Facing the Dragon - David Parnell
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David's Story

Internationally known speaker, David Parnell, is a husband and father of seven from Tennessee.  He is also a methamphetamine and suicide survivor, recovering addict and alcoholic, former drug dealer, and convicted felon.  After spending twenty-three years addicted to drugs he attempted suicide by shooting himself in the face with an SKS assault rifle.  He has since devoted his life to educating others about the dangers of methamphetamine.   

David has been on T.V. and radio and featured in newspapers and magazines worldwide.  He was a volunteer for The Partnership for a Drug Free America’s national adverting campaign.  His efforts have been recognized by law enforcement, political officials, emergency services, educators, parents, students, and countless others nationwide.  He is also a member of the Western Cherokee Tribe of Arkansas and Missouri and has worked closely with other tribes throughout the United States and Canada to prevent the use of methamphetamine.  His message is captivating and his presentations are graphic.  

At the age of 13, David was introduced to marijuana by his father.  The use of marijuana eventually led to other, harder drugs.  By the time David graduated high school he was addicted to marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol.  He was a promising basketball player, but unfortunately, his drug abuse caused him to pass up chances for college scholarships.   Straight out of high school, David married his high school sweetheart.  She was not a drug addict and the marriage soon failed.  After the divorce David thought he would leave his troubles behind and moved to Texas.   He moved in with his father, who at the time, was living in a crank house (crank is one of many slang terms for methamphetamine).  David used meth for the first time at age 21.  

When David began using meth, he swore he wouldn’t let it control him and end up like the other, older, more hard-core addicts he was around.  He was sure he wouldn’t end up sickly, paranoid, crazy, and completely controlled by the drug.  It wouldn’t take him long to learn that no one controls meth, it controls the user.  

David returned to Tennessee hoping to leave meth behind.  At the time, meth was not available in Tennessee.  He succeeded for a while, though he continued to use other drugs and alcohol.  His life did not improve much.  He eventually ended up in prison for attempting to sell a substantial amount of marijuana.  

Once released from prison, David remarried and started a new family.  However, meth soon re-entered the picture.  He became paranoid and psychotic.  The physical and emotional abuse towards his wife, Amy, became much worse.  His children were neglected.  Eventually, Amy began using and any semblance of a stable life for their children completely disappeared.   

Depression set in, like with most meth addicts, and David became suicidal.  He attempted suicide once by hanging himself, but the rope broke.  He quit drugs for several months.  But he started hanging around with other users again and he fell back into old habits.   

Everything came to a head on February  21, 2003.  David returned home high after promising to quit, again.  Amy said she was leaving and taking the children.  Without a word of warning, David grabbed the SKS assault rifle that was kept loaded beside the bed and put it under his chin and pulled the trigger.  

The bullet entered under his chin and exited between his eyes.  It literally split his face in two.  Every bone in his face was broken except his left eye socket.  He lost almost all his teeth, the tip of his tongue was blown off, and the roof of his mouth was disintegrated.   He lost most of his lips and his nose entirely.  His injuries were so severe he was written off as deceased by the sheriff’s department.  

After the blast he fell off the bed to the floor holding both sides of his face together.  While Amy and his mother spoke to the 911 dispatcher, amazingly, David was able to speak and apologize for what he had done.  It would be the last time he was able to speak for months.  

David was transferred by ambulance to our local hospital in Fulton, KY.  From there he was driven by ambulance 3 hours to the trauma unit at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.  The weather was too bad for him to be transported by helicopter.  Methamphetamine is such a strong stimulant that David did not lose consciousness until during the ride to Nashville.   

David spent close to a month in the hospital after the suicide attempt.  He received a tracheotomy and a stomach tube that allowed him to eat.  He returned to eating months later by sampling baby food and eventually leading to a solid diet after about a year.  

Over the years it has taken approximately 30 surgeries, some lasting as long as 13 hours to repair his face.  His has titanium plates and screws holding his cheekbones together.  An external fixator bar held his jawbone together for a time.  His “new” nose was formed from bone taken from his hips and ribs and skin from his forehead.  He still has several surgeries yet to go.  

When David first awoke in the hospital he said he wanted to tell people the truth about drugs.  He wanted to prevent others from going through what he, his family, and so many others had suffered through because of substance abuse.  When he was released from the hospital and physically able, he and Amy decided to make the leap and try to reach his goal of warning others about the dangers of drugs although they really had no idea how to go about it.  


They started by contacting media with David’s story.  It was a miracle he was even alive.  Also, there weren’t many people who had went through what David had and survived that were willing to share their story at the time.  David and Amy also contacted rehabs and churches asking if David could share his testimony.  Eventually, David ended up in a school speaking to students.  From there, Facing the Dragon was born.  David began speaking at conferences and testifying before advisory groups and tasks forces about methamphetamine.  More schools, community groups, and media outlets from across the country and internationally began calling.  David and Amy have poured their hearts and souls into educating people about the dangers of methamphetamine, advocating for drug endangered children, and giving hope to those already addicted over the past seven years.  

Currently, David is living with Amy and their seven children near Martin, TN.  He recently co-authored a book with Amy Hagberg-Hammond titled “Facing the Dragon: How a Desperate Act Pulled One Addict Out of Methamphetamine Hell” that is due for release December 2010.  He continues to speak regularly and help whenever and wherever he can in the fight against methamphetamine.