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Tammy: A story of struggle, survival and hope


MIDDLEBURG – Unlike the other speakers announcing Clay County would be one of the pilot counties for the state’s Coordinated Opioid Recovery (CORE) program, Tammy Bugely didn’t have prepared notes or a polished presentation.

She spoke from the heart, which for most of her life was in a dark place. She often struggled to find the right words, and she fought through tears.

But nobody’s words were more profound.

Tammy is an addict. She said so. She spent 20 years using heroin and fentanyl. Much of her life was like the track marks of a user, one fix leading to another.

Then she almost died.

“In May, almost two years ago, I overdosed,” she said. “My daughter and my mom found me in the bathroom, blue and almost dead. They called the ambulance. I came to and I realized what happened. When I got to the hospital, I decided I needed help. They had a program at Clay Behavorial and they sent me to that program the next day.”

Tammy now has been clean and sober for 16 months. She is one of 24 who had the strength, resources and support to break the wretched grip of opioids. For every success story like Tammy, there, unfortunately, are 100s of stories of overdoses and death. That’s why Tammy’s recovery – and her courage – should be applauded.

“Before I started doing drugs, I was very self-confident,” she said. “I went out of my way to help people. I was very open. I liked to talk to anybody. But the drugs took that away. I mean I only wanted to help myself. The only thing that mattered was how was I going to get my meds. It didn’t matter what anybody else thought or any of that because I was only out for me. The drugs took that away.”

She was part of the Community Paramedicine program offered by Clay County Fire Rescue and Clay Behavioral. Battalion Chief Glenn East became a mentor, and his smile was heartfelt as she spoke.

“I met Chief East and I was supported through the program with the stuff you need,” Tammy said. “It’s a big family. It’s big. Like, you can’t just do it with just one. It’s all about buying into the stuff, and we need that help out there.

We need help and care afterward, you know, the health care for the dental care. Mainly the peer-to-peer counseling and stuff like that. We need people to talk to. You guys might not completely understand that because maybe you guys have not been there through that situation stuff completely. You just know by what you read in books or like what people tell you and stuff. But honestly, unless you live or to hear somebody’s story that’s actually lived it, you really don’t know it. It is a big struggle.”

Clay is one of seven Florida counties that will pioneer the CORE program that offers a pathway toward recovery, including specialized care, counseling and clinical and medical treatment following an overdose.

Tammy said beating a habit was difficult. But so was being a junkie.

She has four children and her mother currently is rearing the two oldest, and her sister has the two youngest.

“They told me they want to be around me every day now because I’m a changed person,” she said. “Before, they didn’t want to be around me. I wanted to be around them, but the drug took my life.”

Tammy always will be an addict. Nobody ever walks away from the urges. The chance of a setback is part of the recovery.

“It’s one day at a time. It’s one step at a time. It’s one minute at a time,” Tammy said. “There’s still urges. You know, there’s smells and stuff that will just bring it back into your mind.

“You just got to be able to fight that. I had an encounter about three weeks ago where somebody offered me something and I literally felt my life slipping through my fingers. I don’t want to be there that no more. I don’t want that and I can’t do it.

“This disease is baffling and powerful. It is a disease that we need medicine to help us get through it. And without that, we can’t do it on our own.”

Well said.