Tell me the story of your child’s addiction.
Brady's addiction was very fast. And realistically, that was a lot like his lifestyle. Brady was an individual that was fast forward at all times. He would try to fit 26 hours of life into a 24 hour day. Seeing his addiction advance so quickly didn't surprise us. I remember when Brady first started his senior year in high school – he came to me and said that he wanted to follow in his big brother's footsteps and join the military. Brady was also academically sound. He was very smart, and so he was kind of torn. He didn't know if he should follow his brother's footsteps and join the military full time or whether he should go to college. I told him he should look into the National Guard because that way he could do both: he could serve his state and his country one weekend a month, a couple weeks out of a year.
So we contacted a local military recruiter. Brady scored so high on his test, which we knew he would, that they said if he agreed to join they would pay for 100% of his college. As a parent, you can imagine how thrilled we were with that idea.
Brady had it going on. Everything was clicking for him at the beginning of his senior year. But it didn't take long to notice that Brady started to change some of his friends. We started to see less of the church-going friends he was once really connected with, and we started to see some new faces. These new faces were kind of shady, you know, kind of sketchy individuals. As parents, we investigated some of these individuals just through word of mouth. We found out some of these kids were experimenting with marijuana. So we questioned Brady about it. He said he wasn't doing any of that. He said maybe the others were but they don't do it around him. At that particular time, I had so much trust and so much faith in Brady. I encouraged him to be careful because peer pressure can be horrible. I talked to Brady about the idea of using peer pressure on his friends in a positive way by encouraging them to go to church with him or do something else positive.
Then we started to see his grades start to slip a little bit, and he became more ornery. Nothing to where we wanted to push the panic button, but it raised a red flag. It was his senior year in high school, but Brady had given us really no reason to doubt anything. We started to watch his grades and started to climb on him a little bit about them. "Get it back going, Bud. Come on." Brady was very active in football, and it was football season. Brady was the starting running back. He was good. When we showed up to one of his Friday night games, we noticed that he wasn't playing. That was concerning to me as a father. I thought why in the world isn't Brady playing? I actually showed up kind of late and the game had already started. I thought, well maybe he rolled an ankle or something. I finally got Brady's attention. I said "What's going on? Why aren't you playing?" He said, "Oh Dad, I got in trouble at school today so the coach made me sit for the game.” My first thought was, “Good for the coach and enjoy your time on the bench. You got in trouble at school. The coach is stepping up even though you're a star player.” That was on Friday. The very next day, at about 10:00 a.m., I got a phone call from one of the coach’s assistants. We had actually been friends for a long time. He called me and he said "Dustin, I heard what Brady said to you last night about why he was sitting the bench. I got something I want to tell you. It's going to sting just a little bit." And I said "Sure, you know you can tell me anything. We've been friends for many years. What's going on?" He said the reason why Brady was sitting the bench was because he's been missing practice. And the rumor is, he's missing practice because he's getting high.
Brady was enrolled at an ICE program at school. So what that means is if your grades are good enough, you can leave school half day and go to work for the second half of the school day. And when school lets out, if you play any sports, you come back to school for practice. Well, what Brady was doing is he would leave half day, and instead of turning left and heading to work, he would turn right and go to one of his buddy's house. They would sit around getting high and be too high to come back to school for practice.
When I first heard that, my initial thought was ... like every parent really ... "Not my child. You must be talking about somebody else's child because my child does well in school. My child is going to college. My child is joining the military. My child goes to church."
So I said I'll get to the bottom of this. I'll fix this. That's what dads do – we fix things. Brady got home from football practice. I sat him down, and I said, "Tell me that the phone call that I just got isn't true. Tell me you're not willing to risk it all for some weed." And he was very honest with me. He said, "Dad, I'm sorry. I screwed up. I tried it. I didn't like it. It gave me a headache, and I got sick." And then he said the famous words: "Dad I promise I'll never do it again." As parents, we want to believe our children. Even though that gut instinct is telling us something else, we still want to believe our children.
There were some consequences. I think we took his vehicle away. I think we took his cell phone away as punishment. I knew that kids experiment and I hoped it would pass. I hoped it was just a speed bump and that we would get over it. A couple of weeks later Brady's boss called and asked if everything was okay with Brady. I said, "Yeah everything's fine. Why what's going on?" He's said, "Brady is not showing up for work." And I go, "What do you mean?" He said, "He's not showing up." I wondered where he's going. I know he's not coming home because we still have food in the refrigerator. You know how teenagers, especially boys, eat like horses.
So we decided to play 007. One day we spied on him. We followed him and sure enough, Brady led us right to his friend's house. And we walked in. They were getting high and smoking weed.
I was devastated. Here is this kid is who has everything, including a really bright future. And we're seeing him going down this other path that we know is a dead end. I said, "Brady, what about that promise you made me?" Brady's attitude started to change at that point. He started to get a little aggressive with me like, "Why are you making it a big deal Dad? It's just a little bit of weed. Just be thankful I'm not doing something else. It's just weed."
So we catch him again. Consequences are a little bit more severe this time. At that particular time I told him, "If I catch you again, I'm going to report you to the school. And not only am I going to let the school know that you're not going to work and the reason why, but I'm also going to report your friends." I didn't want to tell on my son, but I was trying to scare him straight for lack of better words.
Our house sits on a whole block and it's a circle. At one point we had taken Brady’s cell phone away and Brady's friends would drive around our block hoping that Brady would be outside. One day I was coming home and saw those kids circling our house. I followed them and they finally stopped and they started cussing me out. I said, "Look guys, I don't care what you are doing. It's not my business. Just stay away from my son.” You have to remember, at that time I was a ticked off parent trying to fight for my son. This one kid started talking about who his dad was and I said I didn't really care who his dad was and to just stay away from my son.
Sure enough, a couple of weeks later we catch Brady again. So I called the school and reported what Brady was doing and who he was doing it with. I was really upset emotionally because I knew what I had just done. But I also knew that my son was going down the wrong path. My son had been doing so well and then he made this immediate 90-degree turn to the negative. And I was trying to get this ship turned around. So here I was at home really upset. My wife was really upset. Once the word got out what I had done, we were hoping for some community support. But unfortunately we didn't get any of that. Instead, we got parents calling us saying, "I cannot believe you told on your own son. I can't believe that you told on my son. How dare you." Football season was over and now we were into wrestling season, so the kids got kicked off of the wrestling team and off of their spring sports as well. There were a lot of upset parents.
The very next day when I woke up, I told my wife, "I can guarantee you I'm going to go outside and I will have four flat tires." I went outside and nobody had touched my tires but they shot all my windows out of my vehicle. They broke into the vehicle and tore all the inside up. Registration, insurance information, ripped it all up. It was good old-fashioned street justice. And I was devastated. Brady was upset too, you know, because there is a certain line you don't cross. But the kids thought I crossed a line that I shouldn't have crossed. And I felt like they crossed a line by damaging another person's vehicle. It was pretty severe. So Brady was upset. And I thought “OK, we're done.” The kids gave me some street justice. We can move forward. But unfortunately that wasn't the end of it. From that point on, for the rest of Brady's senior year, I had to carry around a cardboard box in my truck. We have a pretty big yard and when I would get home, I would drive around our yard and pick up drug paraphernalia and empty beer cans that kids were throwing all over our yard. We would get that 2 o'clock in the morning phone call where the person on the other end of the line would say, "Hey narc. Are you awake?" You know, stuff like that. It was really taking a toll on our family. And the whole time, Brady was still using and we were still trying to figure out how to help him.
People who haven't been affected by a loved one's addiction don't understand how many little negative branches addiction causes. Here we were dealing with Brady still using, and now my marriage had a wedge in it. Brady's mother and I divorced when Brady was very young. She remarried. I remarried. So my wife, Brady’s stepmom, was saying if Brady couldn’t sober up, he had to go. It got to the point where my wife and I would argue so much over what Brady was doing or what was happening to us because of Brady's addiction, we would then go trying to find our youngest son Daigen. He was eight years old at the time and we would find him up in his bedroom upset, crying because mom and dad were hollering again. So there are those negative branches that addiction brings into your house.
We dealt with this through Brady’s senior year in high school. It just kept gradually getting worse and worse and worse. Finally it was almost graduation time. I sat Brady down and I said, "Bud, you're going to graduate. Your grades are good enough that you're going to graduate. And four weeks after you graduate, the military is going to come and pick you up. They're going to take you to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for your basic training. And when you get there you're going to have to pee in a little cup. And if you fail, not only are they going to kick you out of the military, they're not going to pay for your college." And I said, "Brady, are you really willing to risk all of that for some weed? Think about what you're risking here." And like before, he said, "I promise, Dad I'm done. I'm done." And this time I really felt Brady was more sincere about it. Some kids and adults experiment for a while and then ... it's just not for them. So ... they're out. And I thought maybe this has run its course and Brady has come to his senses and he's going to leave that behind.
Here are his military boots that he wore. They are a little scuffed up. He had been doing weekend drills. He had been doing several of those. He just hadn't gone to basic training but he had already signed.
Graduation day came. It was a great day. You remember how graduation was when you got your grandparents there and your aunts and uncles? And in front of everybody, they asked for Brady to stand up because he was the only one in his class who had signed up for the military. They made a special recognition and that was a proud moment for me ... and it was for Brady too because I could see that gleam in his eyes. And I thought OK, we're getting dialed back in here. I remember saying "Lord, just give me four more weeks.” I felt like I had Brady at a turning point. The military will come and take him to Oklahoma. They'll whip him into shape physically. They'll whip him into shape mentally. They'll bring him back. And this whole marijuana thing will just be a speed bump in our life, and we'll get back on track. Two weeks after he graduated is when I got that phone call that Brady had passed away from a prescription drug overdose. We missed that four weeks by two weeks.
It was exactly eight months from the day we found out that our son was smoking marijuana to the day we laid him in the ground. It happened that fast. A lot of families fight this thing for years and years. We didn't even have a fair fight in a roundabout way because we didn't know that prescription medicines were in in the game. We had no clue until we got that call that he was dead. Only eight months, eight months ... and it was over. And that's one of the things that these kids just don't understand is: once it grabs you, it's gotcha. Scientifically, there is proof that drugs change things in your brain. We know that. Why do we see parents choosing drugs over their kids? Day in and day out they lose their children because of addiction. They'll go to rehab, or prison, or both. And they come back and they get their children and they relapse again. Drug addiction is so strong. Someone who doesn’t know this would wonder why someone would risk it all. But we see this every single day. We see so many people who are successful in life who lose it all just so they can gamble, get high, etc. There are so many things out there that we don't understand. I think addiction is a chemical imbalance where wires get crossed, for lack of better words. And it's just so hard to get turned back around. You can give these individuals all the tools that they need to stay sober. But at the end of the day, it's up to them to use them. And if they choose not to use them, it's going to be a struggle.
You talked about community support. What would have been an ideal community response for your situation?
One of the things that I was particularly hoping for was a phone call from one community member whose son was also in the circle that Brady was in. This was the circle I was trying to pull Brady away from, and I was really hoping that person was going to call me and say, "We got your back. What should we do?" Or it would have been great if anyone could have called us and said, "I've been there as a parent and this is what we did. Here's a phone number for some resources." That's what I was looking for. Or just a friend saying, "We're here for you man. We're here for you. What do you need? What can we do to help?" Or a school staff member saying "What can we do?" But we didn't get any of that.
How is your child doing today?
Well, he passed away June 9th 2012.
This was the flag that was presented to us at his funeral. That was tough – receiving that bad boy.
When did you first realize you were dealing with a drug addiction problem?
We realized there was an issue during football season of Brady’s senior year in high school. We didn't know how big of an issue it was until we started to dig a little deeper and, realistically, it reared its ugly head for us. Looking back now, we saw sleeping patterns change, we saw eating habits change, we saw academics drop and we saw different friends. And as parents, you don't want to call a spade a spade especially when it's your son or your daughter.
During football season he would bulk up because he wanted to get strong and he would eat a lot. During wrestling he would want to drop weight, so he would stop eating. And that's how we justified his changing eating habits. And because Brady was so active in life, it wasn't uncommon for Brady to be bouncing around in his bedroom at all times of the night. We dealt with that since he was a little baby. We could easily justify his changing sleeping patterns. But looking back now, we saw all the signs but we refused to accept the fact of what those signs were. And that's one of the things that we tell parents: be prepared to get the call and be prepared to accept the call. I wasn't.
During all of this, what was your biggest fear?
Well, obviously we weren't capable of thinking Brady was going to overdose. That was never on our radar. So I can't say that was our biggest fear. Probably the biggest fear was he had such a bright future and he was on a path that was going to be a dead end. And my biggest fear was he wasn't going to go to college and that he was going to get kicked out of the military for using weed. My own addiction set me back probably 10 to 15 years. That was wasted time that I should have been dialing in on a career, on a savings account, on a home, etc. I was so behind the eight ball when I finally decided I had enough and that I was going to get sober. I'm 17 years in recovery for all of the above. My drug of choice was cocaine. Yeah ... it was a bad time.
So that was my biggest fear: that Brady was off to a great start, but that he was going to crash and burn and it could cost him a lot of years and a lot of financial heartache.
When you think back, was there anything that put your child at risk for drug addiction?
Drug education and prevention in our schools is something that is extremely needed. We're getting better, but if I look back to when I was in high school, we didn't have any prevention or any drug awareness. If we did, it was like the DARE program in elementary school. But when you cross into high school, all that stuff in elementary is forgotten about. Brady's generation didn't have a lot of drug awareness and education either. There was really no prevention. Every once in a while kids would hear about drinking and driving. But the kids didn't have the awareness they needed to be educated on how dangerous prescription medications really are. They didn't have the education on how you may start with marijuana, but it has a very good possibility of leading you into something else. And that's kind of a firestorm debate because people say marijuana is not a gateway drug. It was a gateway drug for me. This is the best way that I can explain it: when I was using marijuana, I would build enough street credit and trust among my marijuana smoking friends so they would invite me to one of their parties. And then at that party there may be somebody who has something a little stronger than marijuana. Maybe cocaine. Maybe hydrocodone. And they may say, “Look, if you’d like to smoke some weed, you ought to incorporate this other drug with your weed.” And then if I have a positive effect with getting high, it's got me. And I'm not saying that marijuana ever made me think, "I'm going to take some hydrocodone." It never made me think, "I want to go snort some cocaine now." But what it would do is lead me to a different higher-level group of individuals who would have other things to offer me. That's the gateway, if that makes sense. And in Brady's class, he didn't understand how dangerous the medicine was that he was abusing.
I'm not saying that if he was educated on it that the outcome would have been any different. We don't know. But I sure would like to rewind time and introduce him and his classmates to some hard-core education. Because realistically, some kids are going to experiment. And if we can educate them and help them understand, that's called harm reduction. If we can provide some harm reduction to these kids, it can save lives. So going back to the question, I think one of the things was there just wasn't enough education. And also there wasn't enough education for parents. Even though I struggled with addiction and I knew what led me there, I didn't have the education to help my son. It's one thing to be an addicted parent. It's another thing to be a sober parent who really loves and cares for your child. I had my blinders on. More education all the way around would have been great and would have helped.
Have you wondered whether you could have done something different as a parent to prevent your child’s addiction?
I could have been more observant. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, a lot of times it is a duck. Our youngest son is 17 now, and he gets so frustrated because if he goes out to Lafayette or if he goes out to a movie, we want to know who he's going with, we want to know who is driving, we want to know what movie he's going to go see and that he better be back in this house by such and such time. He gets so frustrated because we gave Brady a lot more freedom. But you can't take your guard down when it comes to your children. You just can't. My mom, as much as she loved me, was very liberal with me and she let her guard down. And I don't blame my addiction on her at all.
Has your child’s addiction affected how people treat you?
We work really hard through our organization to share drug prevention and awareness. In order to do that, I share our story about Brady. There have been some under the table back door comments of people saying everybody treats Brady like he's a martyr or a hero. So I know there are some people out there who have a negative outlook on this. They want to focus on how Brady died instead of on me trying to prevent their child from going down the same road. But overall, people appreciate and respect what I'm doing with our organization. It's not easy. And I think people sense that. If you come to one of my presentations, it's deep, man. We play the 911 call. People respect that. When you don't know what you're walking into and you hear the 911 call and you hear the rest of the story that goes along with it and people didn't realize they were going to hear any that, they kind of get it.
Remember earlier I said I was hoping to get a phone call from a community member after I told on Brady? I did get that phone call from him. It was maybe a few months too late, but I did get that phone call from him. He called after Brady passed and said, "I get it now man. Sorry. What can we do?" His son was engaged in the same activity. And basically he didn't want the community to know that his son was involved because of his professional role in the community. He was ticked off that I was making some noise. He said he wanted to deal with it all in-house. We have big golf outings and this guy became one of our biggest financial sponsors. His son still struggles with addiction to this day.
When things were really ugly and when we were getting a lot of phone calls and stuff was getting thrown out in our yard, my wife got an argument with one of the parents. That parent was so mad at me for telling on her son. And my wife said, "What's it going to take? Somebody to die before you guys freakin' wake up and see what's really going on?" She said that not knowing it was going to be our son. So ... it's a weird turn of events sometimes.
This is how we do our family pictures now. That's my oldest son. He's full-time military. That's my wife Jennifer, and that's our youngest son Daigen. We struggled with how we would do family pictures. We could not do family pictures minus one.
Couldn’t your child have made better decisions and not abused opioids? Was your child just weak-willed?
Yes. So ... boy that's a straightforward question, isn't it? Out of respect for every individual who struggles with addiction, I know they have it within them. They are not weak-willed. And they do have the power to overcome addiction, but it takes a lot of work. With Brady, he didn't know what kind of monster he was playing with. He didn't realize how dangerous it really was. He was just doing it to enjoy the high. If somebody had said, "Brady if you take one more of these pills, you will die." I feel confident my son wouldn't have taken that last pill. I feel confident about that, and I feel confident with all these other individuals that if someone said "If you stick this needle in your arm, right here, right now, you are going to overdose. We have no Narcan and we are out in the middle of nowhere. We have no cell phone. You will die." I feel confident that most of them would not do it at that particular time. I like to think that Brady had it within him. He just didn't know what he was playing with, because when the toxicology report came back, he had a lot of methadone in his system. And it was all time released. We think Brady would pop a pill and it wouldn't get him high enough, fast enough, so he would pop another pill. And that wouldn't get him high enough fast enough. So he would pop another pill. And by the time all of that medicine had fully opened up, it was too much for his system to handle.
Did you ever try shaming or punishing your child to make them stop?
Oh, most definitely. We took his car and his cell phone away. And I know that sounds cliché, but you take a cell phone away from a kid nowadays you might as well be cutting their arm off.
I don't know if I intentionally tried to shame him. I don't have that within me. It was extremely difficult for me to call the school and tell on him because I knew the repercussions at school. I knew what was coming. I did not realize how much my personal life would be affected. But I knew what was going to happen inside the school as far as Brady goes. I knew he was going to get kicked off the football team or the wrestling team and I knew it was going trickle into spring baseball. And Brady was a key player on both of those sports.
This is Brady’s high school letter jacket and all of his wrestling pans.
Did you ever feel ashamed or disgusted with your child?
I never felt ashamed of any of my children. Nor disgusted. But I did feel disappointed. I'm now very disappointed in some of the stuff that Brady was doing because we weren't raising him that way. And he was doing really well. So to see him crash and take that 90-degree turn was disappointing because that wasn't Brady.
Do you feel like your history and struggle with addiction helped you understand your son?
Yes, on certain levels. I knew personally what it was like to chase that high with cocaine especially. But I didn't know what Brady was doing until he was gone. I knew there was a whole marijuana thing. And I knew that there was a chance that he would start to experiment with different things. It was just a different parenting time for me, I guess. I had blinders on. And I didn't think he would overdose and die.
Parents in your position are often stuck between wanting to help their child and wanting to cut them off. Were you ever worried you were enabling the drug abuse by trying to support your child financially or providing meals or housing?
Maybe I enabled a little bit because I kept giving Brady another chance. But realistically, what else is there? It finally got to the point where we gave Brady an ultimatum because it was affecting our household so badly. Our marriage was starting to get a little rocky. It was affecting our youngest son. And finally I said, “Brady if you can’t stop man, you've got to go live with your mom because it's ruining our household.” And he left. He packed his bags and moved in with his mom, but she sent him back at some point. Shortly thereafter Brady turned 18 and started to spend a lot of time with one individual friend who was also a senior. I'm not trying to throw anybody under the bus, but I wasn't aware that Brady was staying somewhere other than his mom's house.
How many times did you give your child money and worry they were just using it for drugs?
As a parent, you always worry about that. I think it's safe to say that Brady probably used some of the gas money I gave him for weed. Or pills. He had a job. So it wasn't like I was giving him a lot of money. But I'm sure that I probably contributed to some of his purchases. And in the back of my mind, I probably thought that he might go buy some weed with it. But you have to fight through some of that. He needed gas money. And one of the agreements we had was if he kept a job, I'll make sure he had gas to get there. And ... I can't search his pockets all the time. I don't have a money detector to find out if he really has money in his pockets or under his mattress.
What happened or needs to happen to get your child into recovery?
Well again, it's really difficult for us because we had an 18-year-old boy who was smoking marijuana. Would it have been beneficial for me to spend fifty thousand dollars to put my son in a two-week in-and-out program for marijuana use and assume that it would stick? Statistically, the cards were stacked against us. That's why we didn't really make a big attempt to get our son into treatment. I went to treatment twice myself and failed both times and it cost my family a lot of money and insurance. I do regret a little bit of not putting Brady into an outpatient program.
What I learned in my sobriety was even though I went into two treatment facilities and relapsed on both of them, it planted a seed within me. I was getting educated on all of the tools that I needed to stay sober and they were all within me. So years later when I finally chose to get sober I was able to go "Now I get it." So now I'm going to use all of those tools that I have refused to use for all these years and put them to use. And by doing that, I stayed sober. I've been sober for 17 years. I would have liked to have introduced Brady to some sort of outpatient treatment, that way he could be getting some education and some knowledge and some tools so when he was ready somewhere down the road to use them, he would have had them.
Can you identify anything positive that has come from your experience with opioid addiction?
So, man, it took me about a year of stumbling through life after Brady passed away. I didn't know what I was doing. I had to retrain myself to get up and actually breathe. I know that sounds ... that's not the truth ... but obviously you know what I'm getting at ... that your world is never the same. Ever ever ever again. You just get up and pray and hope you don't hear Brady's favorite song on the radio that day, pray and hope that when you walk by his room that you don't smell something – like that favorite cologne that's still on his dresser. I dealt with that for a year and we still do deal with it but we are now able to see some of the emotional storms coming and we know how to prepare for them. But for the first year or so, you don't know, you're at the mercy of the emotions.
Once I started learning about the statistics, I became very frustrated. I was seeing the overdose death numbers continue to rise. And I thought “What in the world is going on?” So I decided to do something about it. I didn't know where it was going to lead me, but the more that I got educated and the more I dug into it, the more I realized we have a serious problem here and nobody is talking about it. Pharmaceutical companies have all this money to keep everybody's mouths shut and the doctors are not going to say anything about it because they don't want to admit any wrongdoing. So I decided to get in there and do something. I have spoken to thousands of kids over the years, different high schools, youth groups and parent groups. With what I do and with everything drug awareness organizations do, it's not a thankless position. But you really don't know what kind of impact you're making. What I get in comfort is every time I go to school and do a presentation, I always make sure that I leave enough time at the end. Because the school always says you have 45 minutes and not one second over. So I always cut it short at least 10 to 15 minutes and tell the kids if they have a story they want to share with me or any of our volunteers, we're giving them enough time to come up and share and talk with us. If they want to pray, we'll pray with them. After every presentation, kids will come up and they will share their story. Some of them cry. These are devastating stories, like my mom's in prison and I'm living in a foster home right now. They might have been waiting for an opportunity to share that story with somebody and they felt comfortable enough with me, a stranger, that they came and shared that story.
I have a state certification now. I'm a certified recovery specialist. So I get to work on a quick response team. Anybody who has overdosed in the past 48 hours, we get to them and inform them of all the resources available. We give them or their family members Narcan. We exchange their dirty needles for clean needles. And I know that's a firestorm debate, but what a lot of people don't understand is dirty needles are very dangerous. So through the ashes, we've been able to do some positive things.
What are you doing to cope?
I enjoy helping others and doing my presentations. I get no satisfaction or joy out of sharing how my son passed away. We're creeping up on seven years now. It's like opening an old wound, every single time. But everybody grieves differently. I'm out there sharing my story. I'm trying to help somebody in some way. That helps me through my grieving journey. And if I can get somebody into rehab through our quick response team, that helps me.
What do you do every day to cope in a healthy way so you don't turn back to drugs?
You know ... I just don't have the urge for it anymore. I think I finally have reached the point where I am mature enough. I just don't have the urge to do those things anymore. There are times when,for example,Brady's birthday is April 12th. I know that day's coming. And that's the hardest day of the year for me. It's not the holidays because during the holidays, Brady shared Christmas with his whole family. Brady shared Thanksgiving and Easter with his whole family. But on his birthday, that's his special day. He didn't have to share that day with anybody. So his birthday is the toughest for me. The way I cope with that day coming is I get up. I go to work. And I push through it. And I go to work because if I sit idle, I sort of think too much in-depth. So I have to stay busy. But I'm never afraid to cry. I'm never afraid to cry. And when a song comes on that Brady loved or a song comes on that didn't even exist when Brady was alive but to me it reflects my son in some way, I have to decide in a split second whether am I going to turn the channel or listen to that song and cry and remember my child. Sometimes I do both. Sometimes I'm not in the mood to deal with it so I turn that channel. But then there are other times that I want to feel Brady emotionally. So I sit there, and I listen to it, and I cry. And that helps me. It helps me feel close to my son again. I talk to Brady every single day before I go to bed. I'm a prayer. I pray. Every night. I've done it from day one. And even though Brady is no longer with us on earth, I still pray as if he was. It's been all these years, and I still include him. After I say my Amens, I always say "Good night, Brady. I love you." I feel like he's still here spiritually. I believe that. And some people don't. That’s what I need to do.
I didn't want a rubber bracelet. I wanted something that nobody else had.
I wanted my own thing.
How are you doing today?
Pretty good. On the quick response team that I'm on, we have mandatory supervision meetings. And in those meetings we talk just one on one like you and I are doing. It gives me an opportunity to really share my emotions. These meetings are to help those of us on the quick response team process things like a bad call or talk about something we said that could have been unethical. It is also an opportunity to just talk. I like it. I do like it. But sometimes I'm not in the mood. I think we all can relate to that. I don't think that's an unfair feeling to have. But being here with you today is great.
Do you have any advice for parents currently trying to help their child deal with opioid addiction?
Never give up. Never give up. It will not be easy. You will struggle with enabling. You will struggle in your marriage. You will struggle with your other children. You will struggle financially. But never give up because that's what the enemy wants. The enemy wants you to quit and give up. Now having said that, I do believe we need some boundaries and have to draw a line in the sand. There is a fine line of never giving up and drawing that line in the sand. And where is that for my family? Might be different from where it is for your family. When your child reaches out to you and says I'm ready for help, you help them. And the more experienced you are, the better you will know what kind of help to provide them. If we were to help every person who says they need help, we would be a bankrupt family because addiction is expensive. A lot of times people will say they want help, but they don't want help. They will say I'm ready for help just as long as the court is off their back. And as soon as that cloud is gone, they start using again. You have got to remember that some families deal with this for five, six, seven, eight, nine years.
You cannot send somebody to a hundred thousand dollar treatment facility for 30 or 60 days and then have them come back home and run in with the same crew and expect good things to happen. It just doesn't work that way. But mom and dad have a career right here in this one town and you have lived there your whole life. When they get out and come back to their old friends, what are you going to do? Are you going to sell your home, quit your jobs and move five hours away just so they don't hang out with those friends? And then what are you going to do when you move five hours away and they're not ready to sober up? And they go find some new using friends. Then you're back to square one again.
So that's why it's important to get educated and understand the tricks of the trade. When they say you have to change your lifestyle, that is very true. But for so many people it's just not that easy. Understand what's really going on. And then start working your resources. Find out what your community has available. Find out what the surrounding communities have. Find out what the state has available. And don't be afraid to find out what other states have available. We have seen a lot of success in individuals who may live in Indiana but they're going to a treatment facility out California and they're not coming home anytime soon. They're going to stay out there as long as they want to if they really want help and not come home for a couple years. We have seen a lot of success doing that. We've seen some failures too. But don't give up. And it's going be a long, long, hard road.
What advice can you give to parents of younger children so they can help their kids avoid opioid addiction?
Know before you go take your child to the dentist or to the doctor. If that dentist wants to give your child some liquid hydrocodone – no. Absolutely not. If you just got your teeth pulled, you’re going to hurt. Take some Ibuprofen and hang in there. Sometimes if a child is given liquid hydrocodone, everything could be fine. But some children may go in there and things may not be fine. The child may really like how that feels.
Don't be afraid to talk to your children. If they are going into high school next year, talk to them about what they may be exposed to. Sit down as a family and watch videos and get educated about drugs. Let them know you're not saying they're going to fall victim to this, but that you want them to get educated so if this scenario happens, they'll be aware and may understand what's going on. How many times have we heard stories of young ladies who are on spring break or they're on a college campus and somebody drops a little surprise in their drink? Before you know it, bad things are happening. At our school we send out spring break safety tips and one of the safety tips is to never leave your drink unattended. We get some backlash. Some people say we are encouraging kids to drink. And we say no we're not. We are being realistic. We know that a lot of kids are going to drink when they go to college or spring break. What we're trying to do is prevent this from happening. It could be a glass of tea. It could be a root beer. It could be anything. Don't leave it unattended. If you need to go to the bathroom, take that drink with you.
We need to be realistic. Kids go to spring break. A lot of them drink. We want them to come home. We want them to be safe while they're there. And so let's talk to them. We can do it in a professional way. We can do it in a gentle way. These kids aren't stupid. So that's what I would say – prevention education all day long.
Can you recommend a couple good video links that parents should show to their kids?
“When You Say Nothing” and “RX To Heroin". Those are very good educational videos. The National Safety Council has some opioid education videos as well. You can go to www.bitterpill.org in Indiana and they also have educational videos. A lot of them are 30 seconds, which is great.
List two things you think need to happen that will help put an end to the opioid crisis.
Well, that's the million-dollar question. I'm a big believer in prevention and education. Here's why I say that: we're going to see a decline in overdoses in the next two to three years. And the reason why is because if you look at the age range of individuals who are really struggling in the overdose world – people in their late 20s all the way up to their early 40s – we see a lot of deaths in this age range. The group with the next highest number of deaths is college kids and high school kids. Those are the individuals who were in the uneducated generations. The kids in high schools right now, they know. They are educated on heroin. They are tired of seeing their neighbors die. Or maybe it was their mom who died. Or maybe it was their sibling who died. Or maybe dad is in prison and they're in foster care now. That’s where that change is going to take place. Heroin will see a turnaround. Now granted, we're still going to see some new users. I get that. But these kids nowadays,they're not into depressants. They're not into heroin. Cocaine is making a big comeback. Meth has never gone away. One of the things that we're going to see is overprescribed mental health prescriptions. We're going to see a lot of kids being overprescribed antidepressants. Suicide rates are increasing rapidly and you're going to continue to see that. But you'll see a decline in overdoses within a few years.
So I would say continue to work on prevention and education and make sure these kids know what's out there. And I wouldn't be afraid to crack down on the criminal aspect of things too. For every three people who say jail is not the answer, I can find you three people who say jail is what got them sober. So I'm not afraid of a three-strike or four-strike policy, whatever the case may be. I don't have the answer on how many chances these individuals get. I think it varies on a case-to-case base. But a lot of these individuals have lost everything other than their freedom. They've lost their career. They've lost their marriage. They've lost their house. They've lost their children and they still are using. So maybe they should have a taste of losing their freedom as well. And it is not because we want to treat them as criminals. Also, we need to do a better job incorporating mental health and addiction into our system and jails and prisons. We just don't have it at the level we need. I think jails and prisons are doing a little bit better incorporating some of that in there. But we're a long way away from it. We need to tie those two things together.
Why do you want to remain anonymous and not have your picture connected with your interview? Why do you want to have your image connected with your interview?
I'm not afraid. I'm a voice and I have nothing to be ashamed of. I'm out on the front lines fighting for Brady, because I feel like if he would have survived his overdose, he would be the one doing the presentations, not me. So I'm his voice now. And I'm doing it for your children I've never met. I'm doing it for other children that I've never met and their families. We have to have soldiers in the trenches. So I'm not afraid to have my name and my face out there.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
A lot of times where parents will say "I don't know how you do it." And I'll look at them and I'll say "I don't know how you have done it because your son has been in prison more than once and he has stolen everything that he could from you guys. We didn't have to deal with any of that.” So my heart goes out to these families who have dealt with their loved ones’ addiction for years and years and years and all of the negative stuff that comes along with it.
How is your marriage?
Good. We struggled. We went through counseling. We have a very close friend of mine who is a preacher. After Brady passed, he said to be prepared for the enemy to try to destroy your marriage through your son's death. And he was right. We got to a point where I would say to my wife "Well, if you wouldn't have said that, maybe he wouldn't have ..." Or "If you wouldn't have done this ..." You know, the blame game. But luckily we were educated and somebody told us this storm would probably come. And when it did, don't be afraid to see it and then fight it. As soon as we started to see it, we took a step back and could recognize what was going on.