and congressmen. They’ll tell their stories, and urge federal funding for the fight against addiction.

Austin Hood can no longer fight his own demons. So his father is doing it for him.

And for millions of others — plus the untold millions more who love them.

If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.

(To donate to Facing Addiction — and help millions of people, while saving hundreds of thousands of lives — click here, or text “facing” to 41444.)

12 responses to “Jim Hood: Facing Addiction Head On

  1. Mary U. Condon

    Excellent article this morning, Dan. Families can find help in Alanon … there are even meetings geared for parents such as the Tuesday evening (7:30-9 pm) meeting at St. Paul’s Church in Fairfield. Thank you.
    Mary Condon, Southport

  2. This is Great, Jim! I would love to hear more, so great you are doing this– can I ever help?
    Thanks!!! Betsy Kahn


  3. this is incredible. thank you !

  4. Excellent & Worthy story.

  5. This is wonderful – thank you for this, Dan, and even more thanks to Jim Hood. We all need to spread the word, donate, and support this undertaking. We all have friends or family dealing with addiction.

  6. What a moving story. First, my heart goes out to Jim Hood and his son Austin. I can’t imagine what it is to lose a child. Drug addiction is truly a disease–one that is very much misunderstood. Only a month ago, a dear friend of mine lost her 25-year-old son to a heroin overdose. How she misses him! He had struggled with an addiction for several years. They thought he had recovered, then one morning he was gone. This organization that Jim Hood is launching could have really helped my friend, her husband and, most importantly her son. I will be forwarding this story to her. Thank you for writing it.

  7. As a follow-up to my comment above, I forwarded this to my friend whose son died recently from a heroin overdose and this is what she wrote back:

    “Words fail me right this moment. Thank you for this. Even if I can’t get to the rally, I will get involved. It’s so important. Right after the video at the end of this came one of Chris Herren (former basketball player and addict.) One of the things he said really hit me. When he speaks to teenager groups, he looks out over the crowd and asks, “What is it about you that you feel the need to change every Friday and Saturday night.” That is the most basic, fundamental answer needed to combat this thing. What lies behind the choice to use drugs? Answer that, you’re on your way. Address it, you’re further. Conquer it, you’ve won.”

  8. “Addiction is not about bad people, it’s about bad things happening to good people — decent, loving, smart people from good families.” Thanks, Jim, for spearheading this monumental effort that sadly touches us all in some way. And thank you Dan for bringing the Facing Addiction crusade to light. As RFK so famously said: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

  9. When I launched Lerougebyaarti.com, I was very clear that a portion of the profits would be earmarked for a worthy cause and my quest to find one has finally ended…..

    Please support so that we together can make sure no parent or family ever has to go through the harrowing experience of losing a loved one.

    • That is extraordinarily kind of you, Aarti. On behalf of everyone at Facing Addiction, we are very grateful to you. And thanks to all the others who sent comments supporting what we are doing. It is time to face addiction in this country before it literally steals our youth. With gratitude, Jim Hood

  10. Thanks for doing what you are doing Jim, and thank you for the nice email. I hope to see you 10/4.

  11. Jim,

    I read the article on the front page of the Connecticut Post and my heart goes out to you. You may ask why? My son Patrick, 28 years old is in the beginning stages, 8 months from herion addiction. The struggles we have endure as family have been mind boggling, and only those who have been through this horrific disease understand. I am extremely fortunate that I see my son everyday and more importantly for the person we knew but thought we lost. I can go on and on, but I want to get involved with your team to help others..I did make a small donation, but I feel I can help. Can we connect, I live in Shelton, very familiar with Westport, grew up in Bridgeport.

    Please let me know what I can do to help spread the word and help others.

    Paul & Barbara Cali