How I overcame my brother’s heroin overdose

It haunts me, and frankly, I want it to haunt you

There are a lot of things that we come across in life, almost daily, in which we respond with the thought, “that would never happen to me,” or “I wouldn’t be able to go on if that happened to me,” or “I feel so horrible for the person who has to go through that.”

It’s one of those things that you shove far back across the top shelf without ever really touching again. It’s one of those things that doesn’t even really enter your mind again, because after all, there’s no way it could happen to you.

And then, it happens. One of those unimaginable things happens. And, it happens to you.

For me, that unimaginable thing came to me through a phone call. It was late. It was my dad’s voice. It was his tears.

He told me that my brother had died. And then, he told me that it was a heroin overdose.

After that, for the rest of my life, I knew that this was my thing – my unimaginable, my unbelievable, and my unbearable.

I’m here to tell you this story today, not for pity, but to raise awareness. Heroin use is becoming a larger and larger issue every day across the nation. The media is beginning to call it an epidemic. The headlines are inescapable.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported a recent skyrocketing increase in heroin overdoses, with the total number of deaths going from under 2,000 deaths in 2001 to around 11,000 deaths in 2014. That’s over an 80 percent increase in only 13 years. This is a problem that cannot be overlooked any longer.

My brother passed away on May 17, 2014. He was 31. He was one of those 11,000. He was part of this overwhelmingly horrific statistic. To me, though, he was so much more.

He was out drinking with his friends that night at a local bar in my town, clearly up to no good. I don’t really know what happened next or any of the in-betweens, and frankly, I don’t want to know.

What I do know is that someone that I used to call my “friend,” was possibly the one who sold him the drugs. I don’t know if this friend knew the damage he would be causing me hours after.

What I do know is that my brother’s “friend” dropped him off on the lawn of his apartment complex, in a near-death state, without calling the police. I don’t know if he could have been saved, but I wonder.

What I do know is that I had to hear the details of this “story” from my peers on Twitter and Facebook. I don’t know why the details had to be publicized and in such a negative connotation.

“Just another heroin overdose in Perkasie!” one tweet read. That one got me.

“Maybe now we can admit the problem?” another said. That got me too.

What I do know is that our society has an even deeper issue than drug use on our hands, and it’s with insensitivity. It’s something I wish we could quit and get treated for like a bad habit or addiction.

When people hear the word heroin, the words “trashy” or “lowlife” seem to come to mind. Their mind shoots to a place of poverty and impairment.

But, when I hear heroin, I think my brother. I think of the boy who was always annoying the crap out of my dad, but in the most loving way. I think of the boy who always made us laugh at dinner. I think of the boy who loved Tupac more than anyone I knew. I think of the boy who would message me about my One Direction obsession even though he didn’t really care. I think of the man who, even through his struggles, had the most genuine heart of anyone we knew.

Of course, my brother dealt with a lot of issues throughout his life, many that I’m sure I don’t even know about. I didn’t see him all that often. And, because of our age difference, we weren’t even really that close. That’s something I’ll always regret. The times I did have with him is something I will cherish.

But, a lot of the hurt that I feel from this tragedy is for my father. Losing a child is a pain like no other, and if I can’t handle the insensitivity of society, just imagine how he feels.

So, next time that you poke fun of heroin use, or “just another heroin overdose,” or any drug-related issue for that matter, I want you to think of my brother too. I want you to think of your brother or your sister or your best friend. I want you to think of something you lost.

Heroin use is not something that should be joked about at the dinner table, while hanging out in your college dorm with friends, or on your Facebook timeline.

Yet, I see it all the time. I hear it all the time. It’s a trigger word for me, so it’s not something I can just brush off. It haunts me, and frankly, I want it to haunt you.

What we need is for the public to stop talking about heroin as a punch line, and start talking about it as an issue that needs to be emphasized and treated. But, if we can’t talk about it in that way, it shouldn’t be talked about at all.

We all go through things. There are things that are hard for each and every one of us to hear, triggering a horrible memory from our past. Although not all of us have our thing yet – our epidemic – the chances are that some day we will.

For me, what I want is for you to get in the mindset that we can tackle the epidemic that we call heroin use, any substance abuse overall, and especially, the insensitivity that surrounds it.

Because, in the end, I never want any of you to have to deal with your unimaginable, your unbelievable, and your unbearable.

We miss you, Nathan. And dad, you’re the strongest man in the world.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a drug-related addiction, please seek help immediately. Talk to someone that you know and trust, before it’s too late.

There are many other informational sites and hotlines online for guidance. For instance, more information can be found by visiting this website or by calling ProjectKnow’s heroin abuse hotline at 1-888-287-0471.

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