This morning, as I usually do before I start my day, I was perusing my FaceBook feed. One of the first things that popped up was the image of a beautiful young woman, obviously a “car selfie.” With big eyes, long brown hair, and a smattering of lipstick, the photo would make anyone take pause for a second look. She also looked familiar – I am fairly certain I have run across her in one of establishments, or mutual friends.
However, as I read the caption for the photo, which was written by someone else, it became apparent that this young lady, one Angela Cates, of Bartlett, TN, had passed away unexpectedly, and far too soon. I messaged the person who had posted the photo, and learned what I had already suspected and feared: that she had apparently become yet another tragic victim of an overdose of opioids.
Angela was the parent of two young children who will now be without their mother. And her parents lost their child, something no parent should ever have to endure.
Although I did not know “Ang” personally as she was known to her friends, and these overdoses seem to continue unabated, this loss struck home a little harder than most. Why? Well, a year ago (within days), another young woman lost her life because of the same problem. Emily Billings, who I did know, and who had a kind, gentle spirit, died at the age of 26, a victim of the same deadly circumstance.
Emily and I shared the same birthday (March 6th) and had an unusual bond because of that. I knew she had some issues and demons she was fighting, but when she would call me (randomly), I would try and help her now and then – give her a ride somewhere, or lend her twenty dollars.
The last time I saw her was a week or two before her death. I knew in my heart that there was something going on, and likely she was an addict, and encouraged her to stay away from people that would enable that addiction; she promised she would. Soon thereafter, she was gone, and my heart broke for Emily and her family.
Like Angela, Emily was a beautiful young woman, who had her entire life in front of her. Although it is unlikely either one knew each other, they both shared the same demons, that of a powerful addiction to drugs that are far to easy to obtain. Too often, addicts have people around them who claim to be their “friends,” but in fact are the very people who provide them with the drugs, and who bring them one step closer to death.
In Angela’s case, sources report she had been clean and sober for 81 days. And in the case of many addicts who have a relapse, she apparently relapsed and dosed with the same amount of narcotics that she had been using before getting sober, resulting in an overdose and her untimely passing.
After Emily’s passing, I made it a point to become more vocal about the crisis that is embracing our country. It is far more prevalent than most people realize. Memphis, where I reside, is absolutely terrible. I know of at least a dozen people who have lost their lives because of opioids in the last couple of years, if not more. And I fear many others will follow.
This crisis cannot be addressed unless it is tackled on all fronts.
First, laws must be put in place that severely punish those who supply drugs to people who then die of an overdose. They should be charged with second degree murder at minimum, and ideally, possession of illegal narcotics that contributed to death, i.e. “murder one.”
Dealers, regardless of those who have caused a death, should have strict penalties. There should be no “third strike.” There should be “strike one” and you are out. Life or even the death sentence. Zero tolerance. Those who manufacture or import illegal narcotics also need the book thrown at them.
Secondly, there needs to be considerably more outreach and treatment options for opioid addiction, mental health, and public funding necessary for it. There needs to be resources available where addicts can seek treatment and know they are not going to be judged, and there should be more paths through churches and volunteer organizations to help these people kick the addiction and stay off of it.
Lastly, addicts should not be treated as criminals. Instead, those caught with small amounts of drugs should be drug tested and if that test is positive for addictive substances, maybe have a mandatory stint in an in-patient clinic. They need help, not punishment.
Until all three things happen, this epidemic is going to continue to grow and take the young lives of people like Ang and Emily. Families and friends will continue to have heartbreak, and entire futures will be devastated.
If you think drugs are “cool,” I’m sorry, you’re completely misguided. Drugs take lives, especially opioids. They destroy people. Families. Futures. They suck the life out of everyone and everything that they touch. If anyone who frequents my establishments wants to complain about my absolute zero tolerance for ANY kind of drug in said establishments, this post should make it clear, and you can simply stay the hell out.
I’m angry. My heart breaks again, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. But what I can absolutely, 100% assure you of, is that I will in no way contribute to that culture, and I will do everything in my power to help facilitate positive change.
RIP Angela Cates. RIP Emily Billings. You will not be forgotten, and I hope your deaths have not been in vain. If I have anything to do with it, they won’t. And all the others who have recently been lost to this crisis as well.
If you have a loved one you have lost, please feel free to eulogize them on this blog post.