Visiting my brother Pat’s grave on New Year’s Day, I wished for two things. First, for resolution, a sense of peace with Pat’s death. And second, for a sign from him that he would want me to continue the fight.
On both counts, I came away empty-handed.
As I mentioned in Oxy Watchdog’s most recent weekly newsletter (if you haven’t signed up already, you can do so by clicking the link below our video on the right), the end of 2012 saw signs of progress in the fight against prescription drug addiction. But the battle is far from over. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the feeling that all of this is just a drop in the bucket – that even with the wonderful efforts of advocacy organizations like the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse and Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids (to mention just two) and stellar investigative reporting from major media outlets like the Los Angeles Times and CNN, the addiction and deaths continue to mount. On average, one person dies every 19 minutes from an accidental prescription drug overdose, and heroin abuse is on the rise.
I get upset, too, when I receive accusatory emails from people who think Oxy Watchdog’s mission is to deprive pain sufferers of relief – or, even worse, from those who say that addicts like my brother deserved to die because they were worthless junkies. I’m all about broadening the discussion, but these types of arguments only muddy the waters, and I never respond to them. Anyone who loved Pat knows that he was so much more than his addiction. He was funny in a way that was so self-deprecating and silly that you couldn’t help but laugh. He loved adventure and skateboarding and music. He wrote little love notes to me and my sister on rolled-up pieces of torn lunch bags. I found one the other day: You are a goddess to me. I love you sooooooooo-times-infinity much!!! I will be your Bunny forever, even when I am 90 and you are 100. Anyone can tell that you are the most beautiful girl in the world. It made me so sad, to have such love gone from the world.
But I worry sometimes: would Pat want his story broadcast? I am doing so because I believe he deserves a legacy beyond his addiction. That he should be remembered; that he won’t be just another tragic and uncomfortable sidenote to be whispered about: Pat, the Daly kid who died of a heroin overdose. That his death will have some broader impact.
Who knows if any of this is possible? For now, I’m going to go with my gut feeling that if Pat were given the choice, he would tell me to keep going. I’m also taking a hint from people like Jodi Barber, who lost her son Jarrod and relentlessly spreads the word about painkiller addiction through her Overtaken documentary and by posting every new overdose death on her Facebook page, as well as Amy Graves of the Get Prescription Drugs Off the Streets blog, who recently wrote a beautiful post about the 656th day since losing her brother Josh, and why she continues the fight. And I’m going to remember that hope is possible; that I’ve seen it in the eyes of so many young people I’ve interviewed who have lived Pat’s life, and made it.
This year, I had to count: one, two, three, four New Years without Pat. I miss him deeply, but even in my mind, he is starting to fade. It’s the natural process of human grieving, I know, but it’s still a terrible feeling to know that my brother is slipping away.
My New Year’s resolution: to keep up the fight.
I think – hope – that Pat would want it that way.