Crusader on the Mike

Dan Murphy Tackles Addiction,

Community Denial on KDXU's "Last Call"

By Joshua Kors


St. George, UT - Sure, Dan Murphy recognizes the splendors in Dixie - the plateaus and the parks, the tight-knit webs of families and friends, the serenity of the streets bright and early Sunday morning. But Murphy, Southern Utah's preeminent substance abuse counselor, also sees decay below that serene surface.

He's seeing children smoking cigarettes before middle school, 7th grade students delving into pot. Murphy met a kid the other day who had been busted for possession of X. Asked how many of the methamphetamines the young man had taken, the boy told Murphy he didn't know. He had ground up the pills and snorted them
- word on the streets of Dixie was that snorting delivered a better high.

Combating that high, and the addiction that follows, may seem like a futile task for one man to take on. But every Saturday, Murphy is back at it, underscoring the dangers of drugs on his KDXU talk show, "Last Call." It's a job, he says, that only gets harder with time: Drug addiction in Southern Utah has become "an epidemic," in his words. Statistics gathered by the state's Department of Human Services support that assessment.


                         December 9, 2001


Dan Murphy speaks with a caller during his radio show "Last Call" on 890 KDXU-AM.  "Last Call" deals with tough issues, like substance abuse in Southern Utah.  (Jud Burkett/The Spectrum)





In 1999, the most recent year for which there is data, 16,694 Utahns were treated for substance abuse. That group includes 1,438 for heroin, 1,529 for cocaine and crack, and 2882 for methamphetamines. Southern Utah alone had 612 addiction cases, including 141 for meth and 301 for alcohol. Twenty-nine of those alcoholics were under the age of 18.

Still, Murphy tells his radio audience, the most potent narcotic facing Southern Utah is not meth or alcohol but something far more insidious: the willingness of the community to be blind to its addictions. He's fond of saying the big "D" on the mountain stands for "Denial," not "Dixie."

"This is a great place," Murphy said of St. George. "It's clean, it has a good school system, and there aren't drive-by shootings. But under the surface there is an epidemic. It's in the police blotter every day
- over 300 DUI arrests through (Washington County) justice court last year. But people here, they have a tendency to look the other way."

To break that tendency, and bring help to those in need, Murphy is pushing for a detox center located right here, in St. George. "A detox would get help for people who need medical oversight by a staff knowledgeable about addiction," Murphy said. But the plan faces opposition. "A detox center would in fact admit that we have a problem."

Today, when Murphy gets calls from local addicts needing help, he is forced to send them to Las Vegas or Salt Lake, the only cities in the area with full-time, in-patient facilities. Murphy suspects those cities might maintain that distinction for some time, even in the face of his efforts and those of Steve Chilow.

"We need a detox center big time," said Chilow, a social worker at Desert Hills Therapeutic who appeared on Murphy's show earlier in the year. "I would venture to say that one out of 10 (patients) that comes in here needs medical detox. And we don't have anything for them."

Chilow calls Murphy's efforts on behalf of addicts and their families "indispensable." "Nobody wants to talk about addiction, like it's leprosy," Chilow said. "But Dan, he tells it like it is."

No one knows how it is more intimately than Murphy. His anti-drug crusade was forged by a lifetime of horrors, beginning at age 7, when the family next-door was crushed to death by a drunk driver. Murphy remembers how one boy survived the head-on collision, for a short time, before dying.

Murphy's sister Patricia was taken, too, at the age of 18, when a drunk driver clipped her car as it was making a standard left turn.

"Her head hit a post. She had a skull fracture," he said. "They took her to the hospital and everyone was waiting for her to regain consciousness. About three days later they discovered her brain stem was broken. She lasted about 10 days, then died."

"It was pretty hard," Murphy recalled.

Three of Murphy's siblings descended into alcoholism. His brother in Las Vegas is now seven years sober; his sister has been sober over 20 years. Despite treatment at a handful of facilities, one of Murphy's older brothers continues to drink.

Murphy himself? He carries with him the AA coin of recovery, a token that marks his 15th year of sobriety.

Murphy has spent those years doing more than avoid booze. True to the tenets of AA, he began giving back to the community, making good use of the mike at Desert Hills Therapeutic and other outpatient facilities. Soon Murphy realized he could be of greater help if he could reach a greater audience. That's when he approached Rick Harris, a sales associate who worked at Simmons Media.

Harris embraced the idea of "Last Call." He passed the project to the KDXU management, who approved it in June 1998.

"He told me the mission of his life was to help people with drug and alcohol abuse," Harris said. "Now I hear people talking about the show all the time. I think he does a lot of people a lot of good. He's presenting solutions. People that have problems (with addiction) can listen and learn different avenues to try to help themselves."

Self-help radio struck a chord in St. George. In three years on the air, "Last Call" has developed a loyal core of listeners. Many, like Eric Werny, listen every week.

"Dan's show is a clarion call in this community," Werny said. "I don't know what happens in the classes he runs, but on the show, I hear people doing a personal wake-up call."

Werny, in fact, has been so impressed with the show, he has agreed to stream it free on his internet website, The result: Today Murphy enjoys audiences both local and global. He only hopes they are open enough to hear his message and call.

"There are times I'll get up (in the studio), and the phones don't ring. And it's not because they're not listening
- it's because they're afraid to pick up the phone out of fear of recognition," Murphy said. "Drug addiction is a secret thing. Go out and share (your addiction) with other people, and it's almost suicidal in this community. You can destroy your image and your reputation."

"Nonetheless," said Murphy, "it is my fond hope to carry a message to people who are suffering from addiction."

The message: There is help, if you seek it.


Update:  In 2006 "Last Call" moved to 1450 KZNU-AM, St. George's Fox News Radio station.  Murphy's show airs every Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m.  For information or to contact Murphy, call (435) 673-1450 or visit

Tel.: (646) 456-7738