Once addicted, local doctor is Tennessee director for substance abuse services

Zach Vance • Jul 31, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Dr. Stephen Loyd was certain July 8, 2004, would be the worst day of his life.

“Twelve years ago was the day I got help,” Loyd said. “I was on my way to Nashville for treatment. What I thought was the worst day of my life actually turned into the best day of my life.” 

As stress began to accumulate halfway through his last year of residency, Loyd took what appeared to be a harmless half of a 5 mg Loratab to relieve some pressure. 

Loyd admittedly had an issue with alcohol at the time. 

“I wasn’t somebody who drank every day, but I was a binge drinker,” Loyd said.

On the second day of classes at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine, Loyd was elected president of his class. The influence of such a position led Loyd to stop drinking.

At least until he graduated. 

“The problem was when I got into residency, and towards the end of my residency, I started drinking again,” Loyd said. 

Looking back, Loyd said he had no idea that his alcoholism would put him at a higher risk to abuse opioids. 

“After taking that first Loratab, I thought I had just found alcohol that no one could smell,” Loyd recalls. “I thought I had found a cure for my depression and anxiety. That’s how it felt.” 

Within three years, Loyd’s addiction ballooned. 

“I was taking the equivalent of 500 mg of opioids a day,” Loyd said. “That meant coming up with about 100 Loratabs a day.”

Loyd miraculously gathered that many pills through favors from medical colleagues in the form of prescriptions.  

But eventually, Loyd made the decision to quit.

Loyd clearly remembers waiting for his wife to leave for work most mornings, walking into his bathroom and crying. He wanted help, but knew he couldn’t do by himself. 

“When you’re on that many per day, you don’t feel buzzed. You don’t feel euphoric. You don’t feel high. It’s just to make you feel like a human being. I used to get up in the morning and my bed would be wet from sweating. I was withdrawing throughout the night,” Loyd said. “I wanted to stop so bad, but there was no way to stop.”

Loyd described the symptoms of withdrawing as the “sickest flu you’ve ever had in your life, your bones hurt and you’re sweaty. You’re anxious and the only thing that fixes that is a pill.”

“I didn’t know what a withdraw was the first time I went through them, and I was a fairly educated guy (with a medical degree). At that point, I knew I was physically dependent.” 

As his addiction spiraled out of control, Loyd’s father stepped in to intervene and save his son. 

“People knew something was wrong (with me), but they just couldn’t pinpoint what it was,” Loyd said.

On July 6, 2004, Loyd took his son to Jonesborough to drop off to his father. 

As his son got out of his vehicle, Loyd briefly spoke to his father before saying goodbye. 

“I said, “Alright, I love you dad. I’ll see you.’ To this day, I still think he turned around and walked away towards his car. So I reached over and grabbed 15 10mg Percocets and threw them in my mouth. When I turned back around, dad was standing right there at my window.” 

Loyd’s father confronted his son about taking pain killers, but Loyd was in denial. 

The next day as Loyd arrived home from work, his father’s truck was parked in his driveway, and he knew why. 

Loyd’s father convinced him to take a ride up Interstate 26 to see his sister in Kingsport. 

“He said, ‘Steve, you have a drug problem’ and I started crying. I said, ‘Dad, I know. I’m going to lose everything: My kid, my wife, my house,’” Loyd said.  

“And he said, ‘None of that stuff will be any good if you’re dead.’”

Despite his training and medical education, Loyd had no clue where to find help for his addiction at that time. 

Loyd remembers his sister found an organization called the Tennessee Medical Foundation who would provide him with treatment referrals, and he decided to make a trip to Nashville a few days later. 

For a little over three months, Loyd received treatment at the Vanderbilt Institute for Treatment of Addiction and the Center for Professional Excellence. 

Once out, Loyd’s life remained intact. With support from ETSU President Paul Stanton and a clean record up to that point, he still kept his job.

“I had all the support in the world. And I started looking around and saw people struggling with opioid addiction, and I wondered why they couldn’t just do what I had done.” Loyd said. 

“And I remember the day I realized the arrogance in saying that.”

With an enormous amount of support from his family, the Tennessee Medical Foundation, a local group of doctors and ETSU’s president, Loyd said, he would have felt like an idiot if he didn’t recover from opioid addiction.

“That’s when I started to wake up to the need for access to treatment. Treatment shouldn’t be based on what you do for a living. How am I any more valuable than a police office or a nurse or a guy doing construction work? I’m not. But I was treated differently because of my profession, and that’s what we need to work to erase,” Loyd said.

Loyd is now working for the state of Tennessee as the medical director of substance abuse services where he supports efforts to increase access to treatment.

“We’ve got to eliminate the stigma that comes with addiction,” Loyd said. “I’m no different than anyone else when it comes to receiving treatment.”

Loyd recently shared his story to Gray residents during a community meeting in early July with ETSU and Mountain States leaders.

“I’m emotionally involved in this. I do it and I love it, but I’m emotionally involved. There are people in the community who have a heroin or pill problem. To see the stigma that’s associated with it, it makes it hard to walk in somewhere and say you have a problem,” Loyd said.

“If that would have been me and I wouldn’t have been a doctor, and had access to the quality of treatment I had, I would have likely died by now.”

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP

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