Community Stories Health

End Heroin Huntsville: Marine Organizes Anti-Drug Walk

David Wilbourn wasn’t the kind of teenager you would think did drugs. He was an athlete, a football player who fit in at Huntsville High School. Still, like a lot of teenagers, he had a lot of fears—rejection, being judged—that he didn’t know how to cope with. When he hurt his back at football practice one day, someone gave him a prescription painkiller. That one injury changed the course of his life.

“Yeah (the pill) killed the physical pain, but it also killed the emotional pain,” David said. “It filled that void that I had … I felt invincible. I felt untouchable. I didn’t fear anything anymore.”

Instead of drinking on the weekends, David was looking for painkillers from parties. When Oxycontin, a powerful but addictive pain reliever, hit the scene at his high school, David was willing to try the new drug, even at $50 per pill.

“I remember I did it, and I was so sick. But I didn’t care because of how great I felt,” David said. “That doesn’t even make sense to normal people. I was puking all over the place because of the power of this drug, but I felt so euphoric and untouchable and like nothing mattered.”

By the end of his senior year, David was using Oxycontin on more days than he was going without. He spent a semester in college before the addiction proved to be too much to deal with alongside going to class and making new friends. After he came back to Huntsville, he was in a serious car accident while using Oxycontin. It landed him in the hospital with a hematoma, a pool of blood where it didn’t belong, but even that wasn’t enough for a wake up call.

“I remember the first question I asked the doctor when I was leaving the hospital was when can I start driving again,” David said. “I had just gotten into this terrible car accident, and I was already thinking about when can I drive to go get more dope.”

It wasn’t rock bottom, but he did know something had to change. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. For the four years he served as a Marine, he wasn’t thinking about drugs. Then, after his service was over, he returned home and found he, like so many other veterans, had trouble adjusting to life as a civilian without the structure of the military.

“The image I had to walk in during my time enlisted kind of helped to fill that void, but back to being a regular civilian, I fell right back into Oxycontin,” David said.

Over the next few years, David bounced from jail to rehab and back to jail again. He was arrested a total of seven times, and while there were times of sobriety interspersed between the arrests, it never stuck for long. He had always been wary of heroin, but by that point in his addiction, he didn’t care about the risks.

His Way

In the winter of 2013, David found himself sleeping in his car in a church parking lot. For four months, one of the pastors, Steve Hampton, woke him up by knocking on his window, handed him a biscuit and offered to pray for him. Steve wasn’t a stranger to David—he was someone David knew as a teenager when he went to Young Life.

The pastor suggested David go to His Way, a residential treatment facility for men in Huntsville. David went to an interview with the rehab director and signed up for the waiting list.

One night, Steve told David he had prayed for him to reach a place of brokenness.

“I’m thinking in my mind, ‘Bro, I’m living in my car, pretty broken,’ ” David said.

But David hadn’t hit rock bottom yet. That would come the next day when he was arrested for drug possession. His parents bailed him out of jail and took him straight to His Way. The first stint didn’t work. Neither did the second one. When he went back for a third time, he knew he had to make it last.

It did. He finished the six-month residential program and stayed on for another six-month leadership program.

“When I went on my last bender, I felt so close to death but also … like if I would give all this up, I would get everything that I think I want,” David said. “I’m not talking about material things. I’m talking about peace and happiness and joy and a family one day.”

After David graduated the program, he came back to work as a residential manager.

End Heroin Huntsville

Earlier this year, David heard about a walk happening in Birmingham to raise awareness, support and gather resources for anyone dealing with heroin addiction. He drove down with a friend only to find more than 4,000 people gathered to join in the fight against the drug. That’s when David knew he had to bring the event back home to Huntsville.

“I want people to be able to share their story, to share their victories,” David said. “I want families who have lost loved ones to be able to talk about that, too, because they might be in the position where they can help someone else out. I want our community to come together and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do every thing we can to help each other.’”

With help from the Birmingham organizers and a group of mothers who are working to fight addiction in their loved ones, David set up the End Heroin Huntsville walk for September 9 at 9 a.m. in Big Spring Park.

The family-friendly event is free to the public and will include resource tables, food trucks and information on everything from getting help to helping others. Even if you haven’t had a personal brush with heroin addiction, David wants you to know you are still welcome.

“The one thing that was important for me when I was going through rehab at His Way was, not only did I want people who had recovered … but I wanted other people who were successful at life who had never walked down that path,” David said.

For more information on the End Heroin Huntsville walk, check out their Facebook page. 

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About the author

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Jessie Harbin

Jessie is a newlywed living in Meridianville with her husband and three dogs. She's learning to sail on their 26-foot sailboat in Guntersville. At the time of publication, nobody has fallen ill because of her cooking.

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