The opioid epidemic is running rampant in the U.S. Nearly 5 million people are addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and more than 17,000 are dying each year from overdoses.
We are featuring a special series of stories on @FordOnline designed to both educate and inspire you. We’ll talk about the opioid problem in the U.S. and what Ford is doing to help. We’ll also share the stories of three Ford employees, whose lives have been impacted by the disease.
If you or someone you know has an opioid addiction, please reach out for help. If you are a UAW-Ford employee, visit your local ESSP office. If you are a salaried employee, contact your Total Health representative at 888.667.6603.
Austin Wade, a line worker at the Ohio Assembly Plant, started shooting up heroin when he was 16 years old. By the age of 20 he had hit rock bottom.
“I was living in an abandoned apartment above a pizza shop. It was cold, and nobody wanted me around because I would steal from them to buy heroin,” he said. “But my grandma let me stay at her house one night. I had drugs and I was high and for some reason I just started bawling. I was like an empty shell. I had no feelings.”
Wade said that was the night he decided to get his grandfather’s 357 Magnum and kill himself.
“Nothing really scared me because I was using heroin. There were plenty of times when I just fell over and didn’t care if I died or not. But there was something about that time. I don’t know if it was a God moment or what but my grandmother came and asked me if I was alright,” he said. “I told her I needed to get some help. The next day they flew me down to a rehab center in Florida.”
Like many people who suffer from opioid addiction, Wade went through multiple rehab programs before he finally quit using heroin. But he has been sober since March 7, 2014.
“I’m very open about my past and how I am now,” he said. “There is a solution. A lot of people think you start doing heroin and you just get lost in it and die. I am proof that it can be done.”
When he started working at the Ohio Assembly Plant, Wade – now 24 – was instrumental in getting a support group formed to help others struggling with addiction. He also advises anyone who works at Ford to reach out to their plant’s Employee Support Services Program (ESSP) office for help.
“It’s a life or death situation. I tell people that I try helping get sober that your job, your family – none of that matters because if you keep getting high you’re going to die,” he said. “You have to worry about what’s going on with yourself first, handle your situation and then you can worry about everything else that comes into play. You need to get yourself some help.”
Wade said his issues with substance abuse began at a very young age. His parents divorced when he was eight. His dad was an alcoholic and his mother had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“It was kind of us boys that ran the house,” said Wade, referring to himself and his three brothers. “We started drinking and smoking pot early on. We did what we wanted as we got older because no one was around to push us in the right direction.”
Wade said he was 11 when he started smoking pot and 12 when he started drinking. Things got worse when he snapped his elbow in half in his freshman year of high school and had to have surgery.
“The doctor gave me a prescription for Percocet after the surgery was over, and the whole thing started to get bad when that happened,” he said. “Once the pills were gone I liked the way they made me feel and the doctor wouldn’t prescribe anymore so I started getting more pills from other people.”
The most recent statistics provided by the CDC show that Wade’s story is not unique. In 2014 nearly two million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription opioid pain relievers. Once addicted, it can be hard to stop. And buying prescription drugs on the street becomes expensive very quickly.
“They were about $100 a pill, so I couldn’t get them anymore,” said Wade. “I was going through withdrawals from not having the pills in my system and was with a buddy one day that I knew did heroin. I was so sick at the time that I just wanted to feel better.”
That’s when he started using heroin.
“First time I used heroin I injected it, and that was the only way I would do it after that,” he said.
Wade said staying sober is an ongoing effort.
“It’s an illness that I’m never going to get rid of. Even being sober I still have thoughts that I run by my sponsor, especially if I have a big decision to make,” he said. “You still go to your meetings. Some people go to church. Some people do a 12-step program.”
When asked what advice he would give others, Wade said to pay close and careful attention if your doctor prescribes pain medication.
“There are certain situations where the human body can’t handle certain types of pain. My thing is just being educated about what the doctor is giving you,” he said. “We have the internet today. All it takes is for you to type in what the pill is. Know what the risks are and be responsible about it.”
Wade recently got married. He and his wife have a two-year-old daughter. He said he shares his personal experience – his struggle with heroin abuse and his success with sobriety – with others with the hope that he may be able to prevent someone else from going down the same dark path that he did.
“This is life or death,” he said. “I can’t even count on my two hands how many friends have died from something similar – just getting a prescription from a doctor and what it ends up leading to.”