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A Fighter’s Battle Against Addiction

February 8, 2018

David Cantrell is a warrior. His burly appearance and fire in his eyes say it all. They tell the story of someone who has seen the worst and survived. From childhood, Cantrell suffered the perils of addiction. He fell victim to drugs early on, remaining at their mercy for decades.

“You have to think of drugs as predator and prey,” Cantrell warned. Drugs prey on those who suffer from some form of household trauma or low self esteem. These are the people most susceptible to the draw of the alternate — and better — reality created by drugs.

But very soon, the disease starts to kick in. Users begin to withdraw from their family and they’re disinterested in things they once loved. Their focus is on the next high. As the addict spirals, families and friends begin to suffer the consequences.

Cantrell’s background made him the ideal target for the predator of opioids. His parents were both alcoholics, often drunk in front of him. His father was an ex-Marine boxer with a temper, and violence was routine in the home. Cantrell was no stranger to his father’s wrath. If he deviated from his father’s expectations, his father’s fists made their point. Not only did Cantrell suffer from physical abuse at home, but he endured a fair share of verbal and mental abuse as well. 

You have to think of drugs as predator and prey”

— David Cantrell

When he was 13, Cantrell experimented with heroin for the first time. He said drugs seemed like the cure to the emotional and physical trauma he experienced as a young child. Drugs created a reality so good and realistic that his brain thought it was true — a common experience for thousands of other addicts nationwide. But soon Cantrell lost all sense of who he was. As most addicts do eventually, he disengaged with his friends and family. His life became focused on seeking the next high.

Thus began the series of Cantrell’s many visits to jails and prisons. At 13, he was arrested for the first time in a drug-related incident and sentenced to five years in juvenile detention.

But after his release, Cantrell returned to drugs and alcohol. Several years later, another episode, induced by narcotics and alcohol, sent him to a federal prison, this time for nine years. Five years were added to his sentence for for smuggling drugs into the prison.

In all, Cantrell has been arrested a total of nine times, all with varying verdicts.

At 34, Cantrell finally had enough. He began the road to recovery by admitting he was an addict, something he was unable to do before.

“Everyone could see [my problem] but me,” he said.

Today, Cantrell is 40 years clean of using any form of narcotic or consuming any form of alcohol. He went on to become a counselor, retiring a few years ago, and now he speaks at Munson telling the story of his journey.

Cantrell’s addiction began 60 years ago. But in the past decade, he has seen the opioid crisis claim more and more victims. Cantrell said the epidemic is worse than he’s ever seen it.

Addiction is the biggest killer in the U.S., but it’s almost hidden from us. More than 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016, a five time increase from 1999, according to the Centers of Disease Control.  In Michigan, deaths from opioids increased almost 20 percent between 2015 and 2016, a “statistically significant increase,” according to the CDC.

The epidemic is being addressed in multiple ways, from increasing funding for recovery programs to training more people in the use of anti-overdose remedies to attempting to decrease the stigma associated with the disease so more people seek help. The emotional cost of the disease on society and on families as well as the financial cost of treatment will be immense.

“I don’t know what the price will be,” Cantrell said, “but it’s going to be damn high.”

 

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