Updated: Mar 6
By Brian's father, Gary
New York City, New York
My son, Brian, was a loving child, full of smiles and light. Like so many children, as he entered his teenage years, Brian tried marijuana. And like far too many, this led to experimentation with drugs to which he became addicted. For almost ten years, Brian battled the disease of addiction and struggled through its cycle of shame, isolation and failure. During that same time, my family and I were also fighting to navigate the complex and confusing web of treatment programs and therapies. If you know someone who has struggled with addiction, you know all too well the pain and anguish of watching a loved one in the clutches of this disease.
Through it all, Brian remained loving and compassionate, and expressed that no one should have
to suffer through this devastating disease. During a visit home in the summer of 2011, Brian and I were sitting on the back porch one night when he spoke to me about the stigma of addiction and the shame he felt:
Dad, 300 years ago they burned women on stakes in Salem, Massachusetts because they thought they were witches. Later they learned they weren’t and stopped. Someday, people will realize that I have a disease and that I am trying my hardest.
This turned out to be my son’s last visit home. Four months later, in the middle of the night on October 20, 2011, I got the call that is every parent’s worst nightmare. Brian was dead.
Brian's passing was, and continues to be, excruciatingly painful. Perhaps just as tragic is the fact that it was not just the physical addiction that claimed my son’s life, but the shame that he felt every morning when he opened his eyes and felt the weight of this disease. That same shame led him to wake up that morning in October, research suicide notes online, light a candle and take his own life. He died alone.
In the aftermath of Brian’s death, I struggled to make sense of what had happened. After months of research and reflection, four facts continue to haunt me:
Brian died of a disease that afflicts more than 22 million Americans every day, as well as tens of millions of family members that love them. That’s one quarter of American families. Over 370 people die every day from addiction related causes, shattering countless lives. Like Brian, the majority of those addicted (nearly 8 out of 10) develop this disease before they turn 18, while their brains are still developing. We, as a society, are not protecting our children when they are most vulnerable to becoming addicted and unable to protect themselves.
Evidence-based methodologies exist that could have saved Brian and countless others like him, but it is not being implemented in our communities and schools.
For every major disease in this country except addiction there is a well-funded national organization devoted to funding the development and implementation of prevention and treatment protocols, changing public policies and supporting families as they navigate trying times.
Disquieted by this information, and inspired by Brian’s compassion, I made a promise to my son to work to spare others of this tragedy. From this promise emerged a vision to unite millions of Americans within one organization, Shatterproof, and to empower them to create change.
Shatterproof has an ambitious mission with measurable goals to dramatically reduce the societal cost of addiction. Changing a country’s consciousness will not be easy, but together we will build a national organization that will treat addiction like the chronic disease it is, offering evidence-based and tangible resources for prevention, treatment and recovery. It will foster tolerance and compassion, and dismantle the discrimination and judgment associated with this non-discriminating, devastating disease.
Please visit http://www.shatterproof.org/ to learn more.