Monday, August 05, 2019

My brother Darrin ~ my column from Sunday's paper

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.


  1. Oh my. I am so sorry to hear about your brother. This is not the first one like this I have heard.

  2. I feel for you guys. I lost a nephew the same way. Yes it is an epidemic and if a family hasn't been touched they are blessed and fortunate. An article that needs to be shared.
    Somethings never go away, they are welded into your mind.
    Sherry & jack

  3. Rick, your article is a valuable one. So many medicines, opioids certainly but other prescribed sedatives --short-acting benzodiazepines-- as well, can produce miserable withdrawal symptoms. It's up to patients to learn about drugs they take, and the best ways to titrate off them when no longer needed. I hope your heartfelt cautionary message reaches a lot of people.

  4. I am so sorry. And how I wish that your brother's pain, and your families pain was rare.

  5. Sad. The solution has to come from within. No outer teachings for adults can change things. Kids have to be educated in a way that strenghtens their will power. When my father was told he had to give up smoking he just did that the next day - no moanings, no fuss, no crisis. A matter of education.

  6. Heartbreaking! I don't suppose y'all get WSFA (TV 12) up there? Their chief meteorologist, Josh Johnson, also lost his younger brother to opioids; and devotes much of his free time travelling around and speaking at schools and youth organizations.

  7. It is such a sad story. And all too common. If opioids need to be prescribed the medical professionals need to watch more closely to make sure the patient doesn't become addicted or if he does they should try to help them stop being dependent. I know addicts can be good at hiding the addiction but saving one soul would help.

  8. This is a very sad story and my heart goes out to you and your family but especially your mother who must have been beside herself and carried this heaviness with her. So many start an addiction due to an injury and then the meds take hold.

  9. A very sad but too common story, unfortunately. Drug addiction is not only found in the young but also in older people of every profession, lawyers, doctors, nurses, police, bankers, even in the clergy, you name it.
    It's a tough thing for a family to go through. I'm sorry for your loss, Rick.
    Hugs, Julia


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