Tag Archives: Jim Hood

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.

Facing Addiction, Ringing The NYSE Bell

Last week, Facing Addiction rang the closing New York Stock Exchange bell.

It was a big moment for the national resource and advocacy group, working to solve America’s public health crisis. With Wall Street paying attention, organization officials hope, corporate America may follow.

Westporter Jim Hood — Facing Addiction’s co-founder and CEO — at the New York Stock Exchange.

Jim Hood — Facing Addiction’s co-founder and CEO — is a longtime Westporter. He helped start the non-profit after his 20-year-old son Austin died of an accidental drug overdose.

The ceremony was a public event. But Jim made it very personal too.

On the stock exchange wall, he left this achingly simple note:

Jim Hood: It’s Time To Face Our Addiction Crisis

For the past 4 years, the Hood family has celebrated a different Thanksgiving than many Westporters. On Thursday, the Huffington Post published this story by Jim Hood.

It generated immediate — and heartfelt — responses, from all across the country.

Jim says:

Almost every day a parent shares with me the loss of their child, and asks what we can do about this horrific crisis.

What we can do is to create a movement — as has happened with every other major health issue in our country — where millions of people say, “enough is enough.”

They decide to volunteer, speak out, write letters to the editor, walk/swim/bike, send money or whatever.  But they realize they must do something if they want this crisis to end.

No such movement has ever been created in the addiction space, likely because of the stigma and shame. That is what this piece is about.

Here is Jim’s Huffington Post story.

———————————————–

Today marks the 4th Thanksgiving with an empty chair at our table. It also marks my son Austin’s 25th birthday. But he won’t be joining us, because he died of a drug overdose 4 years ago. A part of me died that day, too. My life, and my family’s, will never be the same because addiction ravaged us just as it ravages millions of families – of every color, religion, education, economic status and moral code.

Austin Hood

Austin Hood

Austin began using alcohol when he was 14. By 15 he had moved on to marijuana and by 16 was using prescription drugs. From there it only got worse. Throughout our journey with Austin’s addiction – through countless therapists, interventions, therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness programs and ER visits – we were terrified and lost.

We were uncertain where to turn next, because there was no road map. Instead, there was a profound sense of hopelessness and helplessness. And, of course, the staggering expenses. Also through it all there was the stigma…and shame. Austin was ashamed he suffered from addiction, and could not overcome its grip. It is imponderable and so very sad to imagine someone being ashamed of having a serious illness.

After nearly 6 years, Austin was in a much better place. Finally, his life seemed settled, and there was a real sense of optimism and purpose. There was talk of a bright future…finishing college and on to grad school. And then I got the phone call that brings any parent to his or her knees: my beautiful boy was dead of a drug overdose. Even though we talked or texted every single day, I’m sure my son was too ashamed to call me and say, “Dad… I’m struggling again and I need your help.” And so, ours is just another sad story, and my son is only a memory.

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

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

Our country loses nearly 150,000 people – mostly young adults – each year to alcohol and other drugs. And then there are the more than 20 million who suffer every day from addiction. And only 1 in 10 ever receives any treatment. Can you imagine if only 1 in 10 people suffering from cancer or diabetes ever received treatment? I suspect you can’t…because it is unimaginable…and unconscionable.

Last week the Surgeon General issued a history-making report on the addiction crisis in America. His message was clear: Addiction is a chronic illness, not a matter of moral failing. He told us addiction is preventable, addiction is treatable, and recovery is possible. But the Surgeon General also said science tells us how to solve this problem. Now we need to marshal the resources and will to address addiction in our communities. How we respond to this crisis is a moral test of America.

We all view the world through our own lenses, and too often we see and hear only the facts that reinforce our worldview. But just like going to the eye doctor, lenses can be changed. And when they are, we suddenly see the world differently. And that opens possibilities.

Jim Hood, and Austin.

Jim Hood, and Austin.

Because of the Surgeon General’s report, we have a new lens.

· Now we can see addiction for what it really is – an illness – and not a matter of moral failing. This changes everything.

· Now that we can see that people suffering from addiction are hurting and in need, rather than weak, everything changes.

· Now that we understand addiction demands a health care response, not a criminal justice response, it changes everything.

We need to see the people who are suffering from addiction for who they really are — our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, friends, neighbors and co-workers — people who did not ask or want to become ill, and who simply want and deserve our love and support on the journey to getting better and living their lives. If we all see addiction through this new lens, it truly changes everything.

Facing Addiction logoFacing Addiction is proud to be partnering with the Surgeon General to turn the tide against addiction in America, but to succeed we need to build a massive movement of people who will help fight this fight. Not just people who are concerned about the addiction crisis, but people willing to step up and do something about it. To accomplish the tremendous amount of work that is needed in education, prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery, we need tens of millions to lend their help and financial support – just as they do every day with other major health issues such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and so on. We absolutely can defeat addiction, but we all need to do our part.

There is much to be thankful for this and every Thanksgiving. But there is also much to be concerned about. There is a health and human rights crisis that is crippling our nation and stealing our youth. With one in every three households impacted by addiction, everybody knows somebody whose life has been turned upside down – or worse.

If there is someone at your Thanksgiving table who is (or might be) struggling, don’t be afraid to show your love and compassion. It’s the first step in helping someone get better…and maybe even saving a life.

That first, small step is how we can all do our part to begin Facing Addiction in America. God knows…it’s time.

Jim Hood is co-founder and CEO of Facing Addiction. For more information, click here.

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.)

The Bus Stops Here

In the 1970s, Westport pioneered the minnybus.  Brightly decorated vehicles plied the streets of town, using a hub-and-spoke system at Staples and Jesup Green.

The Westport Transit District added maxytaxys.  Anyone could call for a ride anywhere — but the buses picked up other riders too, so getting from Point A to Point B could involve trips to Points C, D, E, F and G along the way.

By 1992 though, declining ridership, inefficient operations and deteriorating equipment caused near collapse of the system.  The RTM reached out for help.

Though the Westport Transit District still exists, it has no employees or paid administrators — not even a bus.  The Norwalk Transit District operates our system, providing great economies of scale.

Westport mass transit has 4 components:

  • Fixed routes: Buses that run to and from the Saugatuck and Green’s Farms train station, all around town.
  • Commuter shuttle: Buses that run between Saugatuck station and the Imperial Avenue parking lot.
  • After-school shuttle: Buses that run from schools to the Y, library and downtown, stopping at churches along the way.
  • Door-to-door service: Buses that provide rides for elderly and disabled riders, including physical assistance.

Last year, the WTD counted just under 100,000 trips.

The annual cost to operate Westport’s bus system is a bit over $1.3 million.  However, the town pays only $281,000.  The rest of the funds — 80% or so — comes from fares, and (mostly) state and federal matching grants.

Last week, the Board of Finance voted to cut $100,000 from the Westport Transit District’s proposed budget.  Combined with the subsequent loss of matching grants, the district would lose about 35% of its funding.

If those cuts are sustained, some tough decisions must be made.

“Who do you pick to go?” asks Jim Hood, volunteer co-director of the WTD.

“The schools?  People might say parents or neighbors could drive their kids.

“The trains?  People could say, why can’t they get there on their own.

“The elderly and infirm?  Well, people could say, those buses are inefficient and expensive.”

The dilemma, Hood says, is that “mass transit systems are a service, not a business.  They run at a loss all across the country — but they’re there because they’re important to people.”

A commuter pick-up at the Saugatuck station.

Hood compares transit with another government service:  the fire department.  “Do you divide the number of fires each year by the number of firefighters and the cost of the equipment?  Of course not.  We have a fire department because it’s necessary.”

Some politicians have suggested a fare increase.  Hood says that won’t help much.  Laws regulate how much the fare can be raised — and half of all riders buy Metro-North UniTickets, offering discounts for both trains and buses.  The WTD has no say over those prices.

“It’s easier said than done, but Westport has to figure out if it’s the kind of town that wants this,” Hood says.  “This,” he explains, is “a service for people — some of whom need it as an economic necessity.”

Once mass transit it cut “drastically,” Hood notes, ridership drops dramatically.  That has a domino effect.  Soon there is no service at all.

Bus riders are just learning of the proposed cut, Hood says.  As they do, they realize its impact.  Some are asking why the reduction is so steep.

The next step, Hood says, is a Board of Finance restoration meeting.  The RTM can also restore funds.  He hopes members of both bodies will “hear about the effects, and make an informed decision.”

If restoration fails, Westport’s mass transit riders will have to figure out a new way of getting to the station, getting downtown after school, getting around if they’re elderly or handicapped.

In other words, they’ll have to start reinventing the wheel.