Moments after walking away from a car accident, in which his car flipped three times on busy Interstate 270, Matt Paris called his “dope man. I told him I was still coming.”
Years of trying to fill “the hole within me” with marijuana, pain pills and heroin led Paris down a path he couldn’t free himself from. For years, he felt alive and happy only when high.
But the next day, when he returned to the accident scene, “that’s when I surrendered,” he told a crowd of more than 200 people gathered in Rockville on Aug. 30 for the County’s third annual Ceremony of Remembrance on International Overdose Awareness Day.
Many attending the ceremony understood Paris’s pain firsthand, having abused drugs themselves, suffered along with a loved one who was addicted, or worked in that field.
“To see so many of you here recognizes the fact that we have a problem,” said County Executive Ike Leggett.
“This is not a good day for us to have to come together,” he said. “Montgomery County is not immune.”
Last year, 116 people died from opioid overdoses, and another 57 survived thanks to emergency help.
Paris knows all about that, as an addict who has been clean for six years, and now as a recovery coach to juveniles in the justice system.
He was five years old when his father died, and though his mother did all she could, he ended up with a lot of free time on his hands, time he did not use wisely.
“I got myself in a lot of trouble. I was always missing something until I found drugs,” Paris said. He used drugs and alcohol, “anything that would stop the pain,” said the graduate of Wootton High School, where he played on the Wootton Patriots football team.
“I found heroin, as most of us do. It was the cheaper alternative,” he said.
Following his car accident, Paris turned to his mother who helped him get into a treatment program. Since then, his life has been “an amazing, amazing journey.”
He urged people to “show the hope, that there is hope” to those suffering from this disease of addiction.
“The tragedy of an overdose loss is [that] it is preventable,” said Roxanne Wood, whose son Donald Wood III died from an overdose when he was 32 years old.
It’s important to reduce the stigma and start talking about drug addiction as a disease, like cancer or diabetes and not a personal weakness, she said.
Kay Bowman’s son, Luke Ryan Bowman, died at the age of 34 from the combined effects of heroin, marijuana and medicine prescribed for anxiety and panic attacks.
During his shortened life, he cut his wrists and ran away from school and got hit by a car. He attended Montgomery County College, “but he didn’t last a semester,” his mother said.
The son she knew “was loved and adored.” He tended to mix with the wrong people, allowing him to keep using, she said.
“I lost my son long before he died,” she said of her only child.
Then, one day, while waiting for a place in a treatment center, “he OD’ed on heroin in the backseat of a car in Washington, D.C., – such a devastating loss. My baby boy, the love of my life.”
His death “robbed of us of memories we never had,” of watching his hopes and dreams come true.
Kay Bowman urged parents in similar situations not to brush away the obvious, and instead recognize their children’s problems and get help.
“Addiction is all-powerful and replaces everything, except the next high,” she said.
Bowman and Wood are two of 30 members of SOUL, Surviving Our Ultimate Loss, which sponsored the ceremony.
“Believe me, it’s a club you don’t want to join,” said Bowman.