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Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone"

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  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    HARRISBURG, Pa.— The phone at Bruce Brandler’s home rang at 3:37 a.m. It was the local hospital. His 16-year-old son was there, and he was in really bad shape. A suspected heroin overdose, the nurse said.

    Brandler didn’t believe it. Erik had his problems, but heroin? It seemed impossible.

    Nearly 10 years later, the nation is gripped by a spiraling crisis of opioid and heroin abuse — and Brandler, a veteran federal prosecutor recently promoted to interim U.S. attorney, suddenly finds himself in a position to do something about the scourge that claimed his youngest son’s life.

    Until now, he has never publicly discussed Erik’s overdose death. It was private and just too painful. But Brandler, now the chief federal law enforcement officer for a sprawling judicial district that covers half of Pennsylvania, said he felt a responsibility that came with his new, higher-profile job.

    “It’s easier to cope with the passage of time, but it never goes away,” Brandler told The Associated Press in an interview. “And, frankly, this whole heroin epidemic has brought it to the forefront.”

    Fatal heroin overdoses have more than quintupled in the years since Brandler lost his son. The illicit drug, along with highly addictive prescription pain relievers like oxycodone and fentanyl — a substance more powerful than heroin — now rival car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.

    Erik’s death proved that heroin doesn’t discriminate, Brandler said. He urged parents to “open their eyes” to the threat and talk to their kids.

    “I want to evaporate the myth that heroin addicts are just homeless derelicts,” said Brandler, who, before his son’s overdose, held that impression himself. “This epidemic hits everybody, and I think my situation exemplifies that.”

    The opioid crisis was already taking root when Brandler began having problems with Erik, the youngest of his three children. The teenager’s grades dropped, his friends changed and he began keeping irregular hours. Brandler found marijuana in his room and talked to him about it, figuring that was the extent of his drug use. Then, in spring 2007, Erik overdosed on Ecstasy and had to be treated at a hospital.

    “That elevated it to a different level as far as I was concerned, a much more serious level, and I took what I thought were appropriate steps,” Brandler said.

    He called the police on his son’s dealer, who was prosecuted. That summer, Erik completed an intensive treatment program that included frequent drug testing. Brandler thought his son had turned a corner.

    He was mistaken.

    On the night of Aug. 18, 2007, Erik and an older friend paid $60 for three bags of heroin. After shooting up, Erik passed out. His breathing became labored, his lips pale. But his companions didn’t seek medical treatment, not then and not for hours. Finally, around 3 a.m., they dropped him off at the hospital. At 5:40 a.m., he was pronounced dead.

    Five people were charged criminally, including Erik’s friend, who received more than five years in prison. Brandler still doesn’t know why his son, who excelled at tennis, went to a good school and had loads of friends, turned to heroin.

    “I thought about that, of course, but it’s really a waste of energy and emotions to go down that road because I’ll never know the answer,” Brandler said from his office near the Pennsylvania Capitol, where a framed photo of Erik — strapping, shaggy-haired and swinging a tennis racket — sits on a credenza.

    What he can do is join his fellow prosecutors in tackling the problem.

    In September, the Justice Department ordered all 93 U.S. attorneys across the country to come up with a strategy for combating overdose deaths from heroin and painkillers. Brandler released his plan, covering 3.2 million people in central and northeastern Pennsylvania, last month. Like others, it focuses on prevention, enforcement and treatment.

    He said his office will prioritize opioid cases resulting in death, and aggressively prosecute doctors who overprescribe pain pills. Additionally, prosecutors will hit the road — bringing physicians, recovering addicts, family members of overdose victims and others with them — to talk to schools and hard-hit communities.

    Parents need to know that “if you think it can’t happen to you, it can,” Brandler said. “If it happened to me as a federal prosecutor, I think it can happen to anyone, and that’s really the message I want to get out.”

    Federal appeals Judge Thomas Vanaskie said it’s a message that needs to be heard.

    “Education is the most important thing to me,” said Vanaskie, who helps run a court program that gets federal convicts back on their feet and who has been working with a former heroin addict who robbed a bank to feed his addiction. “We’ve got to prevent people from becoming users.”

    Vanaskie, who has known Brandler for years, commended him for speaking out.

    “Hearing it from him becomes so much more powerful,” Vanaskie said. “I know it causes great personal pain on his part, but he personalizes, humanizes this matter.”



    The Associated Press/Jan. 1, 2016
    https://www.statnews.com/2017/01/02/federal-prosecutor-tackles-heroin-scourge/
    Photo: AP
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    Beenthere2Hippie
    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.

Comments

  1. aemetha
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    Of course, because a few unethical doctors contributes to the problem far more than the pharmaceutical companies deliberately misleading all doctors and patients and pushing opioids for conditions they are not appropriate for. The under prescribing of opioids for conditions they are necessary for because doctors are afraid of being charged as a consequence is obviously an acceptable cost of doing business too.

    The hypocrisy here is so palpable you could mould it into a watertight container. The drug companies are blatant drug dealers that are apparently untouchable, and despite them being the real problem people are still more interested in measures that lead to increased suffering for some people.
  2. Beenthere2Hippie
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    Hey Aem-

    Yes, Brandler is right: it comes down to education and mental competency - on all levels.

    I do not believe anyone on any defendable side of this argument, as you noted in your last post by saying, "...people are still more interested in measures that lead to increased suffering for some people." is a fair statement."

    To me, the motives of recreational drug control remain as pure and unchanged as any viewable open-to--view quality poker game take place nightly in casinos around the world: the game offers power and money to made on all sides (including in the peanut gallery of the always present splinter groups) on the subject of recreational substance reform. .

    And then there's the human factor to always consider, which has never been based on equations, formula or an agreed-on version of common sense to please all. But, oh, it does still exist and is powerful. And the world moves on faster than the speed of light daily.

    Many scientists believe that many of the remaining, desperately need answers to science's most pressing health issues (as they have always pretty much been) remain likely hidden in plain site. Some hopeful studies involve unavoidably long analysis periods for accuracy and some are just plain Oopes (* - imagine how perplexed Sandoz's young,Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann was after managing to synthesize lysergic acid diethylamide (Acid; LSD!) in the midst of what had been uneventful researching of lysergic acid derivatives for the study fundamental of common Scilla glycosides (Mediterranean Squill) and, instead (surprise! surprise!) he had managed to synthesize lysergic acid diethylamide (Acid. LSD)?)

    Hofmann felt compelled to put the lsd synthesis away for another five years before delving further into what has now proven to be an obvious and remarkable find, medicinal inspiration (sadly, 80 years after-the-fact) - that are now first even begin to consider for for use in treating conditions and ills that are jammed with evidence of LSD and other psychedelics have true medical worth in the field.

    But that is how true and long-standing change come: like walking three steps forward, and then two back as we grease the wheels for social justice reform and push on with resistance, resolve and self-determination.

    We need to

    1. drug decriminalization and developed well-planned and researched social programs that include societal safety nets

    Change/ improve (through education) thinking trends on the [lack of] value that packing prisons with mentally challenged citizens, not traditionally violence people, into more humane therapy and support groups. Free.

    I get a kicked considering, how even the most trusted of Henry Ford's hopeful-but-doubtful "friends and associates" he assured of the dependability and luxury factors (in comparison to horse and buggy) his 1903 Ford Model-T horseless carriage would offer, and said to be priced within financial reach of average (middle-class) people, as well as ready for everyday use and delivery straight out of production - and was! thought that Inspired Henry woud pull it off. Or all those doubting-Thomas friends and workers of the likes of Thomas A. Edison's, Madam Curie's, Albert Einstein's, Steven Hawking's, David Hilbert's - the brilliant amongst us - is it not imperative to remember that whose inspired brilliance is no-where near missing from our populace.

    I think not at all, and so I have hope better answers will come. Like the I-Phone lol.

    The repetitive patterns of man's developments in the world, rare but inspired - still runs strong within our human animal We remain curious, inventive, compelled.

    We humans are bone and sinew and bits of electric current (can tell physics.biology has never been my strong point?) It is natural to us, then, to flex, challenge, push and push our mortal base to encourage the educated people in search for better solutions (no, all of this will not happen overnight) in the current political world landscape to insist any and all recreational drug substances (without lethal consequence) be decriminalized; 2, that therapy and addiction counseling be as readily available in every town, just are head shops in Colorado; 3. form a publicly vetted, bi-partisan physicians/scientist/social overseeing committee (on 2-4 year terms) to oversee for us; 4. continue to keep lethal substances from reaching the general population and be studied further (or else we might as well be like sheep heading to slaughter, with the help of their predisposed genetics and America's over--the-top advertising ploys that woud develop around such a move that will badly effect our most vulnerable.

    If, as a society, we continue to embrace laziness, self-delusion and a lack of drive or urge to grow of the value to each other in this world, learn to respect and again treasurer education and the value of preparation, when we do have a true need to make good use of all those inner mortal workings, t (which obviously includes the brains), we may just find ourselves ill-prepared, unable to meet the task, or atrophied and unable to do anything at all to turn things around and take another shot on coping in a logical and fair level us all that make up our societies.
  3. Beenthere2Hippie
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    Hey Aem-

    Yes, Brandler is right: it comes down to education and mental competency - on all levels.

    I do not believe anyone on any defendable side of this argument, as you noted in your last post by saying, "...people are still more interested in measures that lead to increased suffering for some people." is a fair statement."

    To me, the motives of recreational drug control remain as pure and unchanged as any viewable open-to--view quality poker game take place nightly in casinos around the world: the game offers power and money to made on all sides (including in the peanut gallery of the always present splinter groups) on the subject of recreational substance reform. .

    And then there's the human factor to always consider, which has never been based on equations, formula or an agreed-on version of common sense to please all. But, oh, it does still exist and is powerful. And the world moves on faster than the speed of light daily.

    Many scientists believe that many of the remaining, desperately need answers to science's most pressing health issues (as they have always pretty much been) remain likely hidden in plain site. Some hopeful studies involve unavoidably long analysis periods for accuracy and some are just plain Oopes (* - imagine how perplexed Sandoz's young,Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann was after managing to synthesize lysergic acid diethylamide (Acid; LSD!) in the midst of what had been uneventful researching of lysergic acid derivatives for the study fundamental of common Scilla glycosides (Mediterranean Squill) and, instead (surprise! surprise!) he had managed to synthesize lysergic acid diethylamide (Acid. LSD)?)

    Hofmann felt compelled to put the lsd synthesis away for another five years before delving further into what has now proven to be an obvious and remarkable find, medicinal inspiration (sadly, 80 years after-the-fact) - that are now first even begin to consider for for use in treating conditions and ills that are jammed with evidence of LSD and other psychedelics have true medical worth in the field.

    But that is how true and long-standing change come: like walking three steps forward, and then two back as we grease the wheels for social justice reform and push on with resistance, resolve and self-determination.

    We need to

    1. drug decriminalization and developed well-planned and researched social programs that include societal safety nets

    Change/ improve (through education) thinking trends on the [lack of] value that packing prisons with mentally challenged citizens, not traditionally violence people, into more humane therapy and support groups. Free.

    I get a kicked considering, how even the most trusted of Henry Ford's hopeful-but-doubtful "friends and associates" he assured of the dependability and luxury factors (in comparison to horse and buggy) his 1903 Ford Model-T horseless carriage would offer, and said to be priced within financial reach of average (middle-class) people, as well as ready for everyday use and delivery straight out of production - and was! thought that Inspired Henry woud pull it off. Or all those doubting-Thomas friends and workers of the likes of Thomas A. Edison's, Madam Curie's, Albert Einstein's, Steven Hawking's, David Hilbert's - the brilliant amongst us - is it not imperative to remember that whose inspired brilliance is no-where near missing from our populace.

    I think not at all, and so I have hope better answers will come. Like the I-Phone lol.

    The repetitive patterns of man's developments in the world, rare but inspired - still runs strong within our human animal We remain curious, inventive, compelled.

    We humans are made up of bone and sinew and bits of electric current (can tell physics.biology has never been my strong point?) It is natural to us, then, to flex, challenge, push and push our mortal base to encourage the educated people in search for better solutions (no, all of this will not happen overnight) in the current political world landscape to insist any and all recreational drug substances (without lethal consequence) be decriminalized; 2, that therapy and addiction counseling be as readily available in every town, just are head shops in Colorado; 3. form a publicly vetted, bi-partisan physicians/scientist/social overseeing committee (on 2-4 year terms) to oversee for us; 4. continue to keep lethal substances from reaching the general population and be studied further (or else we might as well be like sheep heading to slaughter, with the help of their predisposed genetics and America's over--the-top advertising ploys that woud develop around such a move that will badly effect our most vulnerable.

    If, as a society, we continue to embrace laziness, self-delusion and a lack of drive or urge to grow of the value to each other in this world, learn to respect and again treasurer education and the value of preparation, when we do have a true need to make good use of all those inner mortal workings, t (which obviously includes the brains), we may just find ourselves ill-prepared, unable to meet the task, or atrophied and unable to do anything at all to turn things around and take another shot on coping in a logical and fair level us all that make up our societies.
  4. aemetha
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    I don't disagree with most of that. To be clear, the issue I take is with that particular statement I quoted, and particularly with the aggressive prosecution part. To me that implies they are looking to prosecute any perceived infraction, and while that may provide a disincentive for some of the unethical doctors prescribing opioids, it will also create a climate of fear for doctors who are trying to dispense them appropriately. There are already issues for people who need pain medications. People who get surgery and then are prescribed paracetamol for the pain etc. Opioids are still the most effective form of pain relief for most cases of acute pain, and that needs to be recognised.

    If he had said "appropriately prosecute" I'd be okay with that, but my experience is that "aggressively prosecute" means police harassment until they find a reason to take you down. I can't help thinking there are doctors who will read it that way too, and patients will be the ones to suffer.
  5. Beenthere2Hippie
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    And I agree that such language, which only serves to instigate and then inflame, are not answers either, and, like you, take fault with such thinking. Again, we agree that doing what is best for the patient, the user (like myself) who now - and always likely will live in and out of chronic/acute pain for life - is what should be what is most important.

    But when it comes to your view that opiates are perhaps the best (usual) answer for people facing returning, chronic/acute pain I have to disagree. In the ten years I have living on (prescribed) opiates/opioids/benzodiazapines and a whole hullabaloo of other serious medications, in the long run I have found much better relief from breaking from such medical thinking and instead learning and practicing natural pain-blocking techniques (yoga, ballet barre, monitored breathing exercises, hobbies, positive thinking) as well as drugs that are far kinder on my battered mind and body (prescribed medical-grade THC - not to be confused with cbd oil - for pain; also gabapentin and clonidine).

    I suppose that it is because of my own personal experience with a deadly health condition (autonomic dysreflexia resulting for recurrent syrinx myalgia) and a decade of doctors, all trying to leave their professional mark on a rare condition rather than help calm it - throwing everything that sticks at me - antidepressants (useless), 4.5 years of 45mg methadone daily (almost killed me), 40-60 mg of IR oxycodone along with the methadone (ugh), let's try fentanyl patches...and some dilaudid...might as well be in the grave, ya know?

    And so it's my experience that when it comes to managing acute pain that'll be with a person for life, as doctors tell me (inoperable, no cure stuff like), I and fellow DF chronic/acute pain sufferers find that the kindest combination of the least harmful substances (find a mix that works for you personally) being far better than dependence on opiates and opioids.
  6. aemetha
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    Sorry, I may have been unclear. I did not mean to imply that opioids are the best solution for chronic pain. They are the most effective pain relief solution for acute pain with an identifiable cause in most cases.

    They generally are not suitable for chronic pain because of issues with tolerance rendering them ineffective and dependence causing additional complications. Modern pain theories also assert a significant psychological component to pain that is not mediated as effectively by opioids as by other kinds of medications (e.g. antidepressants can be effective in many cases of chronic pain).

    Sorry if my terminology is a bit vague, in my studies acute is used to refer to a short term, time limited occurrence, while chronic is used to refer to a long term, or repeating occurrence. I don't think we are actually very far apart in our appraisals here.
  7. Beenthere2Hippie
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    I don't think it's the type of pain (chronic or acute) alone that determines what makes for the best solution to coping with it for many of us who live on medications but rather the not giving up on, or into, a single solution. When pain is your daily reality, you become more willing to try things and become creative rather than live in drudgery under the weight of imprisoning drugs, such as opiates.

    Many of us pain patients here have managed (very thankfully) to do so, and go out of our way to avoid using opiates - unless we are left with no alternative and the bad becomes that bad (again). We try everything else first.

    Once physically dependent on opiates (again) - on top of the chronic pain that you're in - is no way to go through life, many have found.
  8. aemetha
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    Yes, that makes sense in more ways than simply the drudgery too. Long term opioid use can precipitate depression and anxiety, which in turn increases the perception of pain. Measurement of pain in pain scales shows people who suffer anxiety and depression report higher levels of pain than those who don't. So long term opioid treatment can actually increase pain indirectly through that mechanism.
  9. ladywolf2012
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    Just a quick and respectful question, BeenThere2...if not opioids, what would you have surgeons prescribing for people who have just emerged from very painful surgeries, for at least the first few days of recovery? My surgeries so far (7 of them, I think) have mostly been fairly minor, but any day now, the Really Big One could come along, and I sure don't want a doctor who will be afraid to treat my pain appropriately...

    I agree with Aem that that one sentence is horrifying, and could impact the whole way that doctors feel okay about treating patients, and the whole outcome of patient's accidents, serious surgeries, etc. That sentence: "He said his office will prioritize opioid cases resulting in death, and aggressively prosecute doctors who overprescribe pain pills," has terrifying implications...
  10. Beenthere2Hippie
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    Opiates are the perfect drug for pain and are, of course, what we should take after prescribed after surgery, massive trauma, broken bones and things of that sort. I would never suggest otherwise.

    But when it comes to living forever with severe, recurrent pain, depending on opiates daily - forever - even when that's your physicians' concurred opinion of what will likely be your life - you use opiates as sparingly as possible, and choose less addictive, less physiologically and psychologically body-abusive substances and techniques when and wherever possible to cope - to literally get your mind off your pain. That was my point, Ladywolf.

    I am not saying opiates do not have a place and purpose; of course they do - and thank god (no god debates, please) we have them for those times! What I am saying is that they are far from the only answer to coping with human pain.

    Opiates are the best at blocking some types of pain: post surgery, bone breaks, extensive dental work, but opiates notoriously do next to nothing for other forms debilitating pain, such as neuropathy and some forms of cancer (stats available on request).

    And of course there's the very important downside of opiates/oids Ametha raised on the drug's tendency of long-term use of opiates/opioids leading to the body actually develops a repetitive-use pain of its own, leaving the patient on the opiates in pain and dependent physically on them.

    Of course you should take opiates, as prescribed, as documented as my opinion on the use of them all over our site. It's the recreational use of opiates/opioids/opioidal "rec" drugs that personally have my concern.

    I also understand and accept that my choice and take on things is not everyone's, but I remain concerned for the prospect of the futures of many of the world's innocents who are growing dependent, addicted, and will possibly and needlessly wind up dead.

    My final take on opiates/opioids: Save your opiates for when you are in MD qualifiable pain.
  11. Calliope
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    I can't help feeling outraged at the omission from this prosecutor's thinking (if the story accurately captures his thoughts): what is the one place in his son's story where it seems pretty clear his life would have been saved? Those hours when no medical help was sought. And why wasnt it? I think it is impossible to think anything but the obvious: fear of police and the law because heroin is illegal.

    The obvious inference: whatever else needs to happen in terms of education and control of opioid medications, removing the fatal fear of prosecution is a necessity. Nothing this guy says addresses that in the slightest. He seems insensitive to the fact that he condemns his own son to death over and over. The fact is the kid chose to shoot heroin. This is a disturbing fact no doubt, but a fact nevertheless. Prosecuting doctors won't affect that choice one iota. I want a world in which kids who make such choices aren't also choosing to get no medical help because of fear of police. I wish this prosecutor could see how important that is.
  12. Beenthere2Hippie
    Re: Federal US Prosecutor Who Lost Own Son to a Heroin Death: "Could Happen to Anyone

    Agreed, Calli. Countries with growing numbers of citizens with major opiate-related health conditions need to get their societal obligation priorities in more humane and scientifically based order and make real progress in what remains (to me) the entire world's largest most common and concerning matter: mental health, which when not taken care of properly leads people to many dangerous and obvious forms of self-medicating on their own.

    Criminal prosecution of any drug offenders serves no purposes other than to 1. shame the user 2.make money for the state 3. cost the convicted and their families monies they almost always have to go into debt to pay back and cannot afford, which then 4. sets the offender (who is left with a criminal record) up for future negative encounters with law enforcement.

    No one wins with the criminal prosecution of self-medicating citizens in need of medical analysis, not arrest. Mental health is something we can do much about, if our societies are so morally motivated.
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