Leading up to today, I wasn't sure I wanted to write something like this. I wanted to avoid reliving some of the things that happened in the past. But on this morning of April 28th, something moved me to change my mind. I woke up and felt it was right to keep my brothers name alive. Afterall, "so long as they speak your name, you shall never die". So today, I will speak my brothers name and hope everyone who reads this will do the same.
The story begins on a Sunday two years ago. I was waiting for a childhood friend to arrive at the gym I was working at. He was training for an adventure race and needed a little guidance. I saw I had a missed call from my mother and listened to the voicemail. As I listened to the message, I knew something was not right. I felt it in my heart. My mind went immediately to my brother. I decided to call her back while I was waiting and heard these terrible words: "he's gone Chris. Ryan is gone". My older brother was found dead at the age of 29. The cause: apparent drug overdose.
Prior to his last few years on this earth, my brother had it going on. He received a teaching degree from Penn State University, was coaching wrestling at Saucon Valley, and he knew how to work a room. He was a great coach and teacher. Things were trending in the right direction and people in this small town were impressed. Unfortunately, white, middle class, rural towns like the one I grew up in are Ground Zero for the heroin epidemic. When did this happen...
Back in 1996 Purdue Pharmaceuticals released information on a new pill used to relieve pain. It was called OxyContin. Along with the release of this new "medicine" was a false proclamation that less than 1% of those prescribed this drug became addicted. In 1996, OxyContin generated 45 million dollars in revenue. In 2010, the drug generated 3.1 billion dollars. Hospitals over this time period were judged based on their pain scores. One doctor went as far as saying, "we started handing out pills like crazy". As time progressed, research proved that this drug was more addictive than initially thought. There was a crackdown on prescribing this drug. Those who were dependent now how to look elsewhere for the drug. Enter heroin.
Addiction is- more often than not- totally misunderstood. In our culture, there is a stigma and judgment cast upon those who struggle with substance abuse. I ask of you, before casting judgment imagine their despair. Imagine what it must feel like to believe there is no option. How can we expect people who struggle to step forward and ask for help when they feel misunderstood and shamed? Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. For those who have to watch a loved one go through this, it is one of the saddest things in the world. These are people that we love, after all. They need an environment of support, tolerance, and understanding. Every addict is a human being, a completely redeemable human being. Not everyone has to suffer the same fate.
For those readers who may think that this topic will never touch their life- I ask you to think again. When most of us drink our first beer or puff on our first joint, none of us imagine that we might be taking the first step in a journey that will lead us to a life of pain, despair, shame, and hopelessness. Nobody starts out with shooting heroin. It might be alcohol, the marijuana, then some pills, and before you know it, you find yourself exploring other drugs to satisfy your need. I know for a fact that when I drank for the first time, that thought never crossed my mind. And I am pretty damn sure it never crossed my brother’s mind either.
Ryan was one person who was always proud of me. I wish he was still around to see his younger brother as a business owner. He would have loved. Since his passing, there has not been a day where he wasn't the first thing I thought about in the morning. I miss him like crazy. He will always be remembered for the things we did together. The sports we played together. The fights we got ourselves into. The rap music we loved and listened to. And most of all, the time we spent together coaching wrestling.