Tom Dooley, Ph.D., of Clay, has dedicated much of his life to saving others following the death of his youngest child to the opioid crisis.

Dooley said that after decades of working in molecular biology and applying his knowledge toward drug discovery and drug development, he has a new goal following his personal tragedy: to turn "lemons into lemonade."

February 2, 2017, was the day that changed his life and the lives of everyone in his family. That was the day Dooley found his son Thomas dead in the basement of their home. Thomas had died of an overdose.

"It was Groundhog Day, so it puts a kind of a bad taste in your mouth because every year when Groundhog Day comes around, it's that sense of, you know, a repeated unfortunate scenario," Dooley said. "And so, we're always mindful of Groundhog Day that it's also linked to, you know, the discovery of him dying on that day."

Dooley said since his son was 12 years old, he suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which caused anxiety issues.

"His two primary symptoms were counting, and he was a germaphobe," Dooley explained. "But by counting, I mean, if he went into a room, he would count all of the lights or all the tiles or all the chairs, and it was a compulsion. He couldn't prevent it and so, his mind was always operating like the proverbial squirrel cage, like the running around, spinning in his head all the time."

The family decided to seek help from an adolescent psychiatrist. To help calm his symptoms, he was given a benzodiazepine, but Dooley said it didn't work.

"It turned him into a zombie," he recalled. "It kind of sedated him, and that didn't help very much, and the benzodiazepine piece of it, I also think factored into his long-term addictive behaviors."

Thomas Dooley continued to experience difficulties, but things got much worse after he had his wisdom teeth removed. He experienced an opioid medication that he thought was the answer to many problems.

"He went, wow, these opioids, they're great," Dooley explained. "The opioids cleared his head and removed his OCD. Then he pursued the prescription opioid path."

Eventually, Thomas Dooley was no longer able to get prescription medication, and that's when his father said he turned to illegal street drugs. Before long, he was addicted to higher-potency opioids, such as fentanyl, that he purchased from the dark web.

Although the family tried to help Thomas, the drugs eventually took his life. He was 24-years-old.

Since that Groundhog Day in 2017, Dr. Dooley has developed a new class of drugs he calls PanX. He says the latest combination of a beta blocker and scopolamine, a motion sickness medicine, helps relieve symptoms of anxiety without the use of opioids.

Dooley is currently in the process of getting the medicine approved by the FDA. Dooley has published half a dozen peer-reviewed articles showing how the product works.

"It's a very nice solution to people who have short-term needs to treat their anxiety without using anything that is an addictive substance," he added.

But Dooley didn't stop there.

He has also started teaching at the Lovelady Center to help women in recovery. There, he can use his experience to spread hope. He calls his effort an intentional redemptive act.

The National Institutes of Health estimates over 2.1 million Americans are addicted to opioids.

Dooley said change is needed, especially regarding the dark web.

"The Department of Justice has, in fact, begun to unravel the dark web, which is the easy access points for young people to access sales of illicit drugs," he explained. "So, having the Department of Justice engaged at that level, I think, is a very meaningful way of helping to prevent this."

"We also have to be mindful of the trajectory, the increase of fentanyl and other synthetic opioid overdoses and deaths," he continued. "It's rising like the proverbial hockey stick. It's just going up year by year by year. In the year that our son died, that was seven years ago, there were approximately 70,000 overdose deaths in America. Last year, it was 110,000, so it's going up, like every year, it's going up about 10,000 more deaths every year, and the primary driver has been fentanyl, and it has been fentanyl produced by chemists in China, primarily, and it gets into America through various routes."

Dooley has a message for those with loved ones who are struggling.

"Number one is, I'm a believer in the approach of all hands on deck," Dooley said. "Whatever we can do that will help that individual, let's do it. If that's providing Narcan and having Narcan available, that's wonderful. If it's getting them to a place where they'll go into a residential facility and undergo a program, that's great. I strongly prefer faith-based drug recovery programs. I highly encourage that."

Dooley also encourages 12-step programs to help individuals stay sober.

"My son, at the latter season of his life, was involved with Narcotics Anonymous," he said. "And they do step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. They help that individual stay sober, connected with a group, a peer support group."

"In addition to that, I'm also strongly in favor of de-stigmatizing this and speaking up about it and letting people know," he continued. "Reach out and talk to people like me who have had experience dealing with a child who had drug addiction and has overdosed."

In his case, Dooley said he is committed to using his education, life experience and his faith to reach others. He has turned a horrible experience into an intentional redemption story.

"That's what I love about it," he said. "It's very inspirational. If you can go through what you've been through and make it a positive, that's huge. We still make lemonade, right? We still make lemonade out of our lemons and my view is I'm still breathing, and I have an opportunity to use the gift that God has given me as a communicator to speak into this crisis."

"I'm using the skill that he provided me, that God provided me in the pharmaceutical industry, to be a blessing," Dooley added. "Producing a product that can move this forward is what I'm doing. So, you know, I'm a firm believer in the principle of to Him who much is given, much is required."

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