Health

Recovering addict wants to end stigma of opioid addiction

Tim McGullam survived five overdoses to find hope

A two-pack box of Narcan nasal spary, the name brand of the lifesaving overdose drug naloxone is photographed at Mission of Hope in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
A two-pack box of Narcan nasal spary, the name brand of the lifesaving overdose drug naloxone is photographed at Mission of Hope in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s about “chasing the high,” and every day he makes compromises to justify something he always said he would never do.

Tim McGullam, 29, of Marion, said he started drinking alcohol at age 11, smoking marijuana at 13 and then snorting cocaine. At 18, he moved on to snorting prescription opioids he stole from his parents and eventually bought on the streets in Keansburg, N.J., where he grew up.

“I had never touched heroin and said I never would,” McGullam said. “I was 24 and working as a manager of a bar, and the bartender offered me some. I did it once and knew it was my drug. I snorted it. It was OK to snort, not shoot it — that’s how I justified it.”

Three months later, McGullam was injecting heroin. He was using about 50 “stamp” or single-dose bags a day, which costs about $250, but because he was friends with a drug dealer, it only cost him $100 per day.

“Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It could happen to anyone. We need to get rid of that stigma of addiction.”

- Tim McGullam

 

 

“I was leading a double life,” McGullam said. “Nobody knew.”

McGullam said he was always a good student in high school, graduating with a 3.9 grade-point average. He participated in athletics and other activities. He went on to college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications/public relations, but he was a drug addict.

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“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” McGullam said. “It could happen to anyone. We need to get rid of that stigma of addiction.”

 

His addiction started because of mental health issues. He was diagnosed with anxiety and bipolar disorder, but said he never gave the medication — which takes weeks to build up in a person’s system — a chance to work. McGullam said he would start a medication but then give up because it didn’t help immediately. The drugs, however, quickly “numbed” his pain.

McGullam is one of the 80 percent of heroin users who started misusing prescription opioids but then found heroin to be a cheaper alternative, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“You’re always chasing that high that you first had using it,” McGullam said. “Addiction is selfish. You don’t think about the repercussions.”

McGullam never thought he would overdose five times and have to be revived by Narcan or naloxone, an emergency medication used to block the effects of opioids. He admits two of the overdoses were intentional because he wanted it to “be over.”

“You don’t think about who you’re affecting … It’s not just you,” McGullam said. “The last time (overdose), I was in a coma for 10 days. After waking up my dad told me ‘Your mom was hysterical.’ ”

McGullam said it wasn’t easy. He tried to get sober on his own before getting inpatient treatment. He also had to try more than one medication for his mental health issues, but now, he is in a good place.

“I wake up every morning and want to wake up,” McGullam said. “It’s a strange feeling.”

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But he never forgets it’s a lifelong struggle. He doesn’t have cravings anymore but still goes daily to substance abuse groups for support.

After getting clean, McGullam wanted to share his newfound hope with others. He took a job in April through AmeriCorps as an advocate to work with the Area Substance Abuse Council in Cedar Rapids to combat the opioid crisis. He knows it’s “taking a leap” to go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting or online group, but he continues to encourage others to give it a chance.

McGullam said he had to leave New Jersey to get away from destructive influences and jumped at the opportunity to come to the Midwest, where statistics and experts say the epidemic is surging.

"I did it once and knew it was my drug. I snorted it. It was OK to snort, not shoot it — that’s how I justified it.”

- Tim McGullam, recovering addict and ASAC advocate

 

 

The Midwest has a reported 70 percent increase in overdoses in the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The epidemic was so bad in New Jersey. I was going to friends’ funerals all the time,” he said. “The Midwest is now being hit, and I wanted to come here and help.”

McGullam will be one of the speakers Saturday at the Overdose Awareness Event hosted by Community Resources United to Stop Heroin — CRUSH. The event will feature speakers who are in different stages of recovery, a panel discussion, naloxone training, resource booths and a walk of acknowledgment at the end of the event.

The naloxone training is especially important because it can help save lives, McGullam said.

“I’ve had people die in front of me,” he said. “That’s burned on my brain. I don’t want someone to go through that. We want to train friends, family, community members — anyone willing to help. The naloxone comes in a nasal spray. It can keep someone alive until emergency personnel get there.”

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In Iowa and 45 other states, a prescription isn’t needed for naloxone. It is available over-the-counter from a pharmacy, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

 

IF YOU GO

l What: CRUSH Overdose Awareness Event

l When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 25

l Where: Mission of Hope Church, 1700 B Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

 

 

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