Georgea Kovanis | Detroit Free Press | Published September 27, 2018
Debbie Smith got the phone call at about 6:30 a.m. on July 28, 2011: Her 26-year-old son was dead from a heroin overdose.
She rushed to her ex-husband’s home — her son had been living there, sleeping in his childhood bedroom. And once inside, she sat next to her son, stroked his hair and told him that he was finally at peace.
It is in his memory that Smith plans to ride her bike 25 miles along the Macomb Orchard Trail in the 6th annual Ride 4 Recovery on Sunday.
Her goal — and the goal of the ride — is to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic and to raise money for CARE of Southeastern Michigan, a Fraser-based nonprofit that provides a number of helping services — including addiction treatment.
CARE focuses much of its attention on substance abuse treatment. “In the last two years, we’ve increased our total budget size by about 67 percent,” said Monique Stanton, president and CEO of CARE. “Most of that has been really around addressing the opiate epidemic.”
Drug overdoses killed a record 380 people in Macomb County last year, with the opioid fentanyl responsible for an increasing number of deaths, according to a report by the Macomb County Medical Examiner.
Provisional data released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Michigan’s drug overdose deaths increased 12.6 percent between 2016 and 2017, from 2,386 to 2,686.
And nationwide, the CDC estimates there were more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017 and that 49,068 of those deaths involved opioids.
“There is an epidemic,” said Smith, who is 62 and lives in St. Clair Shores. “Our young people have substance abuse issues. It can happen to any family, any type of child.”
Her son, Matthew Smith, was a hard worker, a mechanic, she said. He was loving and caring when he was sober. He played sports as a young kid. He was an average student. “It’s just that he couldn’t get past 16, 17 years of age,” Debbie Smith said. “He really started cycling worse and worse into his addictions.”
Like so many addicts, he started with pills. “My son was able to get Vicodin on the streets. He also got it through physicians,” Smith said. But when the pills became too expensive, Smith said Matthew he turned to heroin, which is cheap and easy to find.
He went to rehab in February 2011. His mother said he tried to hard to beat his addiction; he was clean for awhile. And even when he started using again, his habit seemed less severe than it had before rehab.
“He was home more,” Smith said. “Him and his girlfriend were getting along. He would talk to you in a way that you knew he was sober, or if he wasn’t, it wasn’t like he was really stoned. He kept trying, wanting to improve.”
Matthew Smith was due to be sentenced for a driving under the influence charge he had received before rehab. His mother believes he knew part of his sentence would involve frequent drug testing and that he decided get high before the court started monitoring him.
“He hadn’t had heroin probably in quite a while,” she said. “A lot of people who go through rehab, as soon as they get out, a lot of them will go right to get the drugs. And because their body has been away from heroin for so long, they overdose.
“Just because you’re in rehab doesn’t mean you’re better,” she said. “That’s just the very beginning.”
Smith believes her son would have benefited from a peer counselor — an addict who has achieved sobriety. “When you’re in the cusp of addiction and trying to get healthy, you need someone who has been through addiction, who understands what it looks like,” she said.
“I don’t know if parents have a lot of education about what that looks like,” she said.
CARE has peer counselors.
Riders who haven’t registered in advance — careofsem.com/events/ride4recovery/ — may register beginning at 8 a.m. Sept. 30 at Maniaci’s Banquet Center, 69227 Main, Richmond.
Participants may choose from four different rides: 10 miles, 25 miles, 40 miles and a 62 miles.
A pre-ride breakfast is at 8 a.m., opening ceremonies at 9 a.m. and the ride is to begin at 9:30 a.m. A barbecue is scheduled after the ride.
For information on CARE: careofsem.com