Removing the Stigma

The number of drug overdose deaths has quadrupled since 1999 and is still growing with each passing year. More than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2019, and more than 93,000 died in 2020. Every day, more than 100 people die from a drug overdose. What does this mean? This means that every day, 100 people lose their child, sister, brother, mother, father, aunt, uncle, or dear friend to this highly prevalent and highly misunderstood disease. These deaths are not confined to any one age group, race, social class, or geographic location, addiction and its dangers have the ability to touch any one at any time.

The DEA has seized more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills this year, which is more than the amounts seized the past two years combined. This year, Libby Davis lost her 16-year-old son Cooper to a drug overdose after he took counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl. In an interview with Fox 4 News, Libby explains that her son “always had the mentality ‘it would never happen to me’”. She says: “No matter how hard it could be sometimes, when he was making the decisions we didn’t want him to make, we always loved him” and that she “wants to use Cooper’s story to save lives”.

Watch Cooper’s story and Libby’s call to action here:

In 2016, Liz Pires’ daughter, Megan, opened up to her and her stepdad about her substance abuse issues. Liz writes: “The deep, dark world of addiction is not one we ever expected to be in.” Megan spent a little over two months in an intensive wilderness program, followed by an additional 45 days in a residential treatment center. She managed to stay sober for seven months following this initial treatment but relapsed after a fight with her boyfriend, which led to a car accident and jail time. She went from jail to detox, from detox to a 90-day treatment program, and from there to outpatient treatment. But on March 30, 2018, Liz Pires’ 19-year-old daughter, Megan, passed from a drug overdose after almost six months of sobriety. Liz writes: “She was sober five-and-one-half months, about to graduate high school, had just gone to her outpatient group, had a clean drug test and was dead three days later. She had a bad day and her addict self reared its ugly head, took control and made a deadly decision.”

Liz never thought that this type of tragedy could strike her family twice. She was devastated when, two years later, on June 27, 2020, Pires’ 23-year-old son, Matthew, passed from a drug overdose as well.

To honor their memory, Liz is on a mission to remove the stigma of addiction and help other families who are struggling with this disease. She supports a holistic approach to addiction and is adamant that it requires “a multifaceted approach, from developing interventions to creating awareness and advocating for policy changes”. Liz, together with her husband, Luis, and the children’s father, Les, created the Megan and Matthew Szabo Endowed Excellence Fund at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. Funds from this endowment will support projects and field placements in the areas of addiction and recovery.

Read more about Liz Pires here:

Stories like these remind me that the fight for the lives of our loved ones is never-ending; tragedies like what Libby and Liz have faced happen to parents, siblings and extended families every single day, reducing these precious lost lives to a mere statistic. The worst thing about these massive losses is that they are entirely preventable and so often, no one is able to or cares to intervene before it is too late. Anyone suffering from addiction or addiction-related illness should not be cloistered away or refused help, for they often are the ones that need it most and are incapable of asking for it. They should be treated as the individuals that they are, and their suffering should not be reduced or judged by those who cannot understand their plight.

Together, through education and access to recovery and treatment resources, my hope is that the increase in these statistics will slow and slow. Let us say "no more"; have that difficult conversation, call your local treatment center and ask how to educate yourself, donate to foundations like Liz Pires', and, if you can do nothing else, spread the word. Addiction is a disease, and those left behind are fighting hard to cure it.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders: