I was in fifth grade the first time I was prescribed opioid pain relievers after a sports injury. Growing up as a competitive volleyball player in the suburbs of Houston, getting injured was a normal part of the routine. This time, at the age of 10, I broke six bones in my foot and was prescribed opioid painkillers for my six-month recovery. What started as a pill to numb the physical pain grew into an addiction that turned my life upside down, and nearly killed me.

 

Chasing the high I got from competitive sports

At the time, I didn’t know what opioids were or the risk of addiction associated with utilizing them. As every competitive athlete knows, there is a level of dopamine the athlete gets from game day – a natural and healthy high. I sought to maintain that feeling as I went through a series of sports-related injuries through high school, and began to live a double life. The person people thought they knew – loving daughter, good student and all-American athlete – and the person who was chasing that high and finding it in opioids.

Addiction can happen to anyone

The opioid epidemic in the U.S. is skyrocketing, with more than 42,000 lives lost to opioid overdose in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s an average of 115 opioid-related deaths each day. At home in Texas, 2,831 people died from drug overdose in 2016.

It never occurred to me that I could be one of the people in those statistics – until I overdosed in 2014.

I had been recruited to a new city, Miami, where I was living at the time and was introduced to recreational drugs. On the day of my overdose, I had been mixing opioids with alcohol and found myself wide awake in my room and I realized I was unable to move my body. My roommate heard my scream for help and called 911. The next day I told my parents everything. We had our first open conversation around my drug use. The blurred lines of my double life were gone and I could no longer escape the person in the mirror.

Your next time could be your last time

I ended up going to rehab in Thailand, where I spent 60 days in an in-patient treatment center. I was one of the youngest people there, and I got to see what my life would be like in 10 or 15 years if I kept going down this path. At the time, that perspective was the key to my staying sober. Little did I know the biggest realization was right around the corner.

Six months later, I traveled back to Southeast Asia to meet with a close friend from rehab. I was sober and excited to be back in a place that brought me peace.

My friend from rehab never arrived. He had overdosed and died the day before our trip.

His death shapes my life to this day. Until that moment, I didn’t understand that I could die if I relapsed just once. I know now that my next high could be my last, and I honor my friend’s memory each day that I am sober.

 

 

Break the stigma and ask for help

My addiction could have ended my life, but I was fortunate enough to make it into recovery and proud to say I am four years sober, working full-time and pursuing my master’s degree. I’m also raising my voice for the millions of Americans struggling with opioid addiction.

At WE Day Texas, a recent youth empowerment event here in North Texas, I shared my story with 10,000 local students and taught them about the opioid epidemic and what our generation can do to end it.  I told them that we can raise awareness about the issue by taking advantage of tools and resources provided by companies like Walgreens. I encourage parents and teens to join their #ItEndsWithUs campaign (walgreens.com/itendswithus) and start conversations with friends about cleaning out medicine cabinets and safely disposing of prescription drugs at take-back kiosks inside Walgreens stores.

I used to believe a drug addict was somebody on the streets with needle marks on their arms, but I was wrong. I was a successful athlete, a good student, and came from a loving family. My pride and the stigma associated with addiction hindered me in asking for help. I’m here today because I never want others to experience that and if they have, to know they’re not alone.

Thank you for reading my story. Please feel free to share it. I’m confident that together, It Ends With Us.

Adelle Buede is a former Texas high school volleyball star who travels the country sharing her personal story of overcoming her addiction to opioids. She is working with Walgreens for the #ItEndsWithUs campaign and recently spoke to teens at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland about how young people can end the deadly opioid addiction epidemic.

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