For Memphis hip-hop artist Tin Tenn, a journey of addiction, homelessness and hopelessness followed a childhood injury that yielded a prescription for pain medication.
“I broke my arm playing football, and [football] was my release for my anxiety," he said. "The doctor gave me pills the first time. I wasn't instantly hooked, but it was like, 'These are pretty awesome.' I quit going to school and began sleeping in.”
Tin Tenn, who preferred not to have his real name disclosed, went to jail for the first time at age 13 after getting physical with his dad in an argument over truancy. Soon after that, he tried marijuana for the first time. Years spent in and out of different schools, along with rampant use of pills, weed and alcohol plagued the young musician, who was charged with his first felony at age 16. From there, he was in and out of treatment facilities. He ended up couch-surfing for a year until he turned 19.
“This is when I realized that I did have a problem. But I started selling drugs again and doing anything and everything,” Tin Tenn admitted. He went to rehab in California – the first time it was his choice to do so.
“I got kicked out and was homeless, and began using hard drugs like meth and heroin. I wondered how I got there. I'm from a middle-class family,” he opened up. “I went in and out of rehab and couldn't get more than 30 days. I'd just start doing one thing and it just leads to anything and everything for me.”
A way to cope
An injury resulting in a broken jaw and an IV full of Dilaudid caused a close call with an overdose. But despite having a job and taking small steps to recovery, Tin Tenn quickly began slipping back into old habits.
However, one thing allowed him to be true to himself throughout all of this: his music. “Through all of this, I was always writing because it wasn't something I had to do, but something I wanted to do and it helped me with my thought process. It's always easier for me to write it down, and I got better at doing that.”
He even began attending a music school in Nashville, but soon after was in a life-altering car crash that left him unable to walk and again introduced him to opioids.
"It was just kind of like, off to the races. I was mad. I thought I had been doing things right and doing well in school. I was super, super depressed, and I didn't really know what I was going to do to myself.”
The musician decided to get sober again, and this time it stuck. He leaned more and more into his music, and realized his newfound clarity was actually bettering his music.
“Everybody has their own unique story, but this is what I've gone through and I want people to benefit. I feel like that's my purpose. I'm at a place now where I am in recovery and I can give back,” he said.
Now 18 months sober, the rapper says he has a great life, and is much happier now with a job, a house, a supportive family and an accelerating career. His first full-length album, featuring his song “Lucid Dreams,” will drop July 21.
An increasing epidemic
Still, it’s not hard to imagine how the musician’s life would have been different had he not been exposed to opioids at such an early age.
According to Jacqueline Perrine, Nashville volunteer with Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, Tennessee is in the top 10 percent of the highest overdose rate in the United States. Although physicians are beginning to take steps to diminish the opioid crisis, including referring patients to a pain clinic after their initial round of pain medication, the issue still exists.
“I'm starting to see Naloxone become more readily available, and our first responders are carrying that. That's skewing the overdoses because they're seeing more saves, which is great, but it is skewing the actual overdose problem,” Perrine told Crain’s Nashville.
Tin Tenn, who has known several people who have overdosed, is ready to do whatever he can to stop this epidemic in its tracks. “I know the magnitude of this and I have seen it everywhere, and I don't really want to see it going on anymore,” he said.