Dr. Stephen Loyd, who overcame an addiction to Vicodin, works at the local and federal level to spread awareness and offer advice on addiction and how it can be stymied. (Photo Contributed)
There’s often a stigma attached to addiction in some parts of the country, and one local doctor has truly come full-circle in doing his part to fight the prescription pill epidemic that has hit East Tennessee so hard.
Ten years ago, Dr. Stephen Loyd’s life changed when he decided he’d had enough of a Vicodin addiction that sometimes totaled 100 pills a day.
Though, he said, popping pills all day made him sharper, more attentive and made him feel better about himself and possibly better at the job he was hired to do — work as a physician.
“I didn’t want to live in the shadows anymore,” Loyd said about the decision to come clean and get clean.
Loyd said his decision brought other pressures. Having grown up in the area, graduating from David Crockett High School, he knew he’d certainly show all the people who he’s come to know over the years and probably thought highly of him that he was addicted to pills as he went about his work in medicine.
“I did the only thing I know to do as a human being,” Loyd said. “I apologized.”
He admitted a verbal apology is often not enough, and he needed to apologize with his actions as well, practicing what he was beginning to preach and fighting against all the reasons people get addicted to pills in his part of the country, especially doctors, and how to come back from such dark places. Having been in all these places himself, he said, he would be able to lend a helping hand, which is exactly what he’s done since coming clean.
One of the biggest problems Loyd said was that this issue, and many others like it, are happening in the Bible Belt, where people are often quicker to judge than they are to help out. With judgment, he said, comes the dismantling of families, which is of no help to anyone involved and often a detriment. He has come across many people like him who try to battle back and might be able to kick their addictions only to find that there are no resources for them on the other side, not to mention being looked down upon like what he calls “moral derelicts.”
Because of his prominent position in society, he said he was able to use resources around him that many others battling addiction don’t have, which had him wonder about the situation.
“I looked around me and thought, ‘why do these people not get the same help I got?’” he said.
Now working as a physician at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home and operating as an associate professor of medicine at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine, Loyd is able to speak and work from experience in helping others get through their pill addictions, including pregnant women. Many who see him may not know his past, which gives him a chance to explain why he might be someone they should listen to in regard to addiction.
“I have to be believable,” Loyd said about helping others. “They have to know that I know what I’m doing.”
But it’s not just those fighting your average pill addiction that Loyd sees. He also goes head-on in taking on the medical community, which he says is way too lenient on people who’ve reached the level of doctor.
He said it’s the only professional group that oversees itself, thus is part of the problem.
Nationwide, Loyd said, 10-14 percent of physicians are working while being impaired, which is a range that he believes is much lower than the actual number, especially after having seen the situation from the other side. He believes the number is more like 20 percent, or one in five, a number that is frightening to him. One quick fix in combating this is something he strongly advocates — random drug testing for doctors, something that doesn’t currently happen.
Talk is cheap, he said, and while “pill mills” and misprescribing is at the base of the problem, he’s filled his schedule with trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. drug czar Michael Botticelli, who’s requested to meet with Loyd every quarter to go over this major issue in medicine.
He also serves as an expert witness for the federal government in cases against addicted doctors, something he admits he knows all too well. Too often, he said, politicians think they know these drug issues better than experts like himself, which is an issue when it comes to legislation. He said they’d be better off listening to people like himself and those involved more closely with the fight in how to make real progress in having less people become addicted.
As much as he takes pride in this battle, he says he doesn’t feel heroic in how it played out, but shame. This kind of shame gives him a chance to relate with some of the people who are fighting the same fight. His bottom level included stealing from his dad, something that he said couldn’t be worse. As awful as the story is, he said people frequently latch on to that part of the story.
Knowing that he’s doing well now in helping others, Loyd says he wouldn’t change a single thing about the past, regardless of the shame. It’s a work of passion now.
“This is what I do,” Loyd said about how he spends his extra time fighting against the causes of so many addictions. “When I leave here, I don’t have a boat. I don’t have golf clubs.”
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