If you have watched WYFF 4 News recently, you have probably seen a number of stories with the headline “State of Addiction.” The reference is to a national media campaign to bring about greater awareness of opioid abuse and addiction.
For those not familiar with opioids, they are a highly potent and often lethal narcotic prescribed for extreme pain. One of the more common opioids, fentanyl, is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Even in the smallest doses, fentanyl is often deadly.
The opioid epidemic, and drug abuse in general, are issues that many state governments, including South Carolina, are trying to better understand in order to develop laws, procedures, and programs that will reduce the social and personal problems associated with drug abuse. One of our state’s greatest champions is from the Golden Strip, and for him, the need to battle drug abuse is highly personal.
State Representative Eric Bedingfield of the Golden Strip is one of the state’s most active legislators in the battle against drug abuse, especially when it comes to the buying and selling of street drugs. While his responsibilities as a State Representative are a part of the reason, his involvement is far more related to a recent family tragedy. His son Josh, at age 25, died from an accidental overdose of fentanyl less than two years ago.
Here’s Eric’s story of pain, tragedy and the eventual triumph over the pain:
Josh Bedingfield was what many might describe as “a good person who got involved with the wrong crowd.” His battle with drug abuse and addiction began as a senior in high school when he started experimenting with drugs.
One day, Josh went to a friend’s house for a “pill party,” where kids take drugs prescribed to their parents. Josh overdosed, had a seizure, and fell down a flight of stairs, injuring himself severely.
Being a close-knit family, Josh’s dad Eric and other family members encouraged Josh to go through a drug detoxification and recovery program. Josh not only completed the detox, he continued with the outpatient program. All seemed good once again.
Josh graduated from high school on time, started college, and began a part-time job. Unfortunately, he started abusing drugs once again, moving on to different, more deadly drugs – including heroin. He also starting dating and eventually married a young lady who was a heroin abuser. She eventually got pregnant. Being pregnant, doctors said she could not go cold turkey, so they put her and Josh in a methadone clinic, which Eric paid for, and which was described as “very expensive.”
Unfortunately, the situation with Josh got worse instead of better. Josh continued to abuse drugs. After totaling several of Eric’s cars, Eric decided to cut the money off. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a parent,” commented Eric.
Josh and his wife lived on the streets or in motels on a day-by-day basis when they had money. Things were snowballing quickly with Josh. Then, one day, to the surprise and delight of Eric, Josh decided to get clean and checked himself into a treatment program.
“Josh stayed clean for two years and three months, said Eric, adding, “I was so proud of him that I began a daily Facebook update counting the days Josh was clean.” During this period, Josh started dating another young lady and had a second child. To support the family, Josh had a job driving commercial trucks.
“The stress of the family and the job weakened Josh’s willpower,” Eric concluded. After more than two years of sobriety, Josh began abusing drugs once again. Not long after the relapse, Josh took fentanyl instead of heroin, and it killed him instantly.
“Josh was a good person, so I had to find ways to accept the situation for what it was, and not make my son out to be a bad person; just one who made some bad decisions,” Eric lamented. “Initially, I decided to stay private about what happened to Josh, and with the pain my family experienced. Eventually, it became clear to me that I had to go public. Despite Josh’s personal battle with drugs, he worked very hard during his sobriety to help others overcome addiction. He would have wanted me to do the same,” added Eric.
Eric has since spoken to many church and addiction groups, recovery coordinators, Rotary groups, and anyone willing to listen. “I will never be convinced that I have done enough,” said Eric, continuing, “Everything happens for a reason, and what happened with Josh has given my life new purpose.”
Last year, South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas appointed Bedingfield to chair a new House Ad Hoc Committee to study the opioid epidemic. “A number of us in the General Assembly had been working independently on various drug-related programs, but this year we made a decision to combine our efforts,” commented Eric.
The combined efforts have led to the filing of about 15 bills to address treatment options and reducing the epidemic, including programs to educate young kids about prescription drugs, the dangers of getting into parents’ medicine cabinets, and to train physicians and pharmacists on the signs of opioid abuse.