Losing a Loved One to addiction
By CHAI GALLAHUN
Oct 31, 2017, 08:26
Braxton Collier, who had his own, very personal experience with the opiate crisis and a loved one, shares his story at the summit.
A Regional Heroin and Opiate Summit: Act III revealed the challenges of losing a loved one to addiction. Many area residents and local law enforcement agents attended the profound event that focused attention on a national, state and local crisis that has been affecting more families than ever before: heroin and opiate addiction and overdose.
The event, also hosted by Colonial Heights’ Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and Public Schools, featured guest speaker Braxton Collier, who had his own, very personal experience with the opiate crisis and a loved one.
The context in which Collier had his experiences are the following. There were 1,420 drug-related deaths in Virginia in 2016. Of these, 1,133 were related to opioids; 810 specifically tied to fentanyl and/or heroin use. Drug overdoses have become the number one cause of unnatural deaths in Virginia, surpassing motor vehicle and gun-related deaths -combined- according to the Office of the Medical Examiner. The crisis is nationwide and knows no boundaries in regard to gender, age, race or socioeconomic status. That means that it is prevalent everywhere and can affect anyone no matter where they live, how successful they are, or what they look like.
Under dim auditorium lights, Collier, a native of Richmond, began by describing how he and his wife had two children who went to public schools and had a typical good, old-fashioned “Leave it to Beaver” kind of household. He explained that both sons graduated high school and then college. “We thought that we had arrived, and we thought that we had made it,” said Collier. But, those thoughts would soon be weighed by the unveiling a grim reality.
The younger son, who was roommates with his oldest son, told Collier something terrible. “Steve, is addicted to cocaine.”
“I absolutely blew a gasket,” recalled Collier. “My son is not going to be a drug addict.” They went to his sons’ residence and discovered him strung-out on the bed.
Collier said, “The biggest problem I had was that I couldn’t tell anybody. Everybody was going to say, ‘What did you do wrong?’” He explained that he, too, believed every bit of that. “That if you did drugs, you came from the wrong family. I was that uneducated. So, for four years, I kept my mouth shut. All I did, was to run around and fix problems.” Collier thought, I can fix this problem if that kid would just listen to me.
“It was tearing us up inside. I couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. I went to N.A. meetings with him and rehab with him. I thought I could fix the problem,” said Collier.
He continued, saying that they went from a family who loved the Holidays to dreading them. One December, his addicted son had a car accident while attempting to buy drugs. Collier let his son borrow his car, driving it back to his home. He then gave the car to the son, who ended up selling it for more drugs.
Later, his own son called him on the phone, out of control, and yelled and screamed at him, saying that all of his problems were caused by his mother and father. Collier said that he remained calm during the tirade, and said, “Okay, it’s my turn. When I hang this phone up, you are never, ever to call me again, your mother or your brother. You forget who we are, where you came from. I want nothing to do with you. I don’t know who you are.” With that, he hung up the phone, explaining that his son was “crazy on drugs, and he wasn’t raised that way.”
The phone rang again, and it was his son. “Dad, I give up,” said his son. “Will you come get me?”
Collier then drove from Richmond to Columbia, South Carolina, without stopping, to retrieve his son. As he drove back to Richmond with his son and a truckload of belongings, all that remained of his son’s once-successful career and life, Collier said he finally realized that the circumstances were not his own fault.
“It was the drugs,” said Collier. “It was the addiction. It was a disease.”
Once home, he dropped-off at a rehab mission for treatment. All was well for 45 days until his son just walked out. Three days later, his son called Collier, stating that he had not left the mission in order to use drugs again, but that the place was just not for him. He said he’d found a new treatment mission in Baltimore, Maryland.
During the 12-month program, Collier’s son regularly wrote letters. Collier began to recognize his son had regained his former, drug-free self. “I still have those letters today. Those letters were not the son that was on drugs. He did really well there. He stayed for the whole program and he graduated. I was very proud.”
“He stayed clean for about five years,” said Collier. And, after a brief pause of consideration, continued, “At least I think that he stayed clean.” He then explained that his son was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which prevented his son from doing his job which involved climbing telephone polls to conduct repairs.
Collier said, “That was the excuse, and I mean excuse because that’s all it was... For him to relapse.”
“Cocaine and crack can destroy your teeth, and it did his,” said Collier. He explained that his son began going to a dentist. To his dismay, he learned that his son was getting oxycontin from several doctors to deal with dental pain. As time passed, his son was strung-out again. “It was just up and down,” said Collier. “Up and down.”
Collier explained that once his son could not acquire opiates in pill form anymore, that his son began getting them in injectable form and started using needles, something his son swore that he would never do.
“All of this ended on September 8th, 2014,” stated Collier. “That’s when my son, after 15 months of being clean and sober, and the child that I raised... The disease called, and he went again. And, this time it took his life.”
Collier is convinced that his son’s heroin was laced with fentanyl, a drug that is 50 times more powerful than heroin. “And then you have carfentanil, which is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl. We are living in a society that is in serious, serious trouble, folks. And, I hate to pick on the politicians, but all they do is talk.”
“The leading cause of death in people under 50 years of age is overdose from addiction,” stated Collier. “To me, it’s no different than heart disease, diabetes, cancer. It’s a disease, a proven disease, and we need to treat it like a disease.”
He continued, “A few years ago they were concerned about the Zika virus. The government authorized almost a billion dollars to handle the Zika virus. One person died in this country.” Collier emphasized: “One person.”
“We are losing 140 people a day to overdose addiction. 140 people a day,” said Collier. “That is staggering.”
“This disease does not recognize W-2 forms, college degrees. It does not care. It makes no difference who you are,” said Collier.
He concluded by saying, “Until we stand up and say enough is enough, it’s going to continue to take our children from us.” He suggested that the public educate itself about addiction, and applauded Colonial Heights for conducting such a platform to help educate the public.