Dairy farmer tells of his son’s opioid addiction, along with his own

A decade of addiction had brought Alex Mies to his final day on Aug. 26, 2007.

He took his wedding ring off and shut off his phone. With a bandage wrapped around his head leaving one eye exposed, he walked into a Wichita pharmacy, pointed a gun at the two pharmacists behind the counter and demanded Lortabs and other narcotics.

The pharmacist had a sawed-off shotgun, shooting Alex, 27, in the head, said his father, Gary Mies.

Alex’s gun wasn’t loaded, Mies added.

“I think he wanted to die,” he said.

The former dairy farmer tells Alex’s story from the Sedgwick County, Kansas, property where his dairy barn still sits, minus the cows. His thoughts are scattered as he weaves in his own battle with alcohol and drugs.

Alex, he said, was a likable boy who loved dogs, showed Holsteins and played sports. It was a football injury that first got him addicted to Lortabs and then opioids.

“I remember the day we went to the doctor, and they prescribed him over 100 Lortabs,” Mies said of the drug, which is not an opioid. “I remember them saying these were highly addictive.”

It was 1996, the same year Purdue Pharma introduced the opioid OxyContin, Mies said.


Struggling with addiction in rural Kansas

For more than 35 years, Mies and his wife, Julie, milked registered Holsteins. Mies was studying math and chemistry in college when his father died in 1975. Mies soon would come home to farm and dairy near Garden Plain.

“That is all I wanted to do since I was a little kid was to have a dairy,” he said.

But it was a tough living. Interest rates were high in the 1980s.

“We had five little boys in seven years,” Mies said, adding with the dairy, “We started with nothing. We had to talk an uncle into helping us buy a hay-cutting machine. And it was debt from then on, all the way through the 1980s.”

At one time he milked 70 cows three times a day. His sons showed cows, including Alex, who had one he named Taffy.

Alex was their second child, Mies said. He was 16 when he had his first opioid.

The pain continued. Six knee surgeries later, doctors didn’t want to give him any more.

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Doctors called Alex a drug seeker, Mies said.

“I don’t think he was a drug seeker,” he said. “He was a drug addict—addicted to drugs you prescribed him.”

Alex found other ways to get opioids.

“He started ripping people’s medicine cabinets off,” Mies said. “Friends of ours would tell us he stopped by. You don’t want to believe that.”

Alex was a hard worker, Mies said. He worked at Star Lumber while battling addiction. He tried to get help, he said. That included methadone clinics, a medicine-based therapy through the use of the opioid analgesic.

Pat George, CEO of Valley Hope, a drug and alcohol treatment facility based in Norton, Kansas, said in the beginning, medical doctors didn’t have much training on prescription addictions and how to manage them.

George said in the late 1990s, healthcare providers faced pressure to better treat patient pain.

Moreover, no one talked about the side effects for a long time.

“We were creating these addicts, so to speak,” George said.

George said an estimated 90 percent of addicts have some sort of trauma in their life, such as growing up in a dysfunctional family. Patients begin to not only treat their physical pain but also their emotional pain.

George is one of them. Now a 26-year recovering addict, George said he grew up in a dysfunctional home and eventually turned to alcohol and drugs.

“I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of addicts and trauma has always come up,” George said. “That is some hard stuff to deal with.”


Family addiction

Mies doesn’t hide from his past. His father was an alcoholic. And, through the years, Mies drank and smoked marijuana.

But it was in the late 2000s that things began to culminate to a tipping point. Milk prices dipped below $11 a hundredweight. Eleven years ago, Mies sold his cows, ending three generations of dairying.

His son died around the same time. Soon, his wife, Julie, was diagnosed with cancer.

Julie didn’t want him to drink. He couldn’t smoke pot because he needed to keep a job. He said he was emotionally drained from the days of caring for his wife.

He took her pain medicine instead.

“All I wanted was a freakin’ drink,” Mies said. “One day I took it and it made me feel good.

“She was so disgusted with me when I was taking those pain pills,” Mies said of Julie. “She was the one dying, but she wasn’t the only one dying, I was dying right next to her.”

On March 27, 2012, Julie died of cancer. With her pills gone, Mies said he began drinking again, getting to the point that one of his sons found him face down in Mies’ home.

He told his son he would get help.

On Nov. 2, 2012, he took his last drink and entered rehab at Valley Hope in Norton.

It hasn’t been easy, he said. He talked about his own strained relationships from it all.

But he gets up every morning, going to Alcoholics Anonymous at 6:30 a.m.

“The first time I went, I hated myself and I hated what I did,” Mies said. “But after you go in there you realize there are so many people just like you.

“The only way to get over my addictions was to allow God in my life,” Mies said. “I had shut him out all these years.”

Mies is working to rebuild his own life. He sold off most of his land, except for a dairy barn on a small parcel. He lived in his Jeep there for four months two falls ago, after being evicted from his apartment.

His son’s addiction, along with Mies’ own demons, has moved him to go back to college. At 66, he is working to become a licensed addiction counselor.

It’s where he can help, he said. The Garden Plain cemetery has a handful of others Alex’s age that also battled opioid and alcohol addiction. His AA group has a couple of people who will never return.

“We can’t keep it in,” Mies said. “We can’t keep it silent.”

Amy Bickel can be reached at 620-860-9433 or [email protected].