Former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry shares a heartbreaking story about the reality of addiction in Nashville.
I scan the parking lot of the no-tell motel for a late model truck. The motor-court motto, Where the Stars Stay, is outlined in lights. There’s a parking space in front of each room and a swimming pool in the middle. “At least it’s not shaped like a fucking guitar,” I think to myself.
I push this thought aside and head to the room where he’s supposed to be. I knock. I knock again and then gently push on the door. It’s unlocked.
“Hello?” The room is in disarray, towels draped over the beds, the sheets crumpled at the end of the mattresses. There are two large black garbage bags with clothes spilling out. A young man, whose pupils are barely pinpricks, comes out of the bathroom. His hair is still wet. He’s nicely dressed and seems to be in a hurry.
“Hey!” He’s amiable and very high.
“Do you know where Will is?” I ask.
“He was just here a minute ago. You just missed him. I’m sure he’ll be right back.” He scans the room quickly to make sure there’s nothing I can see that he doesn’t want me to.
“Are you sure I just missed him? I’ve been in the parking lot for awhile. I didn’t see anyone leave.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. I think he was hungry and went to get some food.”
Will was one of Max’s friends. His mom is out of town and has reached out to me. Will has his dad’s truck and his mom wants me to find him, get the keys and take them away. I’ve been told Will is a danger to himself and to others. Making sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else is about as much as his family can do at the moment. Hurting himself, well, that’s a different matter.
“Who are you and how do you know Will?” I say.
“I’m his roommate. We met in rehab. We’re both doing really great.” Lies. The lies of an addict. I see right through him.
“Sure you are. What’s your name? Where you from?” The young man looks to be in his mid-twenties. He’s clean-shaven, a little heavy-set. He’s somebody’s son.
“I’m from around, you know, just staying here until I can find a job and then get an apartment and…” He’s talking fast and I’ve noticed he’s started shoving all the clothes in the room into the black bags.
“Are some of those Will’s clothes? Is he staying here?” I ask.
“Will? I don’t think so. It’s just me in here.”
I’ve been standing at the door jamb and I realize I’m not going to get any real information out of him. I step back outside and scan the parking lot. There are a couple of trucks.
I text Will’s mom. “What kind of truck am I looking for again? What’s the license plate?”
I begin to make my way around the circle of cars, checking each truck against the information she’s provided.
I notice a green truck and the license plate matches. Shit. The back bumper looks as if it’s been in a recent accident. Shit. I look at the driver side door. Ajar. Shit. I open the door and there is Will. The truck is idling and I reach across to remove the keys. Shit.
The only thing holding him in the truck is the seat belt. He’s slumped over the wheel and he has foam coming out of his mouth. It’s viscous and dark in color. Shit. I reach out my hand to feel his pulse. Shit. Is he overdosing? Where’s my Narcan? Where’s my phone?
“Will? Will?” I shake him and his eyes roll back a little but he grunts. He’s alive. “Will?” He opens his eyes. “Megan? What are you doing here?”
Okay. He’s talking and I am dialing 9-1-1. “Possible overdose.” I give the address. I hear the sirens in the distance. The fire truck arrives at the same time as a large, tattooed man pulls into the space next to Will’s truck. “I’m here to take Will. Who are you?” he says.
“Will’s mom sent me,” I reply. “She sent me, too. I’m supposed to pick him up and take him back to rehab. I’m Steve.”
At this moment, the EMT’s are approaching us and want to examine Will. Will is out of the truck and leaning against the driver-side door. I notice the bag of chocolate chip-cookies at his feet at the same time I see him wipe away the black goo from his mouth.
“I’m fine, Megan. I’ll go with Steve.” He hops into the back of Steve’s car and just as suddenly as Steve appeared, he and Will are gone.
“Hey Mayor, is that you?” says one of the EMT’s. “What are you doing here? Where’s the overdose?”
“I’m so sorry, y’all. Looks like it was a false alarm. My apologies,” I say.
“No problem. At least we get to see you! We all hope you’re doing okay these days.” They seem sincere. It’s been several months since I left office.
I walk back to my car and text Will’s mom. “Steve came and got him. I hope Steve is real. I hope he really meant it when he said he was taking Will back to rehab.” I put Will’s keys in my purse.
I’m about a mile down the road before I catch a glimpse of the back of a young man, walking at a good clip away from the motel. He’s glancing over his shoulder. He’s nicely dressed; his hair still wet from a shower. He’s carrying two large black garbage bags. He is somebody’s son.
According to Nashville Metro Health Department, from January to September of 2020, 471 people died from a drug overdose in Nashville, more than all of 2019. In 2019, 468 people died, the worst year on record. 80% of those who died, had Fentanyl in their system. Non-fatal overdose ER visits increased by 31% compared to the same time last year. We still have three months of data to add before this year ends.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
For free, confidential treatment referrals, call the SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
NOTE: ATLAS currently includes facilities in 6 states - Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and West Virginia - but plans to expand nationally.
Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addiction Services
The Tennessee REDLINE (1-800-889-9789) is a toll-free information and referral line coordinated by TAADAS and funded by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health Substance Abuse Services. The purpose of the REDLINE is to provide accurate, up-to-date alcohol, drug, problem gambling, and other addiction information and referrals to all citizens of Tennessee at their request. The Redline provides referrals for Co-Occurring A&D disorders that arise along with Mental Health disorders.
The Tennessee REDLINE is promoted, and calls are received, from all over Tennessee. Treatment and other program referrals are made on the REDLINE. Callers are provided with at least 3 referral sources when possible. REDLINE staff does not do therapy or counseling with the caller or substance abuser, but gives them the information to put them in touch with someone who will provide a diagnosis, prognosis or assessment of the mental or physical health of the substance user/abuser. The REDLINE strives to provide the caller with specific referrals based on their stated needs.