In today’s world, it’s hard to pick up a newspaper or watch TV without getting hit with another headline about the opioid crisis. Currently claiming 144 lives a day, opioids have become the number one killer for those under age 50. With these shocking numbers ravaging the nation, there’s one man that has decided to do something about it.
“I’ve attended 121 funerals since my son died. I’m sick of burying people.“
Tim Ryan is a man who has experienced the opioid epidemic first hand as former heroin addict himself, and additionally lost his son, Nick to an overdose. Tim has made it his mission to help anyone and everyone who has been effected by addiction. “I’ve helped a 12 year old heroin addict. The youngest I’ve buried was 14 years old.” His compelling personal story and sometimes controversial style has given him solid credibility among those struggling with heroin addiction.
Former technology industry recruiter and recovering heroin addict, Tim Ryan, dubbed, “Dopeman,” is one of the most prominent activists in the fight against heroin addiction. He has launched an all-out public crusade to help heroin addicts find recovery by running recovery groups, performing interventions, establishing a nonprofit called A Man in Recovery. Ryan also made Newsweek’s top list of most interesting people who attended President Obama’s State of the Union address in 2016. Additionally, Ryan has penned his own book, “From Dope To Hope,” and last summer starred in an hour-long special on A&E, entitled “Dopeman.”
If that doesn’t sound like enough, Ryan also claims the title as “National Director of Outreach” at Transformations Treatment Center in Delray Beach, FL. He’s a motivational speaker, booking speaking arrangements throughout the country, and an adviser to a national rehab website. Ryan has conducted over 1,500 interventions, and since his son died of an overdose three and a half years ago, has gravely attended over 121 funerals.
“I just want to help people. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The last 30 years have been God’s training ground for me to do what I do today.”
The Last Guy At The Party
Ryan grew up in Crystal Lake, Illinois, and like many others, his story began during his high school years. Older high school friends would take him to parties just across the border to Wisconsin where at the time the drinking age was 19. He found that he loved drinking, and he eventually started using cocaine. “I fell in love with cocaine, I was always the last guy at the party and was the guy that never wanted to stop.” he remarked.
“My first time in treatment was in 1990. I remember this guy came in and spoke. There was 38 of us. He said one of you will be sober in a year and a third of you will be dead” – a chilling foreshadowing of what was to come. Ryan discharged from treatment and continued his use for 25 more years. It wasn’t until his early 30’s when he found professional success and was married with a family of four that he started doing heroin. During that span of more than two decades, Tim overdosed eight times, was pronounced clinically dead three times, and suffered two minor heart attacks.
Setting The Stage
As consequences caught up to him, Tim landed himself in prison after overdosing behind the wheel. “I remember every two weeks my wife brought my kids to visit me. My daughter was 11 at the time, and came from her cheer leading practice. I saw all these inmates gawking at her. My wife divorced me after 18 years and we lost our home to foreclosure. I remember thinking, I will never do this to my family again.”
From then on, Tim has never looked back. Him and his cellmate started studying the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous, the Narcotics Anonymous basic text, and the bible. He also wrote the business plan for his now prosperous foundation.
Serving thirteen months in prison, it’s easy to say that Tim turned his life around. However, it was the time and devotion he spent to bettering himself that would prepare him for what was to come next.
“I Helped Kill My Own Son”
“I’ll be the first to tell you that I helped kill my own son. After I got out of prison, on my 21 month sobriety date, my son died from an overdose. Nick was the most outgoing and loving kid in the world,” Tim shares as he wears a black chain-linked cross holding his son’s ashes. “He loved skateboarding, he loved life, he loved people, and unfortunately he loved drugs more.”
“I was a father, not a friend. I was the dad that let my son and his buddies smoke weed in the basement and drink.” Up until 2010, Nick didn’t know his Dad did Heroin. That quickly changed when Ryan overdosed behind the wheel and hit two cars.
“About three months into fighting my case, I was dope sick. My son came up to me and put two bags on heroin on the counter and said ‘today is your lucky day.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Dad, you’re a successful drug addict.’ Because I had a good job and was successful, he thought I could do heroin successfully.”
3 months later, Tim and his son were using heroin together.
A week after his son died, Ryan had planned to conduct a Narcan training. “A reporter called me up and said that she was sorry about my son and that she was going to cancel the write up about the training. I said, ‘the hell you are!”
Tim laid his son to rest on a Wednesday and did a Narcan training the next day at the same church. “If my son’s friends would have had Narcan, chances are he’d be alive. I had to do that training that day, for Nick.”
Igniting The Flame
Nick’s passing instilled in Tim what he does on a daily basis. “I don’t want people going through what my former wife did – taking a husband, a home, and a first born son. I had a fire lit underneath me. In hindsight I can never imagine doing anything else.”
“A couple of years after Nicked passed, my ex-wife Shannon looked me in the eyes and said that she truly believed God put Nick and her in my life for a reason. For Nick to pass on set the stage for what I was going to do next.”
Today, Tim books speaking arrangements all around the country offering his inspiring messages along with his self-penned memoir, “From Dope To Hope.” From colleges, high schools, community forums, and a “Ted Talks Convention,” Tim’s message comes from a candid and sometimes in-your-face approach, which is what has made him successful and sometimes controversial.
“If you baby an addict you’re going to bury them. If you get into the opiate game, you’re going to get sober or you’re going to die.”
“Every time I speak I open that wound, but my message is so real and so raw it offers a lot of hope. When I leave a speaking event my phone doesn’t stop ringing. I want people to be able to put their hand up and and ask for help. I never want to be that guy that couldn’t help anyone that wanted it. If you’ve got a heartbeat, you’ve got hope.”
The Stars Aligning
During the summer of 2017, Tim’s story was featured on an hour-length special on A&E, entitled, “Dopeman.” The hour-long special highlighted his personal battle with addiction as well as his unconventional style of helping other’s struggling.
“It was kinda crazy. I had received a call about 3 years ago from a woman who used to work with Oprah. They were doing a documentary in Chicago about why Caucasians buy heroin. When they were interviewing me, my phone kept ringing. The woman looked at me and said, you’ve had 30 calls in two hours from people wanting your help. She said, I think we could do something on you.”
Through a host of people, or maybe his son, Nick, aligning the stars, Tim met Jason Hervey, former “Wonder Years” star. Jason had his own production company. They quickly put together a film reel and were signed after one meeting with A&E. Six months later, “Dopeman” was aired.
Through his passion and hard work, Ryan was recently written up in a world leaders magazine, next to prominent names like Elon Musk, Leonardo Dicaprio, and Bill and Melinda Gates. “I thought, hold on and you’ve got me – ex-con and heroin addict, who is a visionary leader?! The doors are opening and slowly we’re changing things. It’s not about the money, I don’t charge anyone for my services. I could care less about being on TV and writing books, but if it helps people, that’s what I care about. I’ve got a unique message and I just want to help people.”
“People think I have this glamorous life. I don’t. I deal with a ton of death, a ton of heartache, and it is those families that do turn their lives around that keep me going. All I can do is guide and direct and give them the tools. At the end of the day they’re saving their own ass. For every 10 bodies I walk over, 1 or 2 grasp this gift and have flourishing lives. People think it’s great and glamorous, it’s not.”
Keeping Recovery First
Through many write ups, articles, documentaries and speaking engagements, Tim maintains his humility and finds a way to keep his recovery first.
“I have to stay humble because I’m one drink away from being a drunk. Tomorrow I get to walk back into the prison where I stayed and speak to all the inmates. It takes me back to my prison cell looking out the window at the yard and wishing I could just go put my feet in the grass. I can never forget those things. I had it all. And I lost everything. I lost the most important thing – my son. Recovery comes before anything”
Coined himself a simple man and an adrenaline junkie, Tim was once a competitive barefoot water skier and has logged over 500 skydives. Tim states, “I have a two year old daughter who is my life and I get to spend everyday with my 19 year old son. My life can be taken away with one bad choice and decision. Tonight I’ll go to a 12-step meeting and have dinner with my wife.”
“Without my recovery and my relationship with God, I don’t have a damn thing.”
Having already left a big imprint, with his hand in multiple facets, from Heroin to Hero, we have no doubt that Tim will be shaking things up for a long time to come.