5 Years After Son’s Drug Death, Jim Hood Asks: “Where Is The Outrage?”

Yesterday, President Trump asked the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

Jim Hood — founder and chief executive of the national non-profit organization Facing Addiction — told the New York  Times that while he was grateful for the president’s remarks, he was concerned they missed the mark.

Hood — a Westport resident — said, “That undercurrent that if all of you just decided not to do this, we’d be in a better place — I can tell you, my son did not decide that he wanted to become addicted, much less die. We might have been much better served by framing this as a very serious illness, a very serious health issue.”

Hood’s son Austin died of an accidental overdose 5 years to the day before Trump’s announcement. On that anniversary, Hood posted on Facebook a poignant letter to his son:

Dear Austin,

I know I don’t need to send this note because I believe in a higher power, which means you received this message before I thought of it. Still, on this 5th anniversary of your sudden passing, I need to reach out within this earthly realm. As a mere mortal, and your brokenhearted dad, it is all I have to stay connected. And I pray sending this might help others.

Austin Hood

I think back on your 6-year journey with addiction. You were such a sweet, loving, talented, gifted, wonderful boy. You surely had no desire or intention to become addicted, but a swirl of influences conspired against you to bring that illness – and it is, irrefutably, an illness – upon you. You fought mightily to overcome the chains of addiction: willing to see endless therapists, endure wilderness, leave your family to go to therapeutic boarding school, and so much more. You gave it all you had.

Six long years later, you were finally on the mend. You were never been more centered, and I never more optimistic. The future was bright. You were ready to conquer the world.

Then, in a heartbeat, you were gone.  My beautiful boy was dead. No more twice-a-day texts, calls about this crazy world, funny messages, or anything. Nothing more. Forever.

At your memorial service I pledged to do everything I can to help other wonderful, loving people like you from losing their lives, and spare other families that anguish.

Since then, many amazing people came together to create #FacingAddiction. We are making a difference. And on days, like this, when I can hardly get out of bed, I am inspired by those astonishing people who, like me, want to turn the tide on this crisis and bring help and hope to tens of millions. And I am humbled that they all know about you, although none ever met you.

Austin Hood

But I still wonder why there is not more outrage. We come together as a nation when there are shootings, earthquakes, and hurricanes — as we should. Yet addiction is the leading cause of death in our country among people under the age of 40. One in 3 households is impacted by this scourge. Somebody, usually a young adult, dies every 4 minutes — the equivalent of a jumbo jet falling from the sky every day, with no survivors. I pray America very soon adds addiction to that list of “disasters” we must care about, and respond to, with our love, concern, help, and money.

Today, for the first time, I re-read my remarks at your service. I said, “I hope you know how much I love you, my son.  And I hope you know how hard I tried to help you.  If you feel I did not do enough, I hope you will forgive me.  And know that I will love you and miss you every day.”

It is even more true today, Austin.  I love you and miss you so much. And I know I will see you again someday.

All my love,
Dad

Jim Hood, and Austin.

33 responses to “5 Years After Son’s Drug Death, Jim Hood Asks: “Where Is The Outrage?”

  1. I am heartbroken for you and your family. God bless you.

  2. I know that opiod addiction begins for different people in different ways. Many news reports focus on treatment which is an important piece of the puzzle, but what about doctors who over-prescribe opiods and don’t monitor the effects they have on their patients. I am not talking about long term pain management for people who live with chronic pain, but rather doctors who prescribe opiods for pain after routine procedures. Recently, I had a wisdom tooth pulled. There were no complications and it was not impacted. I told the doctor and the nurse that I am allergic to codeine, and ingredient in most opiods, and they would not let me leave the office without a prescription for a drug in the oxycodone family. To me, that is outrageous. I have heard too many stories of people who take highly addictive medications for pain and become addicted. Addiction is a chemical response to a substance, it is not a choice.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Amy. And you are right about addiction not being a choice. We have known this for more than 50 years. The former US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, reaffirmed this fact last November in his history-making report (of which Facing Addiction was the official NGO co-sponsor). Yet nearly half of America does not believe it is a serious illness. We are making inroads into this crisis at Facing Addiction (www.facingaddiction.org). We can turn the tide against adiction in America. But if people could get over the issue of stigma and shame we could make much more progress. Thank you for your support.

  3. Janette Kinnally

    It breaks my heart and I am going to do everything in my power to help with this crisis and the suicide epidemic in this country. Too many young and old are afflicted with this illness and we need to educate the public and also find real solutions. And I intend to be one of those advocates.

  4. Andrew Colabella

    I grew up with Austin. We would eat at Elviras every week, ride our bikes through the beach hundreds of times and sit on the front porch with his dog Oliver. This occurred all through his middle and high school days, and sometimes while I was in college and working full time for the Town. We drifted apart, selfishly thinking I would I just see him again out and about or run into eachother sitting on the beach or skateboarding or grabbing food, naturally frequently occurring. It never happened again.

    I had lost another friend to drugs. I never expected it. I always wonder where I was in their darkest hour, could I have been there or helped? I’ll never know. The amount of Mass cards collected over the years, all under the age of 21, affixed to a mirror in my room, a reminder they once existed and still do in many ways, they live on in my heart and everything I do. Miss you Austin.

    • This is an incredibly touching note, Andrew. Thank you for sharing. We have lost so many wonderful young men and women to this devastating illness. We need more outrage in America about this crisis. It is literally stealing an entire generation of our youth. We are doing all we can at Facing Addiction to make a difference. We have a comprehensive plan, and a passionate team of people all across the country. But we need to continue to build a movement of tens of millions of people who want to see this matter addressed. We cannot look to government — they will not do it. We all need to stand up and say, “Enough…it’s time.” Thank you again for your kind, but heartbreaking, words. Please look me up sometime.
      With gratitude,
      Austin’s Brokenhearted Dad

  5. I agree with Amee, there are a number of aspects of the prescription opioid crisis (and here I include heroin addiction that began with an opioid addiction) that MUST be addressed – and over-prescription and ignorance of the problem by the medical community is certainly among them.

    During the last three years, I have had two major surgeries (a total ankle replacement and complicated shoulder surgery) where I specifically made my wishes to avoid taking any opioids for pain management post-surgery (for personal reasons) known to the surgeons in advance, and I had to work very, VERY hard to have my wishes honored – at one point I was FIGHTING with a pain management team of doctors in Yale-NH hospital, pleading with them to design an alternative pain management plan to permit me to leave the hospital without a bunch of oxycodone as “the plan”. Even so, and in the case of both surgeries, the doctors were horrified at the thought that I would dare try to manage my post-op pain with something other than an opioid. I basically got them off my back by agreeing to take a scrip with me for oxy as a back-up plan, should Plan A fail. These are nationally-recognized, well-meaning surgeons and pain management doctors who sorely need some education about the prescription opioid problem, and the need to consider alternatives to that path.

    PS, in both cases my post-op pain was well-managed without taking any opioids. And trust me, I am no hero when it comes to pain.

    • If only more people had your common sense attitude and clarity, Jack, we would be in a much better place. It is astonishing to think the extent to which this opioid crisis was started and fueled by the medical profession in our country (and, of course, big pharma, who continue to produce orders of magnitude more pills than we really need).
      Thanks for your comment,
      JIm

  6. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Tragic, brutal story and as a parent of two fine boys (as was Austin, I am quite sure) I can only imagine the family’s grief.
    How many times in one evening do we sit in our easy chairs and are subjected to drug company ads for prescription drugs that we know nothing about? How many doctors offices allow drug companies to put their ads in their waiting rooms on closed monitors for patients to view just prior to sitting down with their physician? How many physicians are so bogged down with patient record-keeping and insurance company red tape that they cannot allow time to provide counseling as to the necessity of drugs? What we have here is not a problem stemming from Colombian drug dealers or common criminals, we have a problem in that our medical and pharmaceutical industries have devolved from PROFESSIONAL, ETHICAL PROVIDERS OF CARE to ACCOMPLICES IN TURNING MEDICAL CARE AND PRESCRIPTION DRUGS INTO CONSUMER PRODUCTS with all the manipulation of the ignorant that is so implied. It’s called “demand creation” by marketers and it wouldn’t be a big deal if it were confined to Flintstone vitamins but it is obvious the drug companies will stop at nothing to enhance their already bloated bottom lines. At their feet must be laid the thousands of deaths due to the overprescription of drugs and the false perception that there is a pill or injection for whatever ails you.

    • You just said it all, Eric. WHile the figures seem to bounce around a bit, everyone seems to agree that America, with less than 5% of the world’s population, consumes 80% (or more) of the opioids in the world. Think of that! If that doesn’t put this crisis into high relief, nothing will. We must dramatically reduce the quantity of these pills — virtually all of which are being manufactured here by major pharma firms. And then we need to enlighten our doctors who I prescribe this stuff like it is candy. Those two things — both well within our control — would go a long way to addressing this problem.
      With gratitude,
      Jim

      • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

        I am humbled that you chose to take the time for a personal response, Jim. I have lived in Cincinnati for 25 years and miss Westport terribly. My brother in law is attempting to recover from a very serious drug addiction problem. It’s becoming clear to me that initiatives like yours offer a model that we can/should emulate wherever/whoever we are. I think the appropriate sentiment for all of us who have not yet experienced the horrors you’ve endured is: “there but for the grace of God, go I.” Thanks to you and Dan for helping to raise my consciousness.

  7. David J. Loffredo

    Sadly the entire mess started right down the road from us – funded, supported, and protected by people who are most likely members of our own community.

    • You are 100% correct, David. Purdue is a horrible, despicable company. Austin’s death, and the deaths of literally hundreds of thousands of mostly young adults, are on their hands.

      By the way, I know many people were shocked by my reference to a jumbo jet falling from the sky every day, with no survivors. But that is the ful magnitude of this addiction crisis. We lose six times as many people to addiction every day as were senselessly and mercilesly gunned down by that animal in Las Vegas recently. At roughly 350 deaths a day — and I could explain why that number is probably understated by 50% — America has lost more than two million mostly young adults to this crisis just since the year 2000. Think about that. We lost something like 70,000 people (including family and/or friends of virtually all of us older than 55 or so) in Vietnam over a span of a dozen years. That was truly tragic. But so is the fact that we lose more than “two Vietnams” every single year to addiction.

      Back to Purdue…anyone will tell you that, for more than a decade now, “oxy” has been the drug of choice for young adults. Readily available, not wildly expensive, and providing a powerful high. It is beyond astonishing that, a couple years ago, Purdue lobbied the FDA to lower the “safe prescribing age” for OxyContin from 14 to 11 years old. How incredibly twisted is that? Do they not have a shred of moral fiber? All I can promise you is that we will get them someday. In Austin’s memory I swear to you, we will get them. And I also promise I will be at the head of that line of angry and determined people, and the most vocal in that courtroom.
      With gratitude,
      Jim

  8. While there are ‘no words’ for this horrible loss I feel compelled to say that Jim Hood found just the right ones.

    • Thank you for your very kind words, Melissa. And please know that while I miss my son every waking minute — and so many tortured nights — this is not just about Austin. My heart also breaks for the millions of families who have lost loved ones and/or have loved ones who have been struggling with this illness for years…sometimes decades. I know what addiction does to families — no other illness tears entire families apart in the way addiction does. That is why we created Facing Addiction. Asto/mnishingly, there has never been the equivalent of the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Autism Speaks, American Diabetes Asociation, National Kidney Foundation — well…you get the idea — for addiction. No well-funded, national organization dedicated to turning the tide on what is now the #1 cause of death in America for people under 40. It is truly outrageous that, largely due to stigma and shame, our society has allowed that to go on. And so now we are changing it. For all the individuals and families that have been ravaged — or lost — and never had any hope or help. It is time to change that. And we will.
      With gratitude,
      Jim

  9. This is such a sad and tragic story. One among millions and the president chooses to respond to the need for a funded govt program by talking about his brother’s advice to not drink. Reminds me of Nancy Reagan’s solution to the drug problem I.e. “just say no.” Just more egotistical nonsense.

    • Sad to see this important topic cluttered with your political rant – sharing about one’s own personal family experience and tragedy with the disease of addiction is precisely what Jim Hood, and President Trump, did. No one should be mocked for referring to the loss of a brother, or a son, to the disease of addiction.

      • I don’t know where you see a political rant in what I said. No rant, no mock. The president’s comments were disappointing. He offered no concrete idea about how the epidemic would be dealt with. No plan. No suggestion about how to deal with a problem that continues to grow daily.

        • “Just more egotistical nonsense” – your rant is kinda right there for all to see . . .

        • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

          I didn’t see your comments as a “rant.” Mr. Wheeler as a former teacher of mine remembered as warm and reasonable (even to “brats” like me) I would have liked to have seen you take the high road on this issue. It would have been more characteristic of how I remember you from school days. Just because Trump took office as an unintended consequence of political dysfunction doesn’t mean that we need to view him as the owner of every malady we face as a society.

          • Eric, I don’t remember you as a brat. Although in old age my memory can be a bit foggy. I think you are reading way too much into what I said. I know the tragedy of drug abuse. I did not find the comments made by the president to be helpful or for that matter hopeful.

            • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

              Mr. Wheeler (funny how at 65 I still view you as a senior to me and will always address you as such) I am happy that I may have read too much into what you said because I enjoy seeing your continued vitality and sharpness of mind and in substance don’t disagree with you. I propose we agree to leave Trump out of this and focus on what we can do about it. However, I realize and feel your outrage and ignoring him may be a little too much to ask 😉

              • Eric, It is difficult for me to imagine the jr h.s. student I had in class so many years ago being 65 years old! Time does fly.

      • Peter Gambaccini

        Mr. Whittle, You thoroughly and I’d guess intentionally misconstrued what Mr. Wheeler said for your own usual partisan purposes …while erroneously accusing him of doing the same. This stuff gets tired.

  10. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    I’m looking forward to seeing how Republicans and Democrats unite with Trump to confront this crisis. I’m also looking forward to seeing drug makers, physicians and most importantly responsible citizens confront their individual and collective responsibilities in this regard. Criticizing Trump for referencing his brother’s tragedy makes as much sense as knocking his hairstylist for a bad comb-over.

  11. i think what people were saying is just that telling someone not to do drugs isn’t enough, we need to reign in the painkillers as many people referenced above, as well as do something about poverty as that can sometimes be a driver. And so much more is needed (things I don’t know about). Jim Hood surely has a blueprint and we are all benefiting from his decision to fight this disease with all the passion and professional expertise that he has. It feels like a turning point in the country where opiods are concerned – “everyone” seems to realize that we have a problem – wasn’t so a few YAGO – so next step will be combatting it. Thanks for this great piece.

    • Dana – while I tend to agree that poverty (persistent poverty) is a driver of many things, opioid addiction is not one of them. Both alcoholism and drug addition are rather agnostic as to one’s economic situation.

      • totally agree jack! the illness can strike anyone – but it takes a different approach to stem it in those fighting poverty and those who aren’t. We need a major multi-tiered approach. And what Jim so clearly portrayed is that doing all the right things, having a supportive family, access to excellent treatment programs, etc – is not enough. This epidemic is going to take a major overhaul in policy and approach from all fronts to stem.

  12. Dear Jim,
    My heart goes out to you. Your work will help others from drugs so that they will stand to live. My best,
    Diane

  13. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Why are we politicizing this issue? The problem is not confined to any one political affiliation, race color or creed. It’s a matter of opinion, not fact whether or not the President’s action went far enough and really up to the legislators, not the President to take meaningful action on behalf of what they perceive as the best interests of their constituents. Our country needs to “man up” and start working together to solve common problems and stop asking what the country will do for them and start doing something for someone other than themselves. If it can’t do that philosophically in a column like this that mourns the loss of a fine young man, how will we ever come together and fix a crisis that should never have happened in a country like ours?

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