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Breaking the Stigma: Iowa family looks to help others survive drug addiction, find recovery

U.S. drug use dropped in 2018, giving some hope. But according to addiction awareness advocates, the number of overdoses began rising before COVID-19.

IOWA, USA —

As the pandemic continues, drug overdoses across the country are claiming more lives again.  

Drug use dropped in 2018, giving some hope. But according to addiction awareness advocates, the number of overdoses began rising before COVID-19.

They say the combination of isolation and the stress of so much loss in the world is further leading to a reliance on drugs. And that in turn is ending lives too soon. 

Diane Proffitt lost her son to a drug overdose. He had a full-time job, a girlfriend and was planning to propose. Her son, Jordan Proffitt, was 21 yeasr old.

“He was clean two and a half years,” she recalled. 

His parents say they almost lost him when he’d shot up years before.

“His veins were so bad that they ended up having to go through and screw through his leg,” she described. “We all rushed up to the hospital and when he came to, he just cried, sobbing, saying, ‘Mom I’m so sorry, I promise you, I promise I will never do this again.’”

But they did go through it again, one last time. Jordan's father, Ben Proffitt, found him unconscious in their basement after a fentanyl overdose.

His other son was frantic.

“He said, ‘Dad I can’t do this anymore. He’s down.’ Immediately rushing downstairs and seeing his lifeless body and just my protective instincts was get to him. He was facedown and when I turned him over, as sad as this may be, I already knew he was gone. I tried to revive him. I thought he was gasping for air and I stopped and I could hear it … Nothing. it was nothing, and until the paramedics got there … they announced him dead at our home.”

Looking back to that day, his parents recognize Jordan was turning to drugs, numbing the stresses and pains of life. It’s a path specialists say many experience.

Today, Jordan’s parents' hearts are heavy. Reflecting on that time, they recall he was going through a lot of loss. Drugs became a form of self-medicating. 

“Jordan and his friends started off with marijuana and it went to pill prescriptions, and it just went to what’s the next big high,” Diane said.

Before his deadly overdose, his parents say he was sober for almost three years. The turning point: losing his best friend in 2016.

“He was the first one of the group of friends to go, and we should’ve … and I regret this, we should’ve kept a closer eye on him,” Diane added. “My biggest regret is I had blinders on.”

Jordan’s mother says that that loss of friendship wore down Jordan’s spirit.

“We knew he was going through a lot,” Diane continued. “He just didn’t know how to process it, and he went back to what he knew would take away the pain. Take away the memories, for that little bit of time, and it took him that night."

"That night the dose that he had, that heroin was laced with carfentanil. Which is an elephant tranquilizer. He went right away. He wanted kids. He wanted a wife. He wanted everything out of this world.”

Jeremiah Lindemann in Denver also knows this pain. He lost his brother to overdose. 

“He was extremely charismatic and a charming personality,” he described. “Just light up the room, full of smiles.”

After losing his brother, Lindemann then heard from a mother who lost her son to drugs. She wanted to celebrate the lives of their loved ones. So he launched a map that tracks overdoses nationwide, in the hope to prevent more lives from being lost.

“There’s still so much stigma of what a druggie is ,or what a junky is,” said Lindemann.

His goal for the map is to break the stigma and to show who people were before spiraling into addiction. Lindemann believes pain medication can become a crutch for dealing with life’s stressors: for anyone. 

LOOK: Interactive map of the U.S. opioid epidemic

Stigma further buries this hidden disease.

“They might be having a series of issues that they might be facing in their life, and if they’re facing stigma, the chances of them getting out of any mental health issues themselves or potentially seeking treatment, the stigma has kept people from going to treatment. It’s an issue. Treatment does work and recovery works and compassion to help people get there goes a lot of ways.”

He understands there is no quick fix. 

“I don’t have all the answers, unfortunately, no one does right now. We’re still very reactive,” Lindemann said. "I think there’s a lot of society, things we need to work on like rebuilding our communities and just being nicer to one another before we talk about addiction.

Jordan’s father agrees with Lindemann and believes the pandemic is making mental health challenges worse.

“I feel that with the pandemic, and just everything with it, losing this human interaction, not being able to do the things that we’re used to, they’re leading toward that gateway, that way to soothe themselves, and I know that just with the stresses of it, with everything happening with our lives right now, they don’t know how to process pain like that. But their way to shoot up and forget about it for a while.”

Jordan’s family and Lindemann agree this is not about a “war on drugs.” Rather, compassion is key.

“Just be there for them,” Diane Proffitt said. “You can’t change them. They have to want that step but be there and listen to them, try to reach out and get help for them. There can be hope. It’s if you’re really wanting to stop, find that person that you can listen to that’s not going to judge you.”

They want folks to understand that addiction can happen to anyone, and to acknowledge if someone is using, compassion could save their life.

Today, all Diane has of Jordan is memories and a locket with his ashes.

“He left behind three siblings that are struggling right now. I mean they went through graduations without their big brother and so many milestones that their brother is not going to be there for, not to mention that I’m missing out on what my son would have been."

"He had a home life. He lived in Urbandale, but everybody needs to remember this is everywhere. This is in Johnston. This is in West Des Moines. This is in Urbandale. This is in Waukee. This could be your neighbor two doors down that you don’t know is going through it."

If you are struggling with addiction or know someone who is, there are people ready to support you to recovery.

The National Safety Council is interested in collaborating with Lindemann to create more educational resources aimed at saving more lives. 

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