Tenn. doctor opens up about personal opioid addiction, recovery

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A Tennessee doctor has made it his life’s work to help people recover from addiction and he knows the struggle all too well.

Dr. Stephen Loyd is in recovery after three and a half years of opioid abuse. At his breaking point, he was taking 100 prescription pills a day — proof that anyone can fall into this trap.

Today, Dr. Loyd, who is now Medical Director for Tennessee’s Division of Mental Health Services, travels the state seeking to educate people from those who break the law, to those who make the law, using his personal experience as his guide.

His own battle with opioids began in 2001 as he was nearing the end of his residency in internal medicine, stressed out about the next step: private practice.

“And I was driving home from work one day, ” Dr. Loyd remembers, “Anxiety was up, I felt like I was depressed, and I pulled up to a red light in my hometown of Johnson City and flipped the glove compartment of my truck open. And I had some little five milligram hydrocodone that the dentist had given me from a procedure months before.”

“I didn’t even use them, I just threw them in the glove compartment of my truck. I flipped the glove compartment open and saw them laying there and thought ‘my patients take these things all the time.’ I remember that thought clearly and so I popped one out of the package – they were sample packs broke it in half… and threw it in my mouth. I lived about ten minutes away at the time, so by the time I got home, I felt like I had found a cure for my anxiety and my depression.”

First it was a little. Then it was a lot.

“Within three years,” Dr. Loyd told said, “I was using the equivalent of 100 Vicodin a day. Not 100 milligrams. 100 pills.”

He was putting his life and the lives of his patients in peril.

“They were absolutely at risk. And I didn’t have any idea. I felt like that I was more alert, I was more awake, but that wasn’t the case obviously looking back on it now,” he said.

He had car wrecks — from hitting someone in his own driveway to a crash injuring his dad. It still wasn’t enough to make him stop using, though.

“I looked over and I saw him and thought he was dead. Blood everywhere. And I broke a couple of ribs and you know, you’d think that would be a wake-up call. But this is the mindset: ‘I knew every doctor in the hospital,’ Loyd said. “So I thought, ‘Well, the police aren’t going to drug test me because I don’t smell or anything like that, they don’t have a reason to,’ but I got a little concerned when we went to the ER so I called ahead to make sure that I got one of the surgeons that was one of my friends that I knew wouldn’t drug test me, ”

Dr. Loyd recalls, shaking his head, voice trembling, “even telling you that right now, I can feel shame. And that’s 13 years ago.”

He finally got help, after looking in the mirror realizing 100 pills a day was going to kill him.

He detoxed at a Nashville hospital, then at a longer-term rehab facility.

Recovery is still a process.

“I still have cravings. So there are times, and they’re pretty rare, that I still have cravings. I just don’t use. I’ve got other things that I do,” Loyd says.

You can tell Dr. Loyd has lost weight when looking at the different videos of him compared to our interview.

He says he works out almost every day. If he gets a craving he calls someone. He says just breaking the cycle of thinking about it usually makes that intense feeling go away.