Rural newspaper reporting on the opioid epidemic

Starting to solve a problem

By Bradley A. Martin
Hickman County Times, Dec. 7, 2021

Difficult night for the Beards, but successful, too.

I’m taking about Dec. 1, two months to the day that Dalton Beard, 25, died from a drug overdose.

His immediate family -- parents Floyd and Stephanie and his brother Byron and his wife Melody -- were at Wagon Wheel II on this night with more than 60 other folks.

“We knew something had to be done, and to tell you the truth we still don’t know what,” Byron said last Tuesday night. “But this was our first response.”

The Beards, with Austin and Kristi Page, have established the Booker D. Foundation, and started raising money to help send those with drug addictions to residential treatment centers.

“We tried that and we failed; I say failed -- the people came home, they didn’t stay,” he said. “It’s a very difficult battle; it’s not a fair fight.”

But that effort continues. As the nearly 2.5-hour “Save A Life Day” seminar broke up last Tuesday night, Austin Page said the night would not end until after they had helped another addicted person ship out to a treatment center.

The foundation has put its thumb on Hickman County’s most crippling problem: drug use. Too many folks, mostly young adults, are rendered helpless by their dependency on illegal substances. Employers have a hard time finding workers who can pass a drug test; how will we attract industry if we can’t create responsible employees?

Hickman County, Tennessee (Wikipedia map)

This is one of those problems that cannot be solved by anyone but us. I can assure you that Superman is not coming.

Encouragingly, the Dec. 1 session drew 72 people out on a cold night, including a few law enforcement folks, Judge Amy Puckett, two county commissioners and a school board member. I was late, and I saw one car leaving when I arrived, but most everybody else stuck to the end.

The program was led by regional drug prevention specialists Dustin Ritchie and Matt Brown, who respond to the 13 counties in south central Tennessee. Both are recovering addicts who do not pull their punches: It’s hard to break free, but it’s absolutely worth it.

“All because somebody thought I was worth something,” said Brown, who has regained the precious right to be with his kids.

“My message is: Do not write people off,” said Ritchie. “They’ll surprise you.”

They explained how to use Naloxone, also known as Narcan, the instant-revive medicine that has been used in this county by paramedics to pull more than 120 overdosed residents back from the brink of death through the first nine months of this year.

It appeared that most folks took advantage of the opportunity to pick up a container of the nasal spray. One said, “I know someone who needs it.”

Ritchie and Brown say they can bring more of the antidote -- it leaves a large headache, I’m told -- and meet more folks who want to begin understanding the problem and get a grip on what they can do.

“We really want to help just any way we can,” said Byron. “We’re just trying to figure out how.
“If there’s something y’all think we can be doing, let us know and we’ll see if we can make it happen,” he said.

In addition to contacting any of the board members with ideas or contributions, you can visit the Booker D. Foundation Facebook page, or send e-mail to

A closer look
Dalton's death by overdose spurs family

Dalton Beard at 16 with his
mother, Stephanie Beard
By Bradley A. Martin
Hickman County Times, Centerville, Tenn., Jan. 25, 2021

He was a Cub Scout, a little brother who grew up playing baseball and basketball, then graduated from East Hickman High in 2013 with a clearly stated ambition: to work in concrete with his dad. And he did.

But Booker Dalton Beard also was addicted to drugs, since his junior year in high school. On Oct. 1, at age 25, the affliction took his life: at home, just hours after he was released from jail, from nearly eight months of incarceration for using illegal drugs. 

“Somebody met him at the end of the driveway,” said his mom, Stephanie, of that night. “They didn’t come down here,” said his dad, Floyd, who found a plastic bag containing a white powder on the desk in Dalton’s room, where he died, and a syringe on the floor. 

“One of his friends told me, he does not normally deal with any powder because it’s more apt to be fentanyl, and he doesn’t like to deal with that,” said Stephanie. 

Floyd says there is no doubt that his son died of an overdose. In recent days, the Beards obtained their son’s death certificate, showing that fentanyl, heroin and ethanol were in his system, and that he died from “acute combined multiple drug intoxication.” At the bottom of the certificate, the wording is clearer: “Took too many drugs too soon.” 

Hickman County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Michael Doddo said an investigation into the man’s death continues, though he would not elaborate. The drugs that caused Dalton’s death “theoretically would have been his first drug exposure in quite some time,” says his older brother, Byron. 

Though distraught, the Beards have been able to step beyond the impact of Dalton’s passing and seek ways to keep such a tragedy from happening to others. With friends, they have started the Booker D. Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit that is dedicated to helping addicts find help and covering the cost of in-patient rehabilitation. 

No such support system is in place here, leaving the immediate burden of saving addicts to emergency responders. Hickman County’s paramedics and EMTs offer the life-saving stimulant Narcan -- more than 150 times in 2020 -- and a trip to the emergency room. 

“Dealing with this subject, it’s such a time-sensitive thing,” says Byron, one of five board members. “If you don’t get back to someone until the next day -- ‘Well, they left this morning; I don’t know where they’re at. They wanted to go last night.’” 

So far, Stephanie says, the foundation has distributed 28 units of Narcan to citizens, thanks to the involvement of the Franklin County Prevention Coalition, which has held three events here, giving out about 100 more units. 

The coalition will lead another seminar on Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. at The Stables Event Space. Narcan provides last-second assistance to those who have overdosed. 

The Booker D. Foundation aims to help addicts before they reach the edge of death. Not an easy thing: Dalton, for one, had been able to hide the depth of his dependency from those who loved him most. “I didn’t realize how hard the struggle was with him until after he passed,” said Floyd. “There have been several of his addict friends tell us how hard that it is, you know? Of course, I knew it was hard for him. But I didn’t realize how hard it is, you know?” 

Dalton’s addiction started at age 17, his mom said, when he and three friends split a tablet of Opana, a narcotic painkiller, for the first time. “He told me this a long time ago,” said Stephanie. “He said, ‘We cut it four ways.’ And he said, ‘It bit me.’ . . . That got him addicted. One time.” 

Statistics for 2020 are not yet available, but overdose deaths here have risen from five in 2017 to 11 in 2018 and 12 in 2019. 

For the eight years between his first drug use and his death, Dalton was able to work for his dad, pouring concrete and driving heavy equipment as needed. There were no pills or drugs in plain sight, few signs that the youngest member of their family was struggling and fighting dependency. 

“I think at the beginning they kind of dabbled around. But he got to the point, he couldn’t leave it,” his mom said. “The pills were available when he was young,” some from the parents of friends. 

A significant turning point arrived on Dalton’s 21st birthday. “He was working with me and he left his job and was at McDonald’s at the interstate (in Dickson), and the police pulled him over and he was messed up.” Dalton had marijuana, cocaine and Xanax in his possession. 

Police took the drugs and let Floyd take his son home -- though they went to the hospital instead. “I guess there’s nowhere else to go,” the father said. “That’s when things really got down.” 

Of course, his parents wanted to know what was going on, what kind of an addiction he was dealing with, what they could do. “He could convince us a lot of times -- ‘Oh, no, no, no,’’ his mother said. 

“He hid it well,” said his father. “When he would work with me, he was fine. He might do enough to keep him going but he wasn’t really high or nothing. He worked good. And then he got to where he was going it all the time.” 

Byron, who is six years older than Dalton, says he was away in college as his brother’s addition ramped up. “I remember mom talking about, well, you know, ‘We think that he’s talking pills.’ And you never think that it’s a real problem until later. We’re just kept thinking he’s just -- my opinion -- thick-headed, stubborn party kid, being an idiot.” 

Heroin replaced pills more and more during the last couple of years, the Beards said. 

“The term ‘drug addict’ never even crossed my mind -- until you know it,” says his father. “People talk about denial, how you used it. Well, it’s not denial if you have no clue. . . . “And then all of a sudden, when we do realize it . . . it’s already a major problem, and it’s hard and we sent him to rehab one to two times, getting detoxification.” 

Dalton spent time at treatment centers in Nashville, Savannah, Cookeville, Columbia, plus the Hope Center in Dickson and three times in an Arkansas facility. 

“Every time he’d come out of rehab, he’d come out” -- whether he had finished the program or not, “with such an optimism. . . . You’d see him, you wouldn’t see the addiction anymore,” said his brother. “That’s one of the dangerous characteristics of Dalton, is how damn charming he was. So you would believe it; you know, he wasn’t under the strong arm of the addiction, so everything just seemed on the up and up.” 

Rehabilitation, for all of its benefits, lacks effectiveness if the addict is not ready to change. “One thing I did learn -- all that time taking him back and forth to rehab -- if they’re not ready to go, you’re wasting your time,” said Floyd, explaining three trips to an Arkansas facility, where Dalton was denied admittance each time because the staff determined he wasn’t ready to make the commitment. 

Stephanie: “Until they’ve actually asked -- they say, ‘I’m ready to go, I want to change,’ -- they’re not. That is the biggest step, them saying ‘I need help’ and you turn your whole life over to somebody else that you don’t even know.” 

Dalton was incarcerated almost continuously during the eight months prior to his death, serving sentences in Hickman, Williamson and Dickson counties mainly for violating his probation -- typically, for not showing up for scheduled visits with his probation officer, whose tasks include conducting a drug test. That likely would not have gone well. “Like he said, ‘They’re going to violate me anyway’,” his father recalled. 

Over time, Stephanie says she spent more than a few nights curled up with her son, in his bed, during his toughest nights, trying to comfort him. “I’ve slept so many nights with him,” she said. 

When Dalton was in jail, Stephanie says she would call every day, sometimes multiple times a day, to see how he was, and talk with him if possible. “And I would tell him, when he got out, ‘Dalton, if you feel like you’re going to have to have something or need something, come to me. We’ll talk about it. We’ll do whatever we need to do.’ And then, when his friends told me, they said, you just can’t bring yourself to go talk to your parents and say, ‘Look, I’m wanting to do drugs.’” 

A friend of Dalton’s broke it down further, his mother said. “She said, ‘You want to but you just can’t.’” 

But Dalton had learned how to pull himself together. “Even when everything else in his world was in disarray, he would still hide that,” Byron said. “He managed it well, just like this time, just out of jail,” said Floyd. “He could talk a good game, ‘I’m saying, I’ve got everything behind me, and I’m happy and going on.’” 

The night Dalton died, Stephanie said she did not hear a thing -- and if she had, she would have gone to him without hesitation. “I thought everything was OK.”

Creating a solution

The tragic early end of Booker Dalton Beard’s life is among three dozen or more deaths that have occurred here in the last three years because of drug overdoses. It’s the most serious problem in Hickman County, and I’ve tried to document it in the Times through publicly available data. But my reporting this week is at a higher level, thanks to Dalton’s family and their effort to raise awareness while they grieve over his passing, just three months ago. 

Dalton’s example is pretty simple: Addiction can happen to anyone, and breaking free from it is a Herculean challenge. What the Beard family is doing is the only way to attack this problem: Get involved. Drug addiction is one of those dilemmas that demand hands-on attention from people who live close by. 

If you’ve paid attention over the last several years, our Hickman County neighbors have been effective in other situations, led by the decades-long devotion of the members of the Humane Society. Similarly, suicide prevention and litter removal have made inroads because our neighbors have stepped up. But as Byron Beard, Dalton’s older brother, has discovered, there is no existing system in our community to help an addict find help right now -- before arrest or Narcan. 

The Booker D. Foundation, formed by Dalton’s family and friends, is trying to become a clearinghouse of information and support for other addicts who not only need help but are ready to be helped. Last week, Stephanie Beard -- Dalton’s mom and one of five board members on the nonprofit -- told me that since the foundation was announced in late October, they have helped 13 local drug addicts find a connection with a rehabilitation center. Those folks have taken their illnesses -- they are ill, not criminals -- to centers in Hawaii and Oklahoma and Jackson and points closer to home. I’m not sure any of them have stuck it out to the end of their programs, but they are trying. 

How many more addicts are there? Stephanie Beard now spends her Wednesdays checking places where she knows that drug addicts hang out. She’s offering help -- snacks and blankets, Narcan and the connection they will need when the day for rehabilitation arrives. The foundation has about $3,000 available to help pay for treatment and transportation, and its members welcome donations. 

But the money’s not been the main thing: families have provided help for their loved ones in several cases, Stephanie says, and the foundation is on the list at a couple of rehab centers, and they know where the “grant” beds -- cost already covered -- are located. The main thing? Knowing what to do, and the people involved in doing it. “We’re still learning,” Byron said last week. 

Once a month during 2021, my goal is to report on an aspect of drug addiction.

I want to write the story of an addict who has recovered, and explain what it took. 

Same for drug counselors: What do we need to know, and how can we help addicts? 

Rehab centers: What do they see, and what can they tell us back here about addiction, including what to look for? 

Plenty of drug users end up in the criminal justice system; how does that work, or not work? I want to know whether spending tax dollars for more rehab, instead of more prosecution, might be a way to go. 

Does drug court work? We here don’t really have the best access, given that our folks have to respond to a Franklin-based program. I’m hoping that the establishment of the 32nd Judicial District in Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties in 2022 will let us take a shot at helping ourselves in this way, much closer to home. 

More information about any problem can help solve it -- or at least illuminate some pathways to success, as the Booker D. Foundation is trying to do. As I have written too many times, Superman is not coming to save us.

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