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My little brother and the opioid epidemic: A story I never dreamed I would tell

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The last moment I ever spent with my brother was at the coroner’s office. It is something I would never wish for anyone and his untimely death will forever change the way I live my life.

A few weeks ago, I received a direct message on Instagram that would forever change my life. Not the typical warm and fuzzy, or even hilariously funny message from a friend or follower. No, this was more like the modern-day dreaded ‘middle-of-the-night phone call’ that every parent fears. Only, it was about my younger brother.

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It was a typical weekday at home, and as I went upstairs to put the baby down for a nap, I read the words that no ‘sissy’ should ever have to read about her younger sibling. It took no longer than a few seconds to articulate… “Hi Danielle. This is Scott’s roommate”. And I immediately knew. I didn’t have to read another word before collapsing to the ground in disbelief. I somehow managed to put the baby in his crib just before, but to be quite honest, it’s all a blur. Everything has been since I got the news.

My brother, Scott Anthony Molinari had eyes of the most brilliant blue. Just like the sky on the sunniest of days. And when he looked at you, it was as if he could see right into your soul. His manly and mysterious beard masked his playful side, only to those who didn’t know him. My kids thought he was the coolest, and holy cow, turns out they were right. He had an army of friends who loved him and a strikingly beautiful girlfriend. How could any of us go on knowing he did NOT mean to die? My intense sadness in an instance turned to some sort of visceral rage in the pit of my stomach.

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Scott died of an accidental overdose. Scott is one of tens of thousands of Fentanyl related deaths in our country over the past year. For those of you who don’t know, Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin. According to a National Vital Statistics System report recently published from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fentanyl is now the drug most frequently involved in overdose deaths in the U.S.

The reason for this is simple. Most individuals using other drugs, whether experimentally or to feed an addiction) are blatantly unaware that this so-called arsenic is being used to lace drugs like pain pills and cocaine. It is a cheaper way to produce a similar high, but at 50 to 100 times more powerful than other opioids, it’s a silent killer.

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Anyone who knows me, knows that passiveness in the wake of tragedy is against my religion. When my brother died, a part of me died with him. Utterly empty, crushed and picking up the pieces, there’s still the relentless and resilient side of me who wants to do something about it. I’ve been working fast and furiously on gathering the information I need to use my platform for interaction, education and awareness when it comes to this topic.

I had the privilege of interviewing San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan on my podcast, "The Mom Confidential". Her motive? Passion. Her words? Actionable. Her focus? Our children. Here are some great takeaways every parent should know:

Five Things To Know About Opioids:

  1. 72,000 Americans died last year from overdoses from drugs, almost 50,000 were from opioids.
  2. Within five days of using opioids, most people will become addicted.
  3. Addictions become implanted at a really young age (just from going to the dentist or from post-operational prescriptions). It becomes part of the brain chemical composition and set people up for lifetime addictions.
  4. Most people’s pain level that would require something as strong as oxycodone only lasts one to two days
  5. No family is immune to mental health and addiction issues

Six Things To Do For Prevention And Help:

  1. Know the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Drug Help Line: 1-800 662 4357 (HELP).
  2. Go to your medicine cabinets – if you have leftover opiates, get rid of them. Every town has a safe disposal for opiates.
  3. Insist that your children’s schools have drug awareness programs. If there isn’t a program, ask your school why.
  4. Talk to your children. Talk to your teenagers. Talk to your brothers and sisters, friends, cousins and their cousins. Share these facts. It’s the only way.
  5. Also always tell your kids that if they need help, and if they’ve made a mistake, that you will be there to help them.
  6. Visit NOAC.ORG who are working with partners from the private and public sectors and pop culture to eliminate stigma and help end opioid misuse in America.

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Sure, the drug epidemic has been around for decades. But this year, opioid related deaths have skyrocketed, making every major headline including the New York Times, USA Today and NBC News. Admittedly, I was ignorant to the seriousness of this problem. I had no idea how fatal the drugs that many use recreationally could be. And I’m not alone, because the minute I shared the news about my brother’s Fentanyl-related death, my inbox went crazy with thousands of messages… “My brother died of an overdose too”. “My mom is an addict…” “I lost my sister to addiction…” “My son is an addict….”

These days, I feel like I have one foot in my old world, and another foot kicking at the fact that I have to be in this new world of grief. Just like that, I lost my brother, the witness to my life, but simultaneously I gained a village of compassionate humans. From his village of friends, who also crave a piece of him, to my community of friends who understand both grief and addiction because they, too, have experienced the loss of someone near and dear to them. We have this one life, and I’m grateful for the endless efforts of family, friends and even complete strangers who are helping me plant seeds of healing. Humanity has a funny way of surprising us when we need it most.

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My little brother did not want to die. In fact, he’s probably in the same state of shock that so many of us are still experiencing. I’ve chosen to tell this tragic story with hopes that others will better understand the implications of drugs. If you know someone who is dabbling, doing them recreationally, or enjoying their post-op pain meds a little too much…. STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND HELP THEM. Do what you can to educate them. Tell them Scott’s story. I give you permission. It’s my duty, and I am just scratching the surface. I would give anything to hear him say "Sissy" just one more time. Don't wait! Act now! Together, I know we can help save a life. Stay tuned for more conversations on this topic. I’d love to hear your perspective as well… please comment below.

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