Fentanyl: it’s what starts my story, but it is also what stopped my brother’s life. My beautiful brother, James, lost his battle with substance use disorder in August of 2019 at the age of 28 with a pure, deadly dose of Fentanyl.
You see, my brother wasn’t just a sibling–he was my best friend. He was younger than me by 3 years to the day. We grew up incredibly close, creating the most amazing memories that I now cherish so deeply. As James grew, he found himself at odds with his mental health and life circumstances.
Through this, his substance use disorder began. James was in and out of treatment for over 10 years–he went so many times, I eventually lost track.
Detoxes, treatment centers, sober homes, halfway homes–he found them all. I just wish I knew then what I know now. I once thought the treatment system he faced was normal and I quickly learned how wrong I was.
James felt, as a person with substance use disorder, that he was looked at, talked about, judged, and not given the opportunity that others were given. He saw it clearly. You see, the stigma of this disease is so much greater than I knew. This stigma is just as damaging to the body as the substances are. It pains me to think of how he felt day in and day out.
Sure, there were a lot of bad days but there were a ton of good days. He was so full of love. He would do anything for anyone, he would give the best advice and, best of all, make everyone laugh. He had a smile you cannot forget. In August of 2019, the smiles all came crashing down, the world stopped spinning, life froze in the split second I received the phone call that I cannot forget.
Fentanyl stopped every possibility he dreamt of. Fentanyl stopped a father’s relationship with his sweet little girls. Fentanyl stopped his chance of recovery. Fentanyl stopped a normal family dinner. Fentanyl stopped James, a human, a person with substance use disorder, a son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew, a friend, a boyfriend, and a father. It took my brother’s death from fentanyl to dive further into addiction and understand what on earth just happened to him.
I came to understand that addiction is a complicated medical condition with immense shame. James felt like other people judged him for a disease he had no control over.
In some ways, the stigma he felt was just as harmful as the substances he took. It pains me to think about how alone he must have felt.
My first sentence says how it began my story, although I wish it was under other circumstances, I have made a promise to myself and him that although fentanyl stopped James’s life, I refuse to give it the power to end his story.