Overdose Deaths Are Skyrocketing During The Pandemic. My Brother Was One Of Them.


Matt was adored by his five children. 
Matt was adored by his five children. 

Over the past decade I have been a quiet observer of opiate-related data. I skimmed opiate-related headlines with one eye open, holding my breath, searching for information on fentanyl outbreaks or promising new treatments. The news was a matter of life and death: My brother was addicted to heroin. 

When opiate use increased nationwide, I knew I wasn’t alone, even though I felt completely isolated. When trends shifted downward, I held hope that Matt might recover, and our family would find peace again. 

While the first half of 2020 has seen a marked increase in drug overdoses, the headlines now only haunt me. In May, my brother, a 43-year-old attorney and father of five, became a statistic. 


As a younger brother, Matt was lovable and goofy. He had a mop of thick strawberry hair and a face full of freckles. Our mother said that’s where the angels kissed his cheeks on the way in. Growing up in the late ’80s, he kept our family of five laughing by quoting entire movies. “Tommy Boy” was his go-to recitation. Matt was a lot like Chris Farley: They had the same enthusiastic, insecure, teddy-bear kind of charm. As a teen and throughout adulthood he joyfully followed the Grateful Dead, Phish and Widespread Panic.

Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder as a child, Matt started taking Ritalin as a boy, then never stopped. He became an attorney, and departed for 12-hour days at the office with an amber prescription bottle clutched in his fist, openly celebrating the drug that allowed him to concentrate.

Following an emergency appendectomy in 2012, Matt, then 35, became hooked on painkillers. In a few short years he progressed from OxyContin to heroin. He chased them with benzodiazepines like Xanax and Klonopin. His athletic frame became bloated and heavy; his sunny disposition turned lethargic and mean. 


When he was unable to maintain his law practice, clients left. Although he was admitted to the bar in four states, his licenses expired. His salary trickled down to nothing. The state came after him for back taxes. His wife eventually left, saying he was a liability to their children. 

Our family life dissolved into a nightmarish cycle of rehabs and relapses. My parents finally cut off monetary support when they found him unconscious in their living room, fresh off his second stay in rehab. After three tries, Matt told us rehab didn’t work, and that he did drugs there, too. We sought therapists, psychiatrists and alternative treatments.

 “You can’t change me,” he told us.

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