Charlottesville resident Don shares his brother’s journey from opioid addict to addiction educator, prior to his death.

It’s very difficult to know where to start this. How about at the end?

Well, the end for my brother, Jeff, was May 5, 2012… Cinco de Mayo. Mom and I were told that the ER staff would bring my brother, Jeff, out of his induced coma so that we could say goodbye. What do you say to your big brother when you know it’ll be the last time you will ever talk? I kept it simple with a hug and what I hope was an “I love you.”

Once the goodbyes were said, it was finally over. Mom and I walked through the hospital and out the doors, finally freed from the waiting, the not knowing, the hoping, praying, crying and trying to take control of an uncontrollable situation. As a little brother, I think the hardest part for me was seeing that my family’s potential had been strong.

That’s the funny thing about addiction; it zaps so much strength and potential. Not just from the addict, but from everyone around them.

My brother’s pursuit landed him in the “big house” on more than one occasion.

As much as I hate to admit it, this was good for him since, by the time the law caught up to my brother, he was usually in pretty bad shape and often relying on support from friends and family to continue his addiction. The time in jail provided him a chance to clean up and get his head straight. He always came out with the best intentions, but every time, he was further behind. I tried to encourage him, but nothing I ever tried overpowered the draw back into his routine.

Prior to prison, he was in rehab a couple of times without lasting success. He was an amazing athlete. I can’t think of a sport he didn’t excel at. He played ironman football and had scouts interested in him. He excelled at baseball, basketball, surfing, and golf. He even tried his hand at bull riding.

I don’t think there was much he couldn’t do except beat his addiction to pills.

Having lost several friends to the opioid epidemic growing up, I know the cost that is typically paid to play the game.

I could and still can see a person change when they start an opioid addiction. It’s odd, it’s them but not. I guess if I had to try and put my finger on it, it’s just their shell. Their mind works differently. Their heart changes and the only thing that seems to matter is following the pills at any cost. The sad part is that it’s typically the person that loves them the most that ends up being fooled, as the person wants to believe the lies they are being told because it’s far easier than the truth.

Jeff, opioid addict to educator

The end of his story is much better.

The last year of my brother’s life started with open heart surgery. He was admitted with an infection in his heart. He had blood clots that were traveling through his body and was experiencing severe chest pain. The prognosis was poor at best. Along with a mitral heart valve replacement and an amazing relationship with his doctor, support from his family, and his trust in God, Jeff was given one more year of life.

During this year, Jeff had to return to prison to serve unpaid time for drug-related charges. Back in the mix of prison, he wrote articles and submitted them to newspapers to bring to light that his community had more “pill mills” than Mc Donald’s. He participated in Bible studies and shared how opioid use wreaks havoc on the cardiovascular system in his NA and AA meetings.

Jeff actively educated other inmates and addicts on the dangers of opioid use through his personal experiences.

Jeff was able to spend his last few weeks out of prison, with debts paid to society and with his family. We were lucky as a family since we had the chance to say goodbye. Jeff passed away on May 5, 2012 of heart failure that was caused by complications arising from prescription opioid abuse. He was 34 years old.

If you or a loved one are suffering from opioid addiction, help is available.

If you are seeking treatment for yourself or someone else, contact Region Ten at 434-972-1800 or if someone is in immediate danger, call 911 for emergency services. The Blue Ridge Poison Center, located at the UVA Health System and staffed by Emergency Medicine personnel, can answer questions regarding medication mistakes and the consumption of other substances–the center can be reached at 1-800-222-1222.