From the outside, Kimberly Ladd's life seemed to be going well in 2007. The wife of an Army combat veteran who had done tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Ladd was raising two young daughters in Spring Hill, Tenn., while working as a corporate trainer, a job she loved. But she had a dark secret: She was addicted to opioids. "I couldn't feel without them," she says. "At the worst of it, it's all you can think of."
Her addiction began after she took a few of her father's leftover pain pills to cope with severe headaches, and it spiraled as her own prescription ran out and she looked for ways to cope with stress in her marriage. "The more you use, the more your body needs," says Ladd, now 45. "Very quickly things get out of control."
Soon she had a young son (now 11) in addition to her daughters, and while she was holding down her job, "in my personal relationships I was disconnected," she says.
She was consumed by the need to feed her addiction, scoring pills illegally from anyone who might have leftovers. "Pills were everywhere," Ladd says of the extent of the opioid epidemic during that time.
In 2012, Ladd finally found the help she needed to begin her recovery — she and her husband connected with a supportive faith community and a veterans' group. She also joined a therapy program run by her employer.
Six years later, however, opioids would grab her family again. Ladd learned that one of her daughters, who was seven months pregnant at the time, was battling the same addiction she had faced. Desperate to save her daughter, Ladd drove her to a nearby hospital. "I was like, 'Help my baby,' " she says. "They didn't know what to do with us."
They recommended another facility several hours away, but by the time they arrived, her daughter was in withdrawal. Again, the hospital didn't know how to help. "I was like, "What is going on? How is it that two hospitals did not see this as an emergency?' " Ladd says. "I just held her, cried with her, all of the things. As a mom, I was angry."
Eventually her daughter entered a residential treatment program, and she's been in recovery since. But the crisis was a turning point for Ladd, who vowed to make it easier for people suffering from addiction to find help — and to find ways to prevent the problem in the first place. In 2018, after leaving her corporate job, she founded the Maury County Prevention Coalition, a group dedicated to re-educating the community on addiction in Tennessee, where more than 2,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2019.
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"We've grown beyond the days of just saying no," Ladd says. "We need empathy and compassion at every stage of the process." The coalition has offered parenting classes for those in recovery, organized town hall events about addiction and created a task force to rethink the way local hospitals care for drug-addicted mothers and babies. "Kimberly has a courageous vulnerability," says Douglas Chapman, a Maury County juvenile court judge who has worked with Ladd through the coalition. "Her passion and her story draw people in. She's someone who is doing this work from a love perspective."
The community has already seen the results of the coalition's work. Last year alone, it reached 600 people through seminars on mental health and substance abuse, organized a Drug Take Back event which disposed of 244 pounds of unused or expired medication and trained 1,200 citizens in how to administer the opioid overdose reversal medication Naloxone.
When she speaks to members of her community about addiction, Ladd is brutally honest in sharing her own story. Laying bare her own difficult past is worth it if she can reach people's hearts, she says: "It just takes one person to make a difference in somebody's life," Ladd says. "I don't want this to happen to anybody else's child."