Our family opioid story

Posted 8/4/19

Newspapers, broadcasts, and social media have been throbbing with stories about the opioid epidemic these last few weeks. A common sentiment is that it’s tragic. My family felt the tragedy …

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Our family opioid story

Posted

Newspapers, broadcasts, and social media have been throbbing with stories about the opioid epidemic these last few weeks. A common sentiment is that it’s tragic.

My family felt the tragedy first-hand. My brother Darrin died of liver failure. His decline began with an addiction to opioids. He was 35 years old.

In the beginning, the pills he took were legal. A freak storm covered Atlanta with a sheet of ice. Darrin slipped on a sidewalk and injured his back, and the pain was unbearable.

His doctor prescribed pain meds, which helped him sleep at night. The injury was one that was tricky. By the time his injury healed, he was hooked.

During the following years, Darrin didn’t get home to Alabama much. He was always busy at work or money was tight. I think he was keeping his family at a distance because of his addiction.

When he did come home, he seemed different. I knew without asking that something in his life had changed.

When doctors stopped refilling his prescription, he managed to find pills on the street. 

When he couldn’t find pills or didn’t have the money to buy them, he took Tylenol. Darrin told Jilda during one conversation that he took over-the-counter pills by the handful. 

He lost his job in Atlanta. The details were sketchy. He called me for help, so Jilda and I drove to Atlanta. We gave him some money and helped him load his belongings into a U-Haul. 

Darrin had a friend who lived in Houston and he promised that jobs were plentiful. “I’ll get a job, and things will get better,” Darrin said.

As he drove away that day, I had a sinking feeling that came over me like a shadow. It felt like I was losing my baby brother.

For a time, things did seem to be better. He drove home for Christmas and a few other holidays during this time. He and his friend stayed at our house. It was his safe place.

He knew neither Jilda nor I would judge him. 

Each time I saw him over the following few years, he was thin as a reed, and his face was gaunt. He’d also contracted hepatitis. 

One evening, his roommate called to say that Darrin had been admitted to the hospital and he was in bad shape. I drove my mom and sisters to Houston. 

When mother saw Darrin in that hospital bed, she wept. We stayed in Houston for a few days until his condition improved. 

Mother cried for most of the trip home. I remember her saying, “I won’t ever see Darrin alive again.” She didn’t.

The hospital released him into a halfway house in Houston. It was like a live-in hospice. I tried to convince Darrin to move home, but I believe he was at a point in his life that he didn’t want to be a burden to his family. 

He was dying because of the decisions he’d made in his life. Deep down, I think he understood that.

A few months later, Jilda and I drove to Houston to visit him in his new digs. He was weak but sounded upbeat. When I think back, the people who cared for my brother during the last days of his life were more than kind; they were saints.

In November 2000, the halfway house called and said that Darrin was fading. Jilda and I packed quickly. I was topping off the tank of my car getting ready to head west when my cell phone rang. It was too late.

Darrin’s death made me acutely aware of the opioid problem. “Died in his/her residence,” became a common phrase on the obit page of the paper.  I know for a fact that many of these deaths were accidental overdoses of prescription drugs. 

Almost every family I know has been affected by this crisis. I don’t have the answers to this problem, but I think we can all agree it is time to work toward a solution.

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book, "Life Goes On," is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at rick@rickwatson-writer.com.