Father to Speak About De-Stigmatizing Substance Use Disorder at the Power of Media Forum

John Lally will speak about the nonprofit he started since losing his son to an overdose.

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A group is coming together to reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorder. They are hosting The Power of Media virtual forum Friday, which is focused on looking at how the language we use plays a role in all the negative connotations associated with addiction.

It is a personal mission for one Connecticut dad, who lost his son to an overdose.

There are many words associated with substance use. 

“'Addict,' it creates an image,” Nathaniel Rickles, UConn School of Pharmacy professor and associate dean, and one of the organizers of the forum, said. “'Substance abuser' conjures up an image that is not positive.”

“Enabler, that is another strong world,” John Lally, T.I.M. executive director, said.

None of these terms is how Lally would describe his son Tim.

“He was a great guy,” Lally said. “He loved baseball, baseball was his sport, and music. He was a musician. He was an artist, too.”

Lally says when Tim was in high school, he developed severe depression and anxiety and suffered from panic attacks. Medication and therapy failed to provide relief.

“One day someone gave him a pill, it was probably a Percocet, some kind of opiate,” Lally said. “He felt good. He felt the anxiety go away.”

Lally says this was the first step in Tim’s substance use.

“One pill turns into two pills, turns into three pills,” Lally said. “Once the pills dry up, he's got to go out on the street, because now he's desperate. He can't get through the day without them. So he found heroin.”

Although Tim went to meetings and tried to recover multiple times, he ultimately lost his life  in January of 2016.

“Five days before he was going to turn 30, he overdosed,” Lally said.

After sitting by Tim’s side in the hospital for three days, Lally faced the worst moment of his life.

“As a family, we had to make the decision to take him off life support. The hardest decision of my life,” Lally said. “Seven years later now, I still question whether I did the right thing. It’s hard to live with as a father…even though for all intents and purposes, he was already gone.”

Today, his father keeps Tim’s memory, and name, close, wearing a pin on his jacket that reads T.I.M.

“T.I.M., Today I Matter,” Lally said. “I wanted to keep his name near my heart all the time.”

The family started the nonprofit Today I Matter to reduce the stigma of mental illness and addiction.

That is the same objective of the annual workshop The Power Of Media, aimed at changing the narrative on substance use. Lally is one of four panelists speaking at the virtual forum Friday.

“Trying to move away from stigmatizing language, to language that is person first, recovery oriented,” Rickles said.

The forum has more than 200 people registered to attend. 

“What's really critical is for the media to be partners, and hopefully getting all of us to think about the words we use, and be positive and supportive of those who are struggling with addiction,” Rickles said.

He says not only is it important to stand behind those who are struggling, but it could ultimately save a life. 

“Addiction disorders are one of the top stigmatizing conditions,” Rickles said. “Changing that narrative can have a huge impact on individuals getting treatment.”

Lally says Tim was familiar with stigma. His perspective has changed since losing his son.

“It's helped me become more compassionate to people that are struggling,” he said.

It’s a message that Lally hopes to spread through the forum and his work with Today I Matter, sparking hope from extreme loss.

“I needed to make some sense in this world, why my son struggled and died,” Lally said. “If we can help other people, then his death would have some meaning.”

The Power of Media virtual forum will take place from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday. Anyone can register to attend at this online link.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use, you can get help and connected with resources by just calling 211.

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