By James W. Hood
I had a horrible feeling that October Friday. I’d been in that situation many times before, but this time felt different.
That Wednesday, Austin left voicemails that sounded confused — from a friend’s phone, because Austin had lost his.
On Thursday, Austin sent texts from that same phone. Something wasn’t right. I called the friend to say I was concerned and to have Austin call me. Several hours later, the friend called to say he went to Austin’s apartment, but no one was home.
A few hours later I received a blocked call but couldn’t answer in time. Three minutes later a call came with a New Orleans area code. It was the coroner saying my beautiful boy was found slumped over his kitchen table, dead from an opioid overdose.
Austin’s journey was over. Mine was just beginning.
Like every child, Austin was a wonderful person — just a kid trying to grow up in a world that throws endless challenges at us. But at age 14, Austin started drinking. We were concerned and sought help. By 15, we found pipes and marijuana in his room. We sought more help. By 16, Austin was using opioids.
The next three years were a blur of therapists, interventions, wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools, and ER visits. At 19, Austin was doing great. He went to college with new-found determination and optimism. Until those 48 hours that I’ll never be able to understand or reconstruct.
Until the phone call came that would bring any parent to his or her knees. Until he lost his battle and I lost my son.
Someone said losing a child is the greatest pain we will ever face.
They were right.
Looking back, I wondered why it was so difficult to help Austin. Why did he have to go to 18 different people or places for help? Why was there no roadmap? Why did I feel we were lurking in shadows the entire time? Wasn’t there anyone who’d figured out what needs to be done?
I came to understand our family’s journey was far from unique. But even in Westport, CT, society wants to pretend addiction is not the horrific problem it is.
Addiction is devastating our country and stealing our youth. With 21 million people currently suffering and 23 million more in long-term recovery, addiction to alcohol and other drugs impacts one in three households. Addiction affects as many people as diabetes; one-and-a-half times as many as all cancers combined.
Someone, usually a young adult, dies from alcohol or other drugs every four minutes — like a jumbo jet falling from the sky every day with no survivors. Addiction and accidental overdose are now the leading killer of people under 50 years of age, and addiction costs our country $1 trillion a year.
Where is the outrage?
Our country has done little to combat the scourge of addiction, and so it continues to get worse, striking an ever-younger audience every year. Why? Because the stigma, shame, and hopelessness surrounding addiction have kept this issue in the shadows.
As a result — astonishingly — there has never been a well-funded equivalent of the American Cancer Society or American Heart Association to battle the addiction crisis.
This is why I left my career and, with others whose lives have also been forever changed by this crisis, created Facing Addiction (now Facing Addiction with NCADD).
We’ve crafted a comprehensive strategy to turn the tide against addiction in America.
To do that, we’re building a national movement — as exists with every other major health issue — to bring a unified voice and sustainable source of funding to this effort.
On October 4, 2015, Facing Addiction made history on the National Mall, when tens of thousands gathered to end the silence surrounding addiction. This was the first time major musicians, politicians, actors, and advocates all joined to create a united voice, supporting Facing Addiction’s pledge to help solve the most urgent health crisis of our time. It was the AIDS-quilt moment for addiction in America.
Since then, Facing Addiction with NCADD has become the leading voice in the effort to end addiction in our country, and has accomplished many important things. Still, because of the stigma, shame, and misunderstanding surrounding addiction, many ask if we can truly reverse this problem.
The answer is, unconditionally, yes.
First, we must educate people that addiction is an illness, not a moral failing. It happens to good people who no more want to become addicted than others want to get cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.
Addiction is not inherently fatal. It is treatable, and recovery is real. But people must understand the risks. One in every seven Americans will experience a substance use disorder.
Second, we must make accurate information readily accessible, in a trusted place, so people who need help know where to turn. Facing Addiction with NCADD, with Transforming Youth Recovery, created the Addiction Resource Hub that lists some 40,000 assets, to help people with prevention, intervention, treatment, recovery, and advocacy. This is the most comprehensive addiction resource ever assembled, and is already helping countless people.
Third, we must remove impediments that have been holding back progress for decades. Prevention programs that don’t work. Pediatricians untrained in addiction. Shady, under-regulated addiction treatment centers. And our wrong-minded response to addiction as a crime, instead of an illness.
America has faced other health crises throughout history and, each time, found ways to dramatically lessen their impact.
Thirty-five years ago, people thought HIV/AIDS, another highly stigmatized illness, was insurmountable. But since the AIDS quilt moment in 1983, great strides have been made to reduce its devastation — with $3 billion raised toward that end.
But we must act…now. More than 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of “the fierce urgency of now” when discussing a very different crisis in America. We must focus today’s “fierce urgency of now” on the addiction crisis in America, before we lose an entire generation of our youth.
JAMES W. HOOD
Co-CEO of Facing Addiction with NCADD
Jim has had a distinguished career, with an emphasis on helping companies identify and implement strategies for significant growth. He has more than three decades of experience in general management, business strategy, marketing, finance, consulting, private investing and as an entrepreneur.
Since the death of his son, Austin, from drug-related causes in October 2012, Jim has devoted all his time helping to forge a national organization, Facing Addiction, to serve as “the American Cancer Society of the addiction space.”
Facing Addiction launched with a history-making event on the National Mall on October 4, 2015. In January 2018 Facing Addiction merged with NCADD. The resulting organization, Facing Addiction with NCADD, is now recognized as the leading voice in the effort to end addiction in our country. Jim serves as Co-CEO of Facing Addiction with NCADD.
During his years in advertising, Jim managed some of Young & Rubicam’s largest accounts, headed the agency’s strategy review board, served as Director of Global Business Development, and was CEO of the joint venture between Y&R and Dentsu, the largest advertising agency in the world.
During his years on Wall Street, Jim was Chief Marketing Officer of Lehman Brothers and CS First Boston (now Credit Suisse).
Jim also had a successful strategic consulting practice for more than a decade, working with clients in the financial services, telecom, defense, technology and restaurant industries. While a consultant, Jim co-founded and became CEO of HipCricket, a groundbreaking mobile marketing firm that went public in 2006. He was also a director of Einstein Noah Restaurant Group and served as a member of their executive committee when the company went public.
Jim is an investor in several private equity and hedge funds and invests in and advises early stage companies. He also serves as a mentor at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.
Jim holds a BA in Psychology and Economics from Cornell University and an MBA from Harvard University. He has served on many community boards in his hometown of Westport, CT.