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:
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.
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.
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,
Jim Hood, and Austin.