Jake Evans started the Nampa Narcan initiative to help others through their struggles with addiction – a battle he faced in his own life. (Photo by Patricia Evans)
By Steve Bertel
“I appeared to have it all together but, beneath that facade, I was slowly self-destructing.”
That’s how Nampa resident Jake Evans describes his downward spiral into drug addiction … an addiction that started in his early teen years and quickly grew worse. In fact, he says, “within a single week, I had tried cocaine, LSD, mushrooms, and ecstasy.”
But that was only the beginning.
Unlike other addicts who are perhaps facing personal issues, struggling to hide their addictions from family and friends, or are maybe low-income, poorly educated, or even living on the streets, Jake led a very affluent, a very success-driven life.
“I grew up in West Virginia, about an hour away from Washington, D.C. My father was a family practitioner dentist; my mother held three presidential appointments, from both the Bush and Trump administrations. So I was raised with lofty expectations, instilled with the desire to be everything to everyone,” he explains. “In high school, I was a varsity football player, a jazz band member, a show choir participant, and the leader of my own band. Academically, I was an honor roll student. However, despite my accomplishments, I spent most of my life searching for a place where I truly belonged.”
When he was 14, “a group of older kids” as he calls them, introduced him to marijuana. “Instantly, I felt a sense of acceptance that had been eluding me. I began to associate substance abuse with social acceptance, and started down a path that led me to become known as ‘that guy’ in school.” He was the youngest guy at senior parties, surrounded by older friends. It all seemed normal to Jake. Even as his life took an even more dangerous and darker path.
“Upon entering college, I felt the urge to experiment with a broader array of drugs,” he remembers. That’s when he tried everything from cocaine to ecstasy.
His father wanted Jake to follow in his footsteps and take over his dental practice. But Jake wasn’t keen on that idea. He did not want to become “the mirror image of my father, living in the same small town and working in the same profession. That thought was terrifying to me. It would’ve been like watching the same episode of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ over and over,” Jake says. So he did what seemed logical to him at the time: he pursued a music career.
It wasn’t long before he acquired a recording engineering certification. As a guitar player, his goal was to write, perform, and record music. But, given the “party atmosphere” of the music industry, his abuse of cocaine, LSD, and ecstasy continued. Unabated.
Raised Catholic, Jake remembers he was “super inquisitive” about his faith, but the Catholic school he attended was very punitive. “They were like: Just listen to the lesson and don’t ask questions. As such, a lot of my questions went unanswered,” he says, to the eventual point where “I did not identify with one specific belief. I always believed in God, but I never identified as a Christian. I didn’t know the difference between salvation and grace. I just knew that there was something greater in the world than me. I knew there was a Creator. I called him God. That was it.”
Then, during a school trip to New York City, a fellow student produced several small blue pills – Percocet, a dangerous one-two punch of the opioid oxycodone and the pain-killer acetaminophen – and offered them to Jake. He initially declined, rather proudly telling his friend, “No, man. I only use cocaine.”
But the student didn’t give up, telling Jake, “Well, what if I told you that you could smoke these?” Intrigued, Jake accepted the offer. And smoked the pills. “The moment that smoke hit my lungs, something clicked in my brain,” he says. “For the first time ever, all the yearning and desire to impress and ‘fit in’ disappeared. It completely vanished. I experienced a calm like never before.”
When he returned home five days later, Jake found himself totally and physically addicted; in fact, as he puts it, “I had developed a crippling 30-pill-a-day habit of 30 milligrams of Percocet” – that he bought from street-level drug dealers. Or from friends who worked at the area’s pharmaceutical manufacturing plant. “In fact,” he admits, “most of my money went for drugs.”
Jake had a lot of responsibilities in his life at that time. He was attending law school, he was the university’s student body vice president, he had a full-time job, and he was excelling as a National Model United Nations delegate. So he kept his habit hidden. “I couldn’t sit through a 45-minute class without needing to get high,” he points out.
After one particularly nightmarish LSD trip, Jake finally asked God for help. “I told Him, ‘God, if you get me through this, I swear I will never use acid – or anything that’s remotely psychedelic – ever again.’ And He did. He got me out of it. And I kept my promise: I never used LSD after that.”
Even though Jake felt he could quit whenever he wanted, he couldn’t. His drug abuse – minus the LSD – continued. Until the day a female professor noticed something amiss. She left a sticky note on his desk reading, “We need to talk.”
“Her words were all capitalized and underlined several times,” Jake recalls.
When the two talked after class that day, the professor produced a paper – his class attendance record – and began pointing out what he already knew. She read, “Tardy. Tardy. Tardy. On time. Tardy. Tardy.”
“She looked at me with genuine concern and said, ‘Jake, you are going to fail this class because you can’t show up on time. Is everything okay?’ Those last three words hit me like nothing ever had. I could see two distinct paths ahead of me: one, where I tell this woman everything, admit my problem, and seek help. Another, where I pull myself up by my bootstraps, get my degree, and deal with the addiction later.” Fortunately – wisely – he chose the first option. Partly because the professor, boldly violating the school’s teacher/student ethics rules, admitted she had once been an addict as well. And related her own personal recovery story.
Motivated by what she told him, Jake left school and enrolled in a six-month sobriety program at Tree House Recovery in Costa Mesa, California. Jakes describes the program as, “a full lifestyle overhaul. It wasn’t so much about not using drugs, as it was about living a healthy lifestyle; to put you into your best life and keep you there.” In fact, after graduating from the program and becoming completely drug-free, Jake even joined the recovery team and used his talents to help grow the program.
At that same time, he began attending the Calvary Chapel-affiliated Harvest Christian Fellowship Church, under the direction of senior pastor Greg Laurie, the nationally-renowned Harvest Crusades founder.
Two years after becoming sober, Jake gave his heart to the Lord.
He then set out on a determined personal mission to help others, starting with the student who had originally offered him those blue Percocet pills. “I told him how fantastic I was doing – and how amazing my life was, now that I was clean and sober. But he told me he was ‘fine’ and ‘didn’t need any help.’”
Jake didn’t press the issue with him … but now, looking back, wishes he had. “Two weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day, that young man took a fatal dose and passed away. Alone in his dorm room. When I heard the news, I broke down. This was a friend of mine, someone with whom I used almost daily. It could have easily been me; most likely, it would have been … had I not decided at that moment that I had been given a second chance at life.” Losing his friend made Jake more determined than ever to help others. “I wanted my story to be the worst it ever got for anyone,” he says. “So I resolved to be on a mission: to bring the bottom up” – in other words, to help those, to build up those who had reached their depths of despair.
Even though Jake’s long-ago prayers to overcome his addiction had been answered, God had yet another plan in store. “The young woman who worked across the street from the corporate office where I was working mentored me. Prior to that, I had never spoken to her. She was very beautiful; so beautiful, I figured she was way out of my league,” he recalls.
Today, that woman is his wife. And the mother of their two children.
“It was definitely God at work. It took about two years for me to become the caliber of man she needed me to be as a partner,” Jake says. “What’s more, had I not met her, I would not have become a Christian. If I had not become a Christian, I would have never come to Nampa.”
Since his brother lives in McCall, Jake and his wife entertained the idea of moving to Idaho. They placed offers on several homes, wanting to settle down wherever God chose, so they could set about helping others. The only offer that a seller accepted was on a home in Nampa. Right across the street from Grace Bible Church, what has now become their home church. In fact, using the musical talents he developed years ago, Jake now plays lead guitar in the church’s worship band.
Looking back, Jake realizes, “The professor who felt compelled to write me a sticky note and take a risk, going way out of her lane to essentially save my life … the woman who mentored me, became my wife, and the mother of our children … the house-offer that brought us to Nampa and to a church right across the street, I firmly believe it was all part of God’s divine plan. It’s all part of God working in my life.”
Jake has spent the past ten years specializing in life coaching and crisis intervention. “I’ve worked with Fortune 500 CEOs and I’ve worked with people crawling out from underneath bridges,” he says. He also served on Nampa’s Opioid Settlement Board, and co-chaired the Substance Misuse and Mental Health Committee for the Healthy Impact Nampa Coalition.
Earlier this year, that mission led Jake to partner with the Nampa Fire Department and establish the Nampa Narcan initiative. “Our mission is to directly connect those in drug crisis situations with someone who can help them navigate and find resources that can help them, no matter what hurdles or barriers may be in the way, be they geographic, financial, or clinical,” he explains. “We want to help remove those barriers and guide them through the process – and make sure we keep walking with them – in their recovery journey, so that we can help them foster a healthier, drug-free lifestyle.”
There can be some rather formidable challenges for people fighting an addiction, sometimes from the very resource agencies designed to help them. “Some agencies may tell those suffering ‘Sorry. We don’t take that insurance’ or ‘Sorry, we don’t have any beds available.’ For someone actively seeking recovery, those ‘No’s’ can be very discouraging,” Jake emphasizes. “So we help them find the ‘Yes’s.’”
Reports say opioid use is steadily increasing in Idaho. Nampa alone has seen an alarming 200% jump over last year, according to Jake. “As our infrastructure develops, so does the crime rate. And the drug trade. Granted, we’re on the other side of the bell curve right now compared to major U.S. cities, but we have the opportunity to stop that curve. So we have to be proactive. And flexible. Because recovery is not the same for everyone.”
Nampa Narcan takes its name from: a) the city where it was “founded” – even though the group now works throughout the Treasure Valley with emergency service personnel and those in need of recovery help, and b) the legal nasal spray drug that helps reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, bringing a person from a life-threatening overdose state to a more manageable withdrawal state. In fact, many first responders now carry Narcan (also known as naloxone) dispensers with them, to immediately administer to those suffering from an opioid overdose.
Jake stands firm in his commitment to help others. “Nampa has become not just a place I live, but a community I love and serve. Together with Nampa Narcan and other collaborative efforts, we are working towards a brighter future, one where addiction no longer holds our community captive. It is a journey that I believe I was destined to embark upon, and I am grateful for the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of those around me.”
If you know someone struggling with an opioid addiction and in need of help, or if you simply want to find out more about Nampa Narcan, you can go its website nampanarcan.com or call the Nampa Narcan hotline at 208-960-6092.
Steve Bertel is a multi-award-winning professional radio, television, print media, and social media journalist, who retired after a 30-year broadcasting career. He’s now a busy freelance writer. His first suspense novel, “Dolphins of an Unjust Sea”, is available on both Amazon and Kindle. Steve and his wife of 41 years live in Meridian, Idaho. He can be reached at [email protected].