worst thing that Sumner Scarborough has endured during his life was not
being a teacher anymore. Not standing in front of the classroom
teaching chemistry, not inspiring kids.
teaching was more difficult than the opioid addiction he suffered for
nearly 13 years, worse than his arrest for a felony breaking and
entering, worse than the public humiliation that befell a solid member
of the community and favorite of many a student in Manteo High School,
worse than two months of withdrawal that made him so sick he sometimes
wished he was dead.
Scarborough is tall, slim with neatly trimmed hair and goatee and searching deep-set eyes. Teaching was his life.
is a tough subject to teach," he says. "But when you see that light
suddenly come on in a student's eyes, well, it's the best feeling in
the world." That could be why Scarborough taught well beyond the time
he could retire: 29.5 years as he likes to say precisely.
And he remembers the end as if it was yesterday. He remembers because he re-lives it just about every day of his life.
let's start from the beginning, that fateful moment in the summer of
2000. Scarborough was laying a floor in his house in Manteo. He was
sawing boards on the porch when a friend dropped by to visit. An
unexpected hello, a fleeting distraction, and the intense pain when he
saw the blade run through his finger.
didn't know it then, but it would change his life forever. It also
started him down the road of opioid addiction. He went to the hospital
emergency room to get his finger, that was hanging by a thread,
re-attached, and for his first prescription of Percocet.
And then more and more and more.
Yet, Scarborough still taught and inspired.
was one of my all time best teachers," recalls Katie Lee, who took both
regular and Advanced Placement chemistry from Scarborough. "He was
funny, sarcastic, and boy was he smart. He made chemistry fun. You know
how every kid who takes chemistry dreams of blowing things up? Well,
Mr. Scarborough let us blow things up.
wasn't my best subject, but Mr. Scarborough would always challenge me
when he saw that I was faltering. He made sure that I never gave up on
myself. He was the light of my senior year.”
Katie Lee is now a substance abuse counselor in Raleigh.
never ever came to school high," Scarborough says. "I couldn't do that
to the kids. They deserved better, the best I could offer."
Scarborough's addiction took him to darker and darker places. When the
doctor he was seeing would no longer give him more refills, he doctor
shopped, bouncing from one to the other in search of the next
prescription. But his past caught up to him and no doctor, no matter
where he went, would give him more painkillers.
"At this point, I wasn't going after opioids to ease the pain or get high. I needed the pills to stay normal."
normal meant going to buy opioids from dealers who hawked their wares
from street corners or behind the closed door and shuttered windows of
a neighborhood house. He quickly learned that dealers didn't have his
best interest at heart. Nor were they the most reliable.
And still he taught.
were times when he didn't know if he would get any pills. "You reach a
point where you'll do anything, something so illogical, so out of
character from your being, to get drugs."
That desperation came in 2013.
learned from my street sources about a guy who had a house full of
opioid pills. I decided I would break in and steal as many as I could
take with me," he recounts.
Scarborough didn't count on was the man's wife being home. The police
arrested him several hours later. The charge: felony breaking and
getting out of jail, Scarborough started getting help at New Horizons,
the treatment and recovery center in Nags Head. Two months of intensive
outpatient treatment, what counselors there call recovery boot camp.
"They've just been the best to me," he says.
It also started his withdrawal. "There's no way you can imagine it.
Think of the worst case of flu you've ever had and multiply that
hundreds of times. You’re sick, your whole body is in pain, you vomit
constantly, you can't eat, you can't sleep."
took him two weeks in recovery before he saw a doctor and got a
prescription for Suboxone. "Suboxone didn't get me high, but it helped
me be somewhat normal. But then, I had to wean myself off the Suboxone.
That wasn't easy, either."
has been sober for three years. "I don't miss it, I don't have any
desire for pills." He still goes to New Horizons once a month for a
class and to see his substance abuse counselor. He admits that it's as
challenging to deal with the bitterness and emptiness of not teaching
as it is to make sure he stays sober.
he now earns a nice living on retirement, Social Security and a
thriving E-bay business, he would give it all up in an instant to still
the one hand, he expresses resentment for the way his forced retirement
was handled. "I considered myself a damn excellent teacher. That had to
have counted for something." On the other: "I guess they didn't have
much choice. I did plead guilty to a felony, there was all of the media
and public attention. And I made the choices that got me there."
court after his arrest, Scarborough chose to plead guilty to the felony
and 18 months probation, because as a first offender and, if he stayed
above the law for that period, his criminal record would be erased.
But his real sentence was far harsher: life without teaching.
is the fourth part in a series being published by the Outer Banks
Sentinel that examines drug abuse and narcotics trafficking in Dare
County, the people committed to fighting and treating it, and those who
become its victims. The first part was published on Aug. 3, and the
series will run until Aug. 31.To read more in the series, go to http://www.obsentinel.com/drug_war/)