Awakin Calls » Stephen Loyd

Stephen Loyd: Physician, recovering addict, addiction healer
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Jul 11, 2020: Compassion & Science in Appalachia: Healing Opioid and Other Addictions


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Read: Call Transcript (Also: Nuggets From Stephen Loyd's Call)


“I’m Steve Loyd, and I’m hurting,” Stephen Loyd, M.D., introduced himself in one of his first 12-step group meetings. His addiction to pain pills had escalated to about 100 a day by 2004 when his father intervened. “I’m gonna lose my wife, my family, my house and cars,” Dr. Loyd explained when confronted. “Steve,” his father said, “none of that stuff’s gonna do you any good if you’re dead.”

It was a hard road to recovery, but it led Dr. Loyd on a path that eventually had him rising from addict to Tennessee's "Opioid Czar" from 2016-2018. He served as Medical Director and Assistance Commissioner for Substance Abuse Services with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, with an appointment to then-Governor Bill Haslam’s Opioid Workgroup and Public Safety Subcabinet. He is a recognized thought leader and clinician with decades of experience in internal medicine, mental health, and substance abuse service and a tireless activist for those living with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Dr. Loyd has been in recovery from opioids and benzodiazepines since 2004. Experiencing addiction first-hand has allowed him to develop a unique approach to patient care, one that is passionate, effective, and impactful. His goal is to help as many people as possible receive the quality treatment they deserve. He currently is the National Medical Director with JourneyPure, a national provider of addiction treatment and mental health services. He also has served as the Chief Medical Officer of Cedar Recovery, an addiction treatment company headquartered in Mount Juliet, Tennessee that provides care for patients across Middle Tennessee. He is a member of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners and has been a federal expert witness.

Growing up, Dr. Loyd experienced a chaotic home life that set the course for his addiction. He grew up on a small farm in East Tennessee. His family was riddled with mental illness, alcoholics and drug addicts. Loyd decided to be the first to graduate from college. Despite his drinking binges, he earned good grades and went on to medical school at East Tennessee State University. In that “elite” environment, he felt intimidated by his classmates and decided he couldn’t let them see him drink. He was class president for four years. At the end of his medical residency, married with two small children, he began to feel the pressure of starting a new job. Driving home from work one day, he took a half of a hydrocodone pill from a prescription his dentist had given him for a procedure weeks earlier. “It really felt like everything melted off me,” Loyd describes how he felt.

His cravings soon took over his life. Days later on a visit to his aunt’s house, he stole a few of her Lortab pain pills. On each visit, he would steal more. He then began keeping the prescriptions his patients brought during a visit, writing them a new one. He convinced his doctor friends to write him prescriptions. He was ingesting or snorting as many as 100 pills a day when his father intervened after seeing him take 15 Percocet. “Steve, did you just take a handful of pills?” his Dad asked. Although Loyd denied it, his Dad came to him the next evening and drove him to Loyd’s sister’s house. “Steve, you have a drug problem.” Loyd began crying. Within days, Loyd went to Vanderbilt hospital to detox and then to a 90-day rehab for professionals.

He has been without alcohol and pain pills since and brings that experience to his work. “I know what it’s like to want to stop and can’t. I know what it’s like to want to die. I know the shame and guilt,” he said. The experience galvanized him to move into addiction treatment and policy work.

Loyd connects his successful recovery to the social determinants of health. Loyd addresses addiction as a disease while reducing the stigma associated with treatment and recovery.

“I am very fortunate. My father intervened and I received excellent treatment for my addiction. I returned to practicing medicine and eventually became the program director for the Internal Medicine residency program at Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University.” From there, Loyd joined the Mountain Home Veterans Administration Medical Center in Johnson City, as its Chief of Staff for Education. Within a couple of years, he was appointed Chief of Medicine. “Over the course of roughly ten years, my focus as a physician shifted to the disease of addiction,” said Loyd. “My own experience dealing with shame helped me connect with people who I would have never been able to reach…The more we can bring addiction out of the shadows, the more people and families will be healed.”

Getting support and the level of care addicts need in order to achieve that sobriety require changes in public policy. Loyd has worked on key initiatives in Tennessee to reduce the availability of prescription drugs and other harmful substances, as well as opportunities for people to get treatment. 

Loyd says, “I try to live my life by the Stockdale Paradox. We will confront the most brutal facts of our current reality, whatever they might be while at the same time, keeping the faith that we will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulty. I’m a believer in preserving life and I remain optimistic. I feel everyone with addiction deserves a chance at recovery, and that is my motivation every day. This is a battle worth winning.” Loyd still makes himself available for random drug testing, which he has pledged to do the rest of his life. He uses his experience to encourage others, “There is life on the other side, and you don’t have to keep living like that…There are people that care about you and love you, no matter where you are, I promise you that. I’m one of them.”

Join us in conversation with this compassionate physician and healer!

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