Opioid overdose deaths rise among Blacks; one Birmingham mother an inspiring model for recovery

That is an opinion column.

She doesn’t bear in mind his identify. Kim Davis can’t recall the identify of the man who saved her life. The man who discovered her after she snorted a half gram of heroin off her pinky nail—identical to white folks do it, she thought. Heroin reduce with fentanyl, a potent, too-often lethal opioid.

She doesn’t bear in mind the identify of the man who doubtless heard her emit the loss of life growl, she calls it. The sound addicts make once they’re OD’ing. Heard it and took motion.

The man who put her within the bathe on that night time in 2016.

She remembers waking up, although, beneath a torrent and pondering: “I’m getting my rattling hair moist.”

Davis, a Birmingham native, laughs about it now—proper after shedding tears when recalling the deepest depths of her arduous journey, the “actually dangerous” locations. Locations darkened by drug use (promoting, too, which she started at 14 years previous), by promiscuity, by most cancers, by imprisonment, by two overdoses (the second in 2018), by psychological and non secular deficits from which she might have simply not risen.

Locations the place she thought: “I’d die being excessive, die hoin’, and I don’t give a fuck.”

Davis is much from these locations now, fortunately. She’s 36 years previous, a dedicated mom of six (three by start, three soon-to-be stepchildren), a hairstylist and assistant supervisor at an Irondale salon (“Full Impact Magnificence J. Lavish Magnificence Bar, 7001 Crestwood Blvd,” she boasts. “Put that in there!”), and he or she is giddily engaged to the “love of my life”, a person who doesn’t decide her previous.

“He is aware of all the things I’ve been by way of,” Davis says. “After I inform him my crazy-ass tales, you know the way folks’s voice modifications once they hear one thing actually loopy?—his doesn’t change in any respect. No judgment.”

Additionally, Davis says she has not used medication since December 2020 and is a mannequin affected person in UAB Drugs’s Beacon Restoration Built-in Healthcare program.

“I simply need to be an instance,” Davis says. “I’m a strolling testimony. I’m an open ebook.”


Not way back, she would have been an anomaly—an African American combating opioid dependancy and struggling an overdose associated to Fentanyl. No extra.

The opioid has lengthy been utilized in heroin (added to heroin to extend its efficiency) however in recent times it’s more and more present in different medication, together with cocaine and methamphetamine. It’s additionally offered in counterfeit capsules and infrequently mistaken for cocaine when crushed.

The end result: opioid-related overdose deaths are now not a “white” factor.

Opioid Epidemic Plagues Section Of Bronx Neighborhood

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 07: Heroin customers put together to shoot up on the road in a South Bronx neighborhood which has the very best price of heroin-involved overdose deaths within the metropolis on October 7, 2017 in New York Metropolis. Like Staten Island, elements of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, particularly heroin and different opioid based mostly medication. Greater than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the vast majority of these deaths concerned opioids. Based on the Deputy Legal professional Normal, drug overdoses are actually the main reason behind loss of life for People below the age of 50. (Picture by Spencer Platt/Getty Pictures)Getty Pictures

In Jefferson County, fentanyl-related overdose loss of life amongst Blacks elevated 93% between 2019 (58) and 2020 (112), in keeping with information offered by the Jefferson County Division of Public Well being.

Statewide, overdose deaths amongst African People additionally soared throughout that interval—from 129 (“Black and different” is how the state classifies non-white deaths) in 2019 to 219 in 2020, in keeping with information from the Alabama Division of Public Well being, a 60% enhance. (Overdose deaths amongst whites rose barely, from 639 in 2019 to 662 in 2020.)

“Fentanyl has been within the heroin provide for a number of years when the standard demographic profile of an overdose sufferer was a white male in 30s,” says Dr. F. Darlene Traffanstedt, Medical Director, Grownup Well being & Household Planning at JCDH. “When it entered methamphetamine and cocaine, it broadened the demographic of people in danger, which is most troubling amongst African American women and men.”

Nationally, as effectively. The most important spikes in overdose deaths throughout the U.S. in 2020 was amongst Blacks (50.3%) and Latinos (49.7%), in keeping with researchers from the College of California, Los Angeles, who studied information from emergency medical calls and in contrast overdoes deaths throughout the pandemic to 2018-2019.

State well being officers initially hoped to attribute the spike to the pandemic, which impacted folks in myriad unhealthy methods.

“In our minds, we thought when the pandemic started to subside, issues would get higher,” says Traffanstedt, “however ’21 is off to a worse begin than 2020.”

Loads worse: Fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Jefferson County within the first quarter of this yr have been up 126% over the identical interval final yr, in keeping with the JCDH—from 34 to 77.


Davis’ journey isn’t an anomaly, both. Like so many southerners, she grew up within the church. “I’ve a great relationship with God,” she continuously says. Her household lived in East Lake till their mom, a nurse, moved to Huntsville when Davis was in third grade. They returned to Birmingham when Davis was an eighth grader; she enrolled at Huffman Center College.

Davis had two youthful siblings and a sister seven years older. For her and the youthful ones, shifting from north Alabama to Birmingham was a “tradition shock,” she says. “I didn’t develop up wealthy, however we weren’t poor, both. We went from sporting penny loafers and Keds to [folks wearing] Jordans and Tommy Hilfiger. My mother didn’t do all that name-brand stuff.”

Within the single-parent family, Davis felt like a “function mannequin” for her younger brother and sister, a caretaker who would do something to assist them. Even promote medication. “I used to be promoting crack and weed at 14,” she says, “to pay for stuff they needed.”

It’s simple to look again and condemn the choice and the long run ones that spiraled Davis into many depths; it’s more durable to think about the situations that contributed to them—situations that also lead younger folks to selections they’ll doubtless sometime remorse. In the event that they dwell to take action.

At 15, Davis was pregnant. She dropped out of 11th grade, homeschooled as a lot as she might earlier than attending cosmetology college.

At 18, she started ingesting and utilizing cocaine and taking capsules, she says. She was additionally an unique dancer. “I used to be working white golf equipment, then began working in a Black membership and noticed folks pimpin’ and doin’ cocaine. It uncovered me to the sport.”

A sport that basically isn’t one, in fact, a sport that drags too many deeper into depths. Depths, although, from which God should carry you.

In 2008, in her early 20s, Davis was dancing on a stage in Miami, “when God clearly mentioned, ‘This ain’t it,’” Davis recollects. “I walked off the stage, known as my mother, and mentioned, ‘I don’t need to do that no extra.’ She informed me to go straight to the airport and bought me residence.”

Davis says her mom (she didn’t need to present the names of any relations, to protect their privateness) supported her optimistic selections however relied on her religion to soak up the blows of her daughter’s unfavorable selections. “After I was not doing proper and residing loopy, she said on her knees and saved me coated in prayer. She did have to make use of robust love on me few instances.”

Opioid Epidemic Plagues Section Of Bronx Neighborhood

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 06: A heroin consumer shows a needle in a South Bronx neighborhood which has the very best price of heroin-involved overdose deaths within the metropolis on October 6, 2017 in New York Metropolis. Like Staten Island, elements of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, particularly heroin and different opioid based mostly medication. Greater than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the vast majority of these deaths concerned opioids. Based on the Deputy Legal professional Normal, drug overdoses are actually the main reason behind loss of life for People below the age of 50. (Picture by Spencer Platt/Getty Pictures)Getty Pictures


In 2011, Davis started to really feel ache in her abdomen. In March 2012, she realized she had abdomen most cancers. “That was the beginning of my journey with ache capsules,” she says.

Davis was cleared to cease most cancers therapy in Could 2013, but it surely returned in 2014. This time, it was present in seven totally different locations in her physique, in the end requiring 13 surgical procedures, she says.

She didn’t know if she might beat it however knew she was in ache. Dwelling in Huntsville once more, a health care provider there prescribed fentanyl patches. Later, although, the physician was busted and shut down.

As too usually occurs amongst younger Black ladies, Black women, Davis’s path was additional detoured by a person. A person who was promoting medication, and who took benefit of her deep must ease the ache—with powdered fentanyl and “Mollys” (Ecstasy).

“I used to be courting a man who mentioned might get the powder kind off the road,” she says. “It was the primary time I handled withdrawals, so I took it and began feeling the excessive. I used to be overdoing it and favored it. That’s the way it bought loopy, shopping for it off the streets. I couldn’t management it.”

Utilizing and promoting is a harmful elixir. “I went loopy, doing medication,” she says. “I began slipping and catching prices,” she says.

She left her residence in Madison County one night, bought pulled over, with medication within the automobile—cocaine, and Mollys. She was not the first goal, so was capable of plea to possession of managed substances and get probation. That was 2012.

Nonetheless, she stayed within the sport. Stored utilizing. At one juncture, Davis had a $400-per-day dependancy. “With the assistance of my child’s daddy, I used to be capable of ween myself right down to half-gram a day, which was actually good.”

Till it wasn’t. Till a automobile she was driving in bought pulled over in Limestone County in 2017, with medication within the automobile once more, and a gun. Figuring out she was on probation in Madison County, Davis fled.

To Florida.

There, Davis started “doing good in life”. She discovered a job as a safety officer working overnights in an upscale neighborhood, was making a “good cash” and began residing an entire new life.”

“I forgot I used to be on the run,” she says.

On August 22, 2019, on the best way to her shift, Davis was pulled over as a result of, he later mentioned, she pulled in entrance of him. Yeah, that’s what he mentioned.

Per protocol, the officer ran her identify and realized of the warrant out for her fr the gun and drug prices. On September 11, she was extradited to Madison County and in the end incarcerated at Julia Tutweiler. Alabama’s solely jail for girls.


“Doing jail saved my life.” Davis remembers that.

Jail is the place she thought she would die excessive and, effectively, see above for the remainder. There, she bought into three fights, was despatched to lockup, and simply began praying.

“I’ve a great relationship with God,” she jogged my memory once more. “I used to be simply praying to get out of lockup. He touched me and altered me all the best way. I started desirous to be totally different.”

She additionally prayed for God to take away “sure folks” from her life, together with the person she has been seeing in Florida. A person who offered medication. They have been nonetheless “collectively” whereas Davis was imprisoned, however “I didn’t need to be in the identical poisonous relationship.”

Davis was launched on July 7, 2020

“After I bought out, I knew I needed to commit to alter,” she says. “I needed an entire new begin.”

The person to whom she is going to quickly be married was somebody she had identified for years however was disconnected.

“I used to be praying for God to deliver me again to him.”


Davis enrolled in Beacon this previous January. What she discovered motivated her to remain sober, she says, to share the total realities of the depths of dependancy. Of withdrawal.

“Your physique,” she begins, “it shits on itself, you have got cramps, nausea. Your ache tolerance isn’t excessive anymore as a result of the medication kill your senses. Fentanyl has no scent, no style so that you don’t understand how sturdy it’s. Habit occurs as a result of the behavior will get uncontrolled. The extra you do, the upper your tolerance will get.”

Whereas she was imprisoned, Davis says 4 buddies died from overdoses.

“4 women I used to hang around with,” she says. “One was pregnant. While you don’t do it for some time your tolerance is again to zero. Quite a lot of ODs occur since you assume you are able to do it the identical approach you used to. For those who snort some extent (quantity), your physique can’t deal with that complete level no extra.”

She additionally is aware of of the exterior pressures that also entice too many.

“In Birmingham, Brighton, we’ve got areas polluted with heroin, ache capsules,” she says. “You simply decide up the dope and go.

“That’s the story of lots of people”

Activists Call For Reallocating Some Of NYPD's Opioid Crisis Budget To Recovery Programs

NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 10: Levele Pointer, from the group Vocal New York, holds up a naloxone (NARCAN) overdose package whereas talking throughout a protest denouncing town’s ‘insufficient and wrongheaded response’ to the overdose disaster, exterior of the New York Metropolis Police Division (NYPD) headquarters, August 10, 2017 in New York Metropolis. The group is asking for a extra public well being targeted strategy and needs the 70 million {dollars} allotted to town and NYPD’s ‘Therapeutic NYC’ program to be redirected to the Division Of Well being and Psychological Hygiene. (Picture by Drew Angerer/Getty Pictures)Getty Pictures


Davis was already at Beacon when Dr. Bradford Davis (no relation) arrived this previous January. He frightened about her then. “I felt she had rather a lot occurring with dependancy therapy and different social stresses, new housing, it was rather a lot to face for anybody,” he says. “It’s laborious to place your fundamental wants on maintain. I used to be involved about her skill to do this – as I’m with all sufferers.

She “blossomed,” although, he says. “In teams, she has been an advocate for others.”

Davis says she desires to grow to be a peer counselor and Dr. Davis sees no purpose why she can not.

“I do know she will be able to do it,” he says.

“It’s very easy for individuals who aren’t in restoration or not going through addition to label somebody,” he provides. “To dehumanize an individual who on the root of this all has difficult points and confronted despair and made decisions that aren’t wholesome on a regular basis.”

“After I was working the road, Not solely was I certain unwillingly, I needed to be there. I used to be okay the best way I used to be. I didn’t care about having no man. However I by no means was not a great mother. I by no means seemed like I used medication.”

“On the core of each individual with dependancy, there’s a individual struggling and making an attempt to make themselves higher.”


“Rattling, if I could make it, anyone could make it,” Davis says. “All it’s important to do is need it and persist with a plan. Why not use that for the great individuals who know me and know what been by way of?”

Davis is an advocate for Narcan kits, which comprise the medicine that may rapidly reverse the results of an opioid overdose and restore inhaling minutes.

“A good friend died a month in the past,” she says. “Our households went to church collectively, if they might have simply had a Narcan package.”

On her oldest son’s birthday, his father died of an overdose. “He was with a good friend,” Davis says. “He OD’d and he or she left him. He died on a Sunday, they discovered him on Tuesday. He was by no means actually a great dad, however he was making an attempt to construct his son’s life. We have been robbed of that. If she had helped or had Narcan he could be right here.”

“Educate your self and in regards to the signs of overdosing, about respiratory, habits,” she provides. “In the event that they appear to be drained, they’re not drained, they’re ODing. If they’ll’t maintain their eyes open, in the event that they’re respiratory deep and low—in the event that they’re doing the loss of life growl, they’re ODing”

Narcan kits are free, Davis emphasizes.

“I’ve one in my automobile, in my room,” she says. “I don’t plan on ODing, I gained’t use now. I gained’t even permit docs to present me narcotics.”

One night earlier this yr, whereas she was at a Waffle Home, Davis noticed a pair on a close-by automobile. They have been nodding out, familiarly so. She was not shut sufficient to listen to the loss of life growl however knew the indicators all too effectively. She grabbed the Narcan package in her automobile and knocked on their window.

“I’m not making an attempt to trouble you,” she mentioned, “however take this.”

I’m wondering in the event that they’ll bear in mind her identify.

Narcan kits can be found free on the Jefferson County Division of Public Well being and pharmacies.

A voice for what’s proper and flawed in Birmingham, Alabama (and past), Roy’s column seems in The Birmingham Information and AL.com, in addition to within the Huntsville Instances, the Cellular Register. Attain him at rjohnson@al.com and comply with him at twitter.com/roysj

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