On a mission to save lives – Tullahoma News and Guardian

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Tina Patton shares painful story of son D.J.’s overdose


Elena Cawley

Tina Patton is on a mission to save lives. She is dedicated to supporting the fight against drug addiction.

Patton, director of the Respiratory/Sleep Lab at Tennova Healthcare-Harton, is sharing the story of her son, D.J., who died of a drug overdose. In the process, she is trying to raise awareness and eliminate the stigma associated with drug abuse.Patton is the driving force behind the International Overdose Awareness Day event at Harton, which was held last Thursday.

In addition to Patton sharing her story, various local organizations with the mission of battling drug addiction were on hand to offer advice and share resources for solving the problem.

Patton’s story

“I grew up in Decherd, and I live in Winchester, currently,” she said. “I am a respiratory therapist, and I have been at Harton for 25 years.”

Drug addiction has shattered her life more than once, she said.

Tina Patton, director of Respiratory/Sleep Lab at Tennova Healthcare-Harton, holds a photo of her son, D.J., who died of a drug overdose. She hopes to raise awareness and eliminate the stigma associated with drug abuse.
–Staff Photo by Elena Cawley

“I have not survived one drug addiction. I have survived two,” Patton said. “I lost my husband to drugs.”

Her husband died about 11 years ago.

“We were married 17 years, and I have two children from that marriage,” she said. “I have a daughter who is 27, and my son, D.J.”

D.J. would have been 25 today if he had lived.

“I thought that since my kids witnessed their father struggling with addiction, they wouldn’t get into drugs,” she said. “But on Dec. 18, 2015, I lost my son to drugs, too.”

D.J. was a vibrant child, who loved history, said his mother.

“He loved old things and was very smart,” she said.

D.J. went to Decherd Elementary School and, later, when the family moved to Winchester, he attended Franklin County High School.

“He was one of those kids that, if there were 100 good kids and one bad kid in the class, he would always associate with that bad kid,” Patton said.

She said her son tried to fill the void left because of losing his father.

“He fell in the wrong crowd,” Patton said. “D.J. started experimenting with drugs when he was about 15. He started with marijuana, and the progression (led him) to alcohol and prescription medications.”

Patton said she didn’t suspect he was using drugs at that time.

“I worked a lot,” she said. “Sometimes, you don’t know exactly what your kids are into until it’s too late. In a way you are in denial. You are thinking ‘not my kid.’”

When he was 18, he moved with a family, and the situation worsened, Patton said.

“He met a girl and moved in with her family in Murfreesboro,” Patton said. “That family used drugs constantly.”

The one good thing from that relationship was the birth of D.J.’s son, said Patton.

“Even though D.J. had an addiction problem, I thought, when he had a child he would love that child more than anything, more than drugs,” Patton said. “Now, I realize love doesn’t always conquer addiction. The drug-addiction pull is stronger than that.”

D.J. spent the last year of his life with his mother.

“He came back and lived with me,” Patton said. That year, he tried to quit several times, said Patton.

“He would tell me constantly that he needed help,” she said. “In 2015, I had set for him to be in two drug rehabs. But when it came down to committing to it, he would not go. I think there was a part of him that wanted to quit, and there was a part of him that was scared of what he might go through if he quit.”

And then the addiction worsened.

“He was buying Percocet (pain pills) and anything that would have that drowsiness affect,” she said.

Dec. 18, 2015, was the last day of his life.

“He had purchased this Percocet from a drug dealer, and, as I found out later, it was a fake Percocet they were selling with Fentanyl in it,” she said.

Now, Patton’s mission is to tell his story with the hope of preventing parents from experiencing her pain.

“I feel that by telling D.J.s story, I can help other people to be aware,” Patton said. “As I tell his story, I also heal and keep the memory of D.J. alive.”

In a way, society has allowed the drug addiction problem, specifically the addiction to prescription drugs, to explode. People think about prescription drugs as something that won’t hurt them, said Patton.

“I also want to help erase the taboo,” Patton said. “People are afraid to speak up. They are ashamed, and they can’t help if they don’t talk about it.”

Advising parents

“Let your kids know they can come to you and talk about anything,” Patton said. “If you notice signs, take them seriously. Don’t be in denial. It’s easy to put your blinders on. If they act differently that they normally would, pay attention to that. If you have a straight-A student who starts getting Fs, you need to start doing more investigation.”

Know your children’s friends and always support them.

“Never give up hope,” Patton said. “Never give up on your children. At the end of the day, sometimes, you are all they have. They know that addiction has changed the person they are, but the person you love is always there somewhere.”

And the person Patton loved was a loving, good-hearted boy, she said.

“He always tried to make me laugh,” she said. “He could make me laugh even when I was mad. Even our bad times were good. At this point, I would take any of that back just to have him back.”


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths nearly tripled between 1999 and 2014.

In 2015, drug overdoses accounted for more than 52,000 deaths nationally.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 1,451 people died from drug overdoses on Tennessee.

In Coffee County, 14 people died of drug overdoses in 2015. Each of these numbers represents a story such as D.J.’s, and family and friends who were devastated by their loss.

Local organizations fighting drug addiction issue

Attending the Harton event were Tullahoma Police Department Investigator Detective Rana Pawlowski; CFO of Tennova Healthcare–Harton Mitchell Frank; Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee; Executive Director of Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition Christina Merino; Prevention Coordinator for Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition Sarah Marchetti; Tullahoma Police Chief Paul Blackwell; and Tullahoma Police Department Investigator Sgt. Harry Conway.

Merino, representing the Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition, provided information about the Count It! Lock It! Drop It! program launched by the organization.

According to two-thirds of Tennesseans, the main source of prescription pain pills are friends and relatives.

Free lock boxes are available at the coalition’s office, located at 122 McMinnville Highway in Manchester.

Drop off your unused or expired medications for proper disposal at drop boxes located in participating law enforcement offices or pharmacies.

Local residents can drop off pills at the Tullahoma Police Department, Coffee County Sheriff’s Department or Manchester Police Department.

Tullahoma Police supporting the battle

Blackwell said that 50 percent of the people who are addicted to pain medications, known as opioids, get the pills from someone else.

“It’s very important we understand that people cannot just give medications to others,” Blackwell said. “There is a reason that it is prescribed and a reason that it is a controlled substance. About 25 percent of the people that are addicted or dependent have actually gotten (the medication) legitimately from their doctors.”

The partnership between the police department and the anti-drug coalition is showing results, said Blackwell.

“I am excited that the Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition has been running ahead in this community and setting the pace for us to bring the awareness out to families, and to know that nobody is immune to this,” Blackwell said. “This problem affects everybody. The partnership with the coalition for the drug takeback has been for five or six years.”

The Tullahoma Police Department has collected over 2,000 pounds of pills.

“We have taken that much off the street,” Blackwell said. “We have to keep going ahead. The more we can collect, the less drugs will be available to somebody to misuse.”

Overdose Awareness Day in Tullahoma

Curlee proclaimed Aug. 31 Overdose Awareness Day in Tullahoma.

International Overdose Awareness Day is held globally on Aug. 31 each year to raise awareness of overdose and eliminate the stigma of a drug-related death. It acknowledges the families’ grief and helps remembering people whose lives were claimed by drugs. Overdose Day spreads the massage that tragedy of overdose death is preventable.

For more information about International Overdose Awareness Day, visit www.overdoseday.com.

Elena Cawley may be reached by email at tngenrep@lcs.net.


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