Welcome. In this introduction to a series of articles on the toll that addiction to mood altering substances is taking on this area, I will tell you about myself, how I came to write this series and what I hope we can accomplish with it.

A Mount Pleasant resident for over 15 years, I previously published articles in the Moultrie News. Writing and photography took me on the road where I lived in a van and explored the East Coast, publishing a blog that featured in depth articles and photos about the people, the places and the history of this edge of America. I wrote by immersion, living with lobstermen in northern Maine, hippies in the forests of Florida and with hundreds other groups between. Those blogs accumulated over 2 million views – you can access those articles at captureamericajournal.blogspot.com and the reflections on lessons learned during that journey at captureamerica.blogspot.com.

I returned to Mount Pleasant to tend to personal issues with every intention of getting right back on the road. Having written on the opioid crisis in Maine and Massachusetts, I spoke with Sully Witte about doing an article series on the local issue before I left again. A year slipped by, then another. But recently I found myself in the following circumstance:

I am sitting with Adam, who at 56 is the same age as me. When anyone in my circle has a plumbing problem, including other plumbers, we call Adam. He is one of the best in the Low-Country and repeatedly backs up that reputation.

We are in the Hospice Center off Longpoint Road. You see Adam is dying. When I knew Adam before he was sober, engaged in life and heavily involved in an Alcoholics Anonymous group that meets at Lighthouse Church. But at some point Adam chose to once again entertain his old addiction and picked back up the drink. And the narcotics. And the Opioids. The hospital said he drank and used so much he is mentally impaired beyond recovery and vital organs are giving out.

A daughter and an ex-wife are here. A stream of men and women who knew him from the AA program stop by as does John Gresh, the pastor of Lighthouse Church on 41. At least Adam isn’t dying alone. His body has finally had enough and his breathing stops. I am not a stranger to accompanying people dying. I have observed that when deeply spiritual people are in this process there are others that they interact with, others that I can sometimes sense but can never see or hear. Some refer to these as “The Unseen Others.” Others refer to them as “The Greeting Committee.” I feel no such presence in this instance and I express this to the Hospice Nurse. She nods knowingly and simply says, “That’s the way it is in these cases.” My hand cradling his neck, I feel the warmth leave his body.

Adam’s daughter, in her young twenties, alternates between sobs and anger. The young woman’s mother, Adam’s ex-wife, is trying to comfort her. Eventually the mother turns to me and apologetically says: “I always loved him, but his addiction wouldn’t allow him to love me back.” It occurs to me that there actually are “Unseen Others” present in this room – but in this case they are not from another realm. Those closest to the addict suffer terribly from the collateral damage the addiction causes, and they do it behind closed doors – out of sight. The stigma is too great, they feel they must hide their shame and grieve alone. At this moment I realize it is time to write this series.

I find a new editor at the Moultrie News– Cecilia Brown. Skeptical at first, I meet with her. She is inquisitive and engaging with a deep admiration for this area and its people. She also knows how to ask the right questions – which is invaluable as I do not have formal education as a writer. So I am all in.

To me at this moment, this addiction issue seems like the many-headed Hydra of mythology. We can look up and quote statistics – but those are everywhere and numbers just don’t reveal much about this issue. These drugs (including alcohol,) so necessary and useful in their proper context turn to rapacious predators when abused. They kill through overdose, car wrecks, drownings, accidents, homicides, suicides, strokes, seizures and scores of other ways. They take an unremitting toll on families, coworkers, friends and the community at large. And the Opioid Epidemic in particular, with its new family of drugs far more potent than anything we have ever seen is robbing us of some of the brightest young people. Adam’s death will be listed as organ failure, not addiction: the statistics way under-estimate the extent of this problem. Let’s have the courage to look at the real toll this beast is taking on our community.

People’s stories need to be told. The authorities that try to prevent the drugs from being abused, the families and the loved ones who suffer the collateral damage, those that toil in the intervention and treatment fields, those that have recovered and are sober – and yes, even those actively in addiction have things of great value to share with us. And just perhaps along the way we will learn some things that will allow us as individuals and as a community to bend the curve a bit in the other direction. So buckle up – I will give you my best efforts to take a balanced and thorough approach in this series, one facet at a time.

The purpose of this series is to educate the community about the Opioid Crisis. This epidemic has been impacting communities nationwide and we are hopeful this column will make a difference locally. When appropriate, names will be changed for those the articles feature. Feel free to direct questions, suggestions, or comments to David Emch at: David@PhoenixSC.org.