GRAFTON — When Rob Brandt learned that his 20-year-old son and recovering heroin addict Robby Brandt was in the middle of East Cleveland at night in the fall of 2011, he drove through the city with a flashlight and no idea whether his son was alive or dead.
It wasn’t until the next morning that he learned all of his worst fears had been confirmed — his son had lost an almost 5-year-long battle with heroin addiction and died.
“That drug will chase you every day,” Brandt said at a forum about the growing heroin problem in Lorain County on Wednesday night.
Brant and other speakers, including Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans and Solace representative Kathy Loos, addressed parents, high school students and concerned citizens at Midview Middle School on Wednesday. Together they put the focus clearly on the parents, friends and family members of heroin addicts or recovering addicts.
“Many of us sit back and say, ‘Not my child,’” Brandt said, remembering how he and his wife never thought heroin addiction could touch their quiet suburban family.
Since his son’s death in 2011, Brandt has started an organization called Robby’s Voice to raise awareness about heroin addiction and provide support to families of addicts.
“Moms and dads, you are the key. You are the difference between life and death.”
The forum was one of many held in the past few months to address what is being called an “epidemic” that has struck Lorain County — and all Ohio — in recent years.
Evans is one of the people who understand the epidemic the most — having to deal with victims of drug overdoses regularly.
According to Evans, at least 67 people died from drug overdoses in 2013. It’s quite a leap from the 22 overdose-related deaths in 2011.
“It’s become a middle-class problem,” Evans said.
In his presentation, Evans discussed the facts of heroin addiction in Lorain County. Opiate addiction grew in the early 2000s as more doctors prescribed opiate-based pain medications like Vicodin. As many patients got addicted to pain medication, they turned to the more potent form of opiates — heroin, he said.
With the sharp increase in heroin overdoses and addiction in recent years, Evans and other speakers said attitudes about heroin addicts are changing: People are beginning to view addicts as victims of a mind-altering disease.
“We needed a paradigm shift … we can’t arrest our way out of this,” he said. It is partially due to this change in thinking about heroin addicts that Evans and other activists were able to change Ohio laws and allow first responders — like police officers — to start carrying Narcan in October. Narcan is a drug that first responders can use to revive people who have experienced opiate overdoses.
In his presentation, Evans told the crowd that the county has already been able to save 17 lives by using the drug.
Like Evans, Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services President Tom Stubor, who spoke at the meeting, tried to give the crowd — and parents especially — hope amid the fear of addiction.
“People can recover. They do get better and treatment does work,” he said.