ALPINE — Utah has seen a 400 percent increase in drug overdose deaths from 2000 to 2015. The Drug Enforcement Administration and one man who overcame addiction are on a mission to help others struggling.
Michael Reece hasn’t played the piano in more than two years. Recently the 61-year-old sat down to play an all-too-familiar song, called “Let Me Be the One,” by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols. He’s played it thousands of times.
“It talks about reaching out when you really, really need somebody,” Reece said.
His song choice couldn’t be more appropriate. He said it means a lot to him since it parallels his recent journey in overcoming an opioid addiction.
The chorus reads, “Let me be the one you run to, let me be the one you come to when you need someone to turn to.”
Reece said he’s the least likely person he knows to become an addict. He had a successful career producing music for the second generation Osmond family, and is a father and a grandfather.
After a divorce and being out of work for a couple years as a result of 9/11, Reece developed severe chronic pain. He was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. He said opioids were the only thing that helped.
Taking opioids regularly became problematic for him.
“Your body builds up an immunity to those, and I would take more, and more, and more and more,” Reece explained.
Nine years later, Reece was trapped in addiction. He started getting prescriptions from multiple doctors without their knowledge. A friend tried to help him understand how dependent he was on the drugs.
Reece didn’t feel he needed the help.
“No, I’m not an addict. I get this as a prescription,” he said.
Eventually his addiction led to buying illegal drugs off the street.
DEA district agent in charge Brian Besser said street drugs are counterfeit and extremely dangerous.
“The drugs that are on the street are literally like playing Russian Roulette,” Besser said.
He said they "can claim your life almost immediately because they are not pharmaceutical-grade drugs."
Besser said the opioid epidemic has no socioeconomic boundaries.
“I am literally seeing everyone from soccer moms, to clergy, to business men, to kids becoming addicted inadvertently,” he said.
Besser said finding a solution to this epidemic requires everyone’s efforts.
“We’re trying to tell people, ‘Wake up. This is a community problem. It’s not just their problem, or his or her problem. It’s our problem as a community,’” he said. “We’re seeing good folks who become victim to this and they don’t know a way out.”
Reece has experienced this firsthand.
“I’ve lost everything. I’m in bankruptcy because of it,” he said.
He lost his house and even relationships with his family.
“The minute I realized that, I knew I had to stop,” he said.
Reece started seeing an addiction specialist and taking the drug Suboxone to wean himself off the opioids.
Most importantly, he credits a good friend for standing by his side during recovery.
“Zach just took it upon himself to help me literally see the light,” he said. “I was spending thousands, and as I look back I think of all the things I could have done with that money.”
Reece is grateful to Zach for “being the one” as Paul Williams describes in his lyrics.
Reece has been clean from opioids since May.
The minute I realized that I knew, I had to stop.
Although Reece still suffers from pain, he said, “I can at least see daylight every morning when I wake up and for that, I’m eternally grateful.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration has introduced a new campaign called “Wake-Up Utah.” It’s a call for everyone to take a stand against opioid addiction. They want to invite the entire community to take responsibility and assist those who need help.
Besser encourages people to visit the Wake-Up Utah webpage to learn how the community can come together to fight the epidemic in Utah.