Mark Rudolph remembers the day he got the call.
It was a moment that parents — all parents — fear will never come.
Rudolph’s son, Ryan, had died of a drug overdose. Heroin was the deadly culprit.
On Oct. 20, 2007, then-18-year-old Ryan Rudolph was gone, leaving his family and friends with many questions, anger, numbness…
“It was one of those days — how can you explain it,” said Rudolph, now a 61-year-old mourning father of Fraser, Mich.
Mark Rudolph was supposed to pick his son up at the Macomb County Jail the next day. Due to overcrowding, he was released a day early.
Someone had lured Ryan Rudolph back to his addiction. His body was found in a vacant lot in Detroit. Mark Rudolph had planned to take his son to a rehab facility immediately after serving his sentence for drug possession on Oct. 21.
That day, sadly, never came.
“At first it was anger,” said Rudolph. “I wondered in my heart if we were too hard on him or if we weren’t hard enough. He was a good kid that just made some bad choices. Kids will do that. We knew he was struggling. You can second guess this over and over in your head.”
Just one week before, one of Ryan’s former classmates at Fraser High School, Kyle Campbell, had passed due to similar circumstances.
“There was a bunch of kids in Fraser alone that were overdosing,” recalled Rudolph of 2007. “There were close to 30 cases alone that year or something like that. After [the funeral], I felt that I had to do something.”
Carl Brune remembers one of the first times he sampled alcohol. Or in his case — guzzled it.
“When I was around 14 or 15 years old, a bunch of us guys went out and got drunk. Some of my friends didn’t drink much, but I did,” recalled Brune. “I think I drank a half, maybe three-quarters of a fifth a vodka — a lot. Some of the guys puked and really struggled the next day. I was actually all right.”
Carl Brune had a very addictive personality. Even worse, he didn’t realize it at such a young age.
Brune was a fast-rising hockey star in middle and high school, at one time playing for the Michigan Panthers in travel hockey junior leagues and venturing around Michigan, Ontario and all points of the compass in the Midwest.
He was good.
Then he was introduced to something worse than stealing alcohol and drinking some vodka with the boys: pain killers…Opiates to be exact.
“I had some injuries and I started taking some pills,” he said. “You know — Vicodin, Darvocet, Oxycodon…I got hooked on them pretty quick. When I took a pill, I was like, ‘whoa’. I love it. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some more.
“I was hooked, no doubt about it,” added Brune. “But opiates, the pain killers, are not that hard to come by. Athletes are given them by doctors all the time. People have them in their medicine cabinets. Kids sell them. Kids use them [to get high]. It’s very common.”
These prescribed opiates found the way into Brune’s possession with regularity. These addictive pills were also a gateway into even something far more sinister.
“Eventually, the pills weren’t enough. I eventually started to try heroin,” said Brune. “At first, crushing up (and snorting). Eventually, I started shooting up. It was something that I never imagined doing in a million years. But I couldn’t get enough.
“I started to do anything to get them,” continued Brune. “I was stealing from my family, friends — anything to get high. It was cheaper, too. Instead of paying $80 bucks for a pill, I could get heroin for $60. I could easily get down to Detroit to get some. That wasn’t hard at all,” said Brune. And his situation worsened.
“I was sleeping in cars, vacant buildings — you name it,” added Brune. “I was really hurting my family, my mom, my friends. And I didn’t care. As long as if I got my buzz. I didn’t care who I was hurting. My dad had an addiction problem, too. I remember when I was 21, I smoked pot with my dad. It was no big deal. I was taking everything, anything and with whomever.”
Alcohol, marijuana, opiate pills, heroin…like so many other teenagers and young adults, Carl Brune was hooked. He was an addict headed down the pathway of destruction, and quickly.
“When you are an addict, you don’t realize how bad it is. You don’t realize who you are hurting, terrorizing,” added Brune. “You don’t think you need help and you are too prideful to ask. All you care about is getting ahold of something. Addiction controls your mind.”
Living in the northern Macomb County township of Macomb in 2009, Katie Donovan admitted that she was “clueless” when it came to drug use or what kids used today.
“I really had no idea at all,” said Donovan, who at the time worked in finance for Chrysler and was a typical suburban mother. “I had a [teenage] daughter who became addicted. She was hanging out with her boyfriend, who was a hockey player, and a lot of his friends who were also hockey players. A lot of these kids had injuries and were given painkillers. She started to sample them. That led to other things, too.”
The gateway painkillers led to heroin and serious addiction for her then-teenage daughter, Brittany Donovan (now Brittany Sherfield).
“It got out of control. We had her in rehab 17 times before we really started to get some real help,” said Donovan. “That is when I really started to research all of this and try to find some help. I was going to lose her if I didn’t.”
FROM BASEMENTS TO TOWN HALL
All movements begin somewhere.
In the basement of Christ United Methodist Church in Fraser back in the late fall of 2007, a group of concerned — grieving parents — religious leaders and other local residents all gathered to try to discuss the epidemic that was ripping through the hearts of the Fraser community and beyond. Multiple overdoses in the area had already claimed the lives of a few young people with several others in rehab facilities or out on the streets.
Drug use from prescription opiates, to heroin, to everything in-between was gaining a deep foothold on the youths in the middle-class suburb of Fraser and other neighboring communities of Macomb and Oakland counties.
This drug problem was again rearing its ugly head and rapidly becoming a national epidemic, as well.
“Kids were getting hooked on opiates, getting hooked on heroin. We had to do something to educate people, educate parents, educate other kids,” offered Mark Rudolph, who helped organize the original town hall-style meeting. “We had around 100 concerned people there that night. We all felt that something had to be done — and done quick. I already lost my son. I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what my family went through.”
This was the initial beginning of Families Against Narcotics (F.A.N.), a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization that raises money and awareness of the rising drug problem in the country. Officially founded in 2008, F.A.N. has the main focus of educating the public and help others spread the word and try to curtail the spread of the epidemic.
Simply, F.A.N. aims to save lives.
F.A.N. aids several recovery programs, three-quarter houses, and other awareness programs. In other words, anything it can do to help to steer kids away from opiates, heroin and drugs of any kind, while educating parents, teens and the general public of the effects of opiate drugs use and the ongoing national problem.
“These kids…they are not what you think the average, disheveled drug user looks like,” said Donovan. “Some of these kids are athletes, kids that get good grades, go to church, are involved in clubs at school. They are really the new face of addiction. You wouldn’t know just by looking at photos of them when they were younger or by seeing them today in recovery.
“Kids, even adults, will go to great lengths to find drugs,” added Donovan. “I was told that people who have their homes [for sale] out on the market and hold open houses are told not to leave prescription drugs in medicine cabinets or in plain view. People can pose as home buyers and come by saying that want to take a look at a house. Then ask “if I can use the bathroom.’ What they are doing is trying to steal drugs (opiates) and use them. They can leave and nobody will know until later.”
Donovan met some individuals in F.A.N. just a few years ago when her daughter was suffering through addiction. She is now Executive Vice President of F.A.N. as well as serving as the National Director of Family Advocacy at Reliance Treatment Center (now her full-time job), leaving her career in the corporate world to donate her life to this crisis.
She is also a guest blogger and editorial writer on websites such as The Addicts Mom, In The Rooms, Magnolia New Beginnings and Stop Frying Your Brain, among others.
“I’m all in,” she said. “I, like so many others, have dedicated their time to all of this. I left my job to do all of this. My daughter now lives in Florida, is married, and is in recovery. She has turned it around.”
Mark Rudolph is one of the many founders and current advisory board members of F.A.N., spending countless hours of his free time to help F.A.N.-related events and fundraisers, and to spread educational information in order to save lives.
“F.A.N. has only one employee, and that’s an administrator. Beyond that, it’s all volunteer work,” said Donovan. “We have so many people involved. We just want to help people in any way we can.”
Carl Brune, who lost his father through an overdose three years ago, has also been clean now for three years this October. He is a product of F.A.N., who after periods of living in other parts of the country and countless stints in rehab, got through recovery thanks to the aid of F.A.N. and its multi-level support program.
“They have helped, for sure,” said Brune. “I look back to the way I was 5-10 years ago to today. I have come a long ways. I am lucky. Some other kids are not so lucky. Addiction can be deadly. I am thankful for those who have supported me over the years. My mom was there for me and there were so many other people who have been there for me to help me get through all of this.”
Carl Brune, whose mother, Margaret Brune, has also served with F.A.N., has faithfully helped her son through the endeavors of addiction. He also voluntarily travels to schools and various functions to speak to teens and young adults on the dangerous of opiates and the addiction world.
“I have been the all over the state speaking for F.A.N. and I have been to other parts of the country,” noted Carl Brune, who now had a day job in the heating and cooling profession. “I totally understand that some kids might not want to talk to their parents or talk to the police or their teachers. But maybe they will listen to someone like me. Someone who has been through it all. Someone who is a recovering addict.”
And, for the parents, the nightmare can leave a sense of hopelessness.
“It got so bad with Carl, there was a time that I didn’t know what to do to be completely honest,” said Margaret Brune. “It got so bad…and I know a lot of parents once they learn of what their kids are going through, feel this way. But there are a lot of support groups out there and people who want to help.”
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the growing opiate abuse and synthetic drug threat is on the rise. Although there are no cement numbers in terms of how many teenagers and young adults are hooked on opiates, or have migrated to full-blown heroin use, they acknowledge that the number of deaths, overdoses, hospital stays and rehabs facility usage is on the rise.
Additionally, there has been a significant increase of clandestinely-manufactured Fentanyl and Fentanyl derivatives (animal tranquilizers) that is being added to or mixed with heroin.
Fentanyl is particularly dangerous because it is close to 50 times more potent than regular heroin and can rapidly stop respiration at a quick rate — even cause death.
Although Fentanyl is not considered an addictive drug like cocaine, heroin, or even alcohol because it does not produce the same compulsive drug-seeking behavior, it produces greater tolerance in many users who take the drug repeatedly. High dosages being added to heroin is causing overdoses and deaths to rise rapidly.
“It is a serious problem and we have been told that there are a growing number of deaths in the country right now because of this,” said George Rouhib, Director of Fraser Department of Public Safety, which works closely with youths at schools in the Fraser area. “We’ve had our problems in our community and now we are hearing about this across the state and country. There has been several cases in Michigan.”
OUT OF PLAIN VIEW
Kids of all walks of life are getting into an addiction state, whether through the gateway of opiates, marijuana and alcohol and into the realm of more serious, illegal drugs such as heroin, crystal methamphetamine and a wide array of other addictive drugs.
“Young people have come up with all ways to hide [drugs],” added Rouhib. “We’ve seen anything from the end of highlighters, where they hide drugs inside the highlighters, to candy [dispensers]. We’ve seen it all. Kids are creative. We are trying to educate parents on what to look for, where kids might store drugs.”
Dr. Joe Naughton, who is director of the Downriver Community Services, a health care network along the St. Clair corridor communities of Port Huron, Algonac and New Haven, said that doctors around the country are realizing that prescription painkillers are part of the problem.
Opiates are often haphazardly prescribed to youths and they have truly become a gateway to other drugs.
“Absolutely,” said Naughton of Romeo, a community that has seen several teens and young 20-something adults suffer overdoses and even a few people die from them over the past couple of years.
“We have seen it. This is a problem. A lot of my colleagues have realized this and have changed [their position],” continued Naughton. “I won’t say that we have completely eliminated painkillers at our facility, but we have scaled back significantly. We only prescribe them in certain, serious situations and do not prescribe them with high doses. We are extremely cautious.”
The problem of painkillers being prescribed is not a new epidemic.
“It has been a problem for years,” noted Naughton. “There was a time where doctors were encouraged to prescribe painkillers. But are they often necessary? Do you need a (vile) of 30 pills for someone who had a tooth being pulled? No.
“I think that there are still some doctors out there that do push them and overprescribe them,” continued Naughton. “But when doctors are being given jail time — yes, real jail time — for over-prescribing [painkillers and other prescription] drugs … that there has definitely been a wake-up call. They see or read about it and now give it some thought.”
Naughton often refers people to various articles and journals that have been published on the topic in recent years.
“There was a great article in the November, 2013, edition of the New Yorker Magazine that covers this topic in great detail,” said Naughton. “The article was ‘Who is responsible for the pain pill epidemic.’ The author was Celine Gounder. She did an amazing job researching this topic. It is definitely something I recommend everyone give a read. There are some others out there, too.”
It has been three years since Carl Brune has used drugs of any kind. He travels around not only Michigan, but around the country speaking of the dangers of opiates — “they are a gateway drug, for sure” — as well as heroin use and other deadly drugs.
“I speak about addiction and what it can do to you,” offered Brune. “People — young people — in this country die every day because of it. Kids are overdosing, trying anything they can get their hands on. Drugs and addiction is serious. I personally am lucky to even be alive.
“Three years ago my father died because of it,” continued Brune. “I tell my story about it to as many people as I can. Kids are too scared to tell people or tell cops that they have a problem. But if they hear the stories of people like me, maybe they will listen and try to get some help. That’s what (F.A.N.) is here to do. Get young people help. It helped me after several years of using.”
For Carl Brune, help almost didn’t happen.
“My mom didn’t know what to do with me,” explained Brune. “She sent me to northern Michigan. She even sent me to Tennessee for a while. None of that helped. Narcotics, drugs…you can get them anywhere. Drugs do not discriminate. Addiction does not discriminate. It does not matter if you are rich or poor; it does not matter what color your skin is or if you live in the country or live in the city. You can get them anywhere and anybody can become an addict.”
There are currently 19 chapters of F.A.N. in Michigan today. Members of F.A.N. believe that is not enough.
They are trying to continue to spread the word to high school and colleges campuses, as well as through sports leagues and other areas where there is a high concentration of youths.
“It is growing, which is a good thing,” said Donovan. “There are so many people trying to spread the word. We’re trying to get into as many schools as possible. But not every school is willing to let us come in. They have their own people. But we actually have (former) addicts who are in or (been) through recovery — people who have been there and lived it. They can deliver their (testimonies) and relate to the kids in a way only they can. They can relate (more directly).”
RAISING FUNDS, RAISING AWARENESS
Besides guest speaking engagements and starting different chapters of F.A.N., the organization builds connections, spreads information and resources and grows support to combat addiction. It does so with two major fundraisers each year, plus other minor events.
F.A.N. held a formal fundraiser dinner on Sept. 27 at Penna’s of Sterling, located on Van Dyke in Sterling Heights. Nearly 900 persons, including corporate personal, local and state politicians, and a wide network of public safety officials, parents, educators and even recovering addicts who have ventured through the rigorous comeback trail, all gathered to listen to public speakers — and more importantly —raise funds, awareness and support to fight against the drug use epidemic.
“Our goal is to run the drugs out of town,” said Donovan.
F.A.N. holds two major fundraisers per year. Besides the aforementioned formal Afterglow Fundraiser in September, which has raised close to $70,000 and growing over the last three weeks, the organization holds a 5K/10K Run every July through the streets of Macomb County. That event, which attracted some 2,500 runners, walkers and volunteers tis year, raised close to $80,000 for F.A.N. and its various support programs.
Still, the work is not done. “We still need to grow — reach more people — and get the word out,” said Rudolph. “If someone can save their daughter, save their son from [the grasp] of addiction, then it is worth it.”
Writer / Editor / Copy Editor / Public Relations / Multi-Media Journalist
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(Daniel Stickradt is a 23-year multi-media journalist in Michigan, president of the Stickradt Media Group and a Rochester Hills resident. He has contributed as a journalist to many organizations and media services, both as a full-time employee or as a freelance writer, for outlets such as GreeningDetroit.com, NorthOaklandSports.com, High School Sports Scene magazine, The Real Deal magazine, StateChampsNetwork.com, MiPrepZone.com, Observer & Eccentric Newspapers, Community Lifestyles magazine, Rochester Community Edge, Patch Media, Rochester Clarion Newspaper and MidStateSports.com, as well as general freelance work for various club teams and small businesses.