Opioid series: A walking symbol of hope

Faith and persistence were key to Duane Pliska kicking 33-year drug habit

Opioid series logo displaying syringe, pill, capsule

The opioid epidemic is rampant in the United States. Nearly 5 million people are addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Every day, 115 people die from overdoses.

The UAW and Ford Motor Company stand united to bring attention to this critical issue. In this periodic series, we’ll share stories of Ford employees, who like millions of people, are dealing with the impact of opioid-related addiction.

Duane Pliska struggled with drug addiction for 33 years.

“I did anything and everything that was on the street — uppers, downers, marijuana, cocaine, heroin and speed. I was a mess,” said 66-year old Pliska, who works at the Dearborn Stamping Plant.

“One time in Detroit I went to a crack house, and a man walked up to me and put a .357 Magnum to the back of my head because he thought I was a government agent,” Pliska said.

The threat didn’t deter him.

Duane Pliska profile.
Duane Pliska, a 45-year employee of the Ford Dearborn Stamping Plant. Photo by Martin Vecchio

“I went four doors down to another crack house and bought crack after being threatened to have my head blown off. You talk about what drug addiction does? I know.”

Pliska started using drugs when he was 16.

“I came from a very dysfunctional family. There was a lot of alcohol and drugs, and a lot of everything that was very negative,” he said. “I ran out of there as fast as I could and got addicted to drugs off and on.”

Pliska has been a Ford employee for 45 years, and he credits the company with helping him survive drug addiction.

His wife Donna said if it hadn’t been for Ford and its program, Duane might never have reached out for help.

“There’s a stepping stone to get us to where we need to be in life,” Donna Pliska said. “The program Ford has is such a tremendous blessing for the workers. Duane didn’t lose his job. Ford only reprimands you if you’re not willing to get help, which is a good thing because if they didn’t push that issue, it’s just like an undisciplined kid who’s not abiding by the rules.”

“Ford pays for the rehab,” she said, “but if people aren’t willing to utilize the principles and the tools that are available through the program, they are not going to conquer their addiction.”

After two unsuccessful attempts at rehabilitation, Duane Pliska finally reached the breaking point.

“I was beat up. I had been doing it my whole life, and I was morally and spiritually beat up,” he said. “People didn’t even want to work with me. I was so skinny. They told me that they were afraid they were going to be going to my funeral.”

Pliska was living paycheck to paycheck, using all of his money to buy drugs, he said.

“I got on my knees in my driveway and I said, ‘God, I can’t take it anymore. I need your help,’” he recalled.

That’s when Pliska called the Ford Employee Support Services Program (ESSP) office and asked for help. They sent him to rehab a third time.

“I took my crack pipe before I went into the facility and I broke it with a hammer,” he said. “I flushed the crack down the toilet, and I went into that rehab center. Then I gave my life to Jesus, and that’s when it all happened.”

Donna and Duane Pliskag with their dog.
Donna and Duane Pliskag with their dog. Photo by Martin Vecchio

Pliska has been sober since April 27, 2000.

“People come up to me and say, ‘I wish I was where you are,’ and I tell them, ‘You can be, ... There’s a better life out there for you,’” he said.

Pliska and his wife urge everyone at Ford with a substance abuse problem — whether it’s heroin, prescription painkillers, some other type of drug or alcohol — to reach out for help.

“How many people have that opportunity at their job to go into rehab and not get fired?” said Donna Pliska. “Some people don’t want to come forward because they’re in fear of losing their jobs. It’s actually the opposite. If you don’t come forward, you’re going to lose your job.”

Pliska says he’s grateful to God for the new life he is able to enjoy.

“It’s by God’s grace that I’m alive and clean and sober,” he said. “People tell me that I’m a miracle, and I know that I’m a miracle.”

Donna and Duane Pliskag.
Donna and Duane Pliska. Photo by Martin Vecchio

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug misuse or abuse, please reach out for help. If you’re not a Ford employee, call the free, confidential treatment referral service, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) any time, day or night. Parents looking for information about talking to their children about drug abuse can call Partnership for Drug-Free Kids at 1-855-378-4373.


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