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After the Tragedy: Moving On

Randy's Story
by Rod Colvin

This was Randy's last Christmas.
He died the next October.

I wrapped my gift and left it on the kitchen table. As I headed to work, I casually pondered which restaurant to take my brother Randy to. The upcoming evening was to be one of celebration. Not only had Randy just completed his college degree in business, but today he was turning thirty-five. A birthday dinner was definitely in order. But around noon, I got a telephone call at my office. It was a nurse from nearby Methodist Hospital.

“Are you the brother of Randy Colvin?” she asked after identifying hereself.

“Yes,” I said, as my head began to spin.

“Your brother has been brought in by a rescue squad ... he's in critical condition.”

Terrified, I jumped in the car and sped toward the hospital. “God, please don't take my brother,” I prayed aloud as I raced toward the hospital. Minutes later, I was in the emergency room frantically scanning the bay of beds, looking for Randy.

Just then, a nurse approached me and asked, “Are you Randy's brother?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Let’s step out into the hall,” she said.

And at that moment, I knew the worst had happened. “Is he dead,” I asked, not wanting to hear her response. The nurse dropped her gaze and nodded. Randy was gone.

The death of my brother—and only sibling—was one of the most profound losses of my life, but I must tell you, his early passing was not a total shock. For years, Randy had battled  prescription drug dependency that started at age twenty when a psychiatrist first prescribed tranquilizers to help him cope with anxiety. The drugs made him feel good, so he started using them more and more. He obtained Valium, Xanax, Percodan, Percocet, and other painkillers by a common scam known as "doctor shopping;” he would feign back or tooth pain and visit multiple doctors. He had also learned that on weekends, he could go to hospital emergency rooms, where it was easier to go unnoticed in the whirl of activity. There, he could ask for painkillers with the excuse that his family was doctor not available.

My parents and I had long feared the toll this behavior was taking on him emotionally and physically. It was so painful for us to watch his bouts with addiction and refusal to get help. He ruined many holidays, including Christmas dinners, showing up “drunk” on pills. Repeatedly, we had pleaded with Randy to get help—even offered to pay for treatment—but he always denied that he had a problem. Any suggestion that he had a drug problem angered him.

Still, at times over the years, he appeared to be leaving the drugs behind—he would be clear-headed and showed no signs of abusing drugs. He even enrolled in college. Each time we observed such positive changes,  we thought he had beaten the problem. In fact, just before he died, he had been drug free for nearly a year. It was a sure sign, we thought, that addiction was part of his past. However, as I later pieced together the last hours of his life, I learned that he had relapsed—prescription drugs, mixed with alcohol, a dangerous combination, had contributed to Randy's death. The autopsy revealed that he didn’t die of an overdose, but rather he had gone into cardiac arrest. He died in his sleep while taking a nap at friend’s house. The years of drug abuse had simply taken a toll on his heart.

My brother's long battle—our family's agonizing battle—with prescription drug dependency was over. Sadly, we had lost.

Randy is only one of thousands who started taking prescription drugs for legitimate medical reasons and unwittingly got hooked. Today, prescription drug abuse is one of the nation’s most serious drug problems, and the results can be deadly. “Between 10 and 20 percent of all drug deaths involve a prescription drug,” according to David Smith, M.D., former president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. This growing problem claims victims from all walks of life—executives, homemakers, healthcare providers, and celebrities.

Cherishing the Memories

In the years since my brother died, I've healed from the acute pain of the loss, but I still feel the loss deeply. When he was not drug affected, he was a kind, caring young man. I miss reminiscing with him. We used to call each other, laughing about funny stories from childhood. I miss those calls. And, I often wonder if he were alive today, what he might be doing professionally—he was such a bright guy. And I think about what might we chat about over coffee—politics, the vast world of technology and the Internet, our fields of work?

Left now with only memories, I'm especially grateful for an experience I had with him shortly before his death. I'd had minor surgery, and Randy drove me home from the clinic. He fixed me a bite to eat and stayed close by while I napped. He seemed to enjoy being the caretaker, the role I was so used to playing with him. “It's so nice to have a brother,” I said. He just smiled and patted me on the shoulder. It's a memory I'll treasure always.

Randy Colvin died on October 19th—on his 35th birthday.

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