The tragedy of Colt Brennan: Combating the opioid crisis

May 20, 2021 | by Justin Wolfe, LCPC, CADC, CRC
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Photo: Associated Press/Ronen Zilberman

The fentanyl overdose death of star football player Colt Brennan, at age 37, is one that shakes the recovery community to its core.

It is a tragedy. Let that sink in for a moment.

Not because he was a prolific college quarterback who made it look easy to throw six touchdowns a game while leading the University of Hawaii onto the national stage. It is a tragedy because it highlights the worst imaginable outcome for someone living with an addiction.

Per reports, Brennan had recently achieved four months of sobriety and had a slip — a slip that there is no way to come back from. This young man’s life ended too soon. It did not have to be this way.

Brennan’s story resonates with me for two reasons.

First, he reminds me of an old friend of mine who is no longer with us. “Ryan” was 21 years old when his life ended too soon. He was a happy-go-lucky young man who always made himself available to his friends, enjoyed playing sports, worked at Toys “R” Us and aspired to be a teacher one day.

However, Ryan had a secret that none of us knew about. He was using OxyContin and had been for quite some time without anyone’s awareness, not even his roommates. I remember receiving a phone call that the police had found Ryan’s body and that it appeared to be a “drug deal gone bad” over OxyContin. Ryan was found alone, without any of his friends knowing where he was or who he was meeting.

The second reason Brennan’s story hits home is that he experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of a previous car accident. I too experienced a TBI when I was 20 years old and did not feel like myself again until I was about 25. TBIs are misleading because the person can appear to be “themselves” or “normal,” but the significant impact to the brain can change their personality, their emotional reactivity and overall make them feel incredibly uncomfortable in their own skin.

Brennan’s father stated that his son was never the same after his TBI in 2010. After sustaining a TBI, many people with a substance use disorder will start using again as an attempt to recover a feeling of normalcy in a world that now feels foreign. This young man went 11 years doing the best he could with what he had available to navigate his life.

Brennan was found alone in a hotel room. When you see photos of him from college you see a happy young man on top of the world, not someone who would be making headlines 15 years later for a tragic fentanyl overdose.

Loneliness epitomizes the feeling that most experience when caught in the turmoil of their addiction. Brennan had sought treatment, asked for help and was turned away due to what reports suggest was “a lack of available beds.” He did what we hope anyone would do in their moment of need, he asked for help, but he was turned away.

The amount of energy it takes to continue to fight the battle with addiction can be exhausting. The effort it takes to surrender and acknowledge that one does not have all the answers and needs help is an act of humility and courage.

It is moments like this that I feel fortunate to work for an organization that takes people looking for help who do not have funding or insurance and helps them find placement to ensure they receive the help they need at that moment.

Linden Oaks Behavioral Health has taken active steps to reduce the number of opioids circulating in our communities by forming an Opioid Steering Committee. This committee has taken active steps to change prescribing practices and identify alternative methods to help people manage their pain.

Linden Oaks has taken steps to meet patients in the moment of crisis in the Emergency Department by placing counselors from Gateway Foundation and the Haymarket Center to ensure people are receiving the services they need. Everyone who comes through our doors is met with someone who can place them in a position to receive care.

We must continue to do better, and we can! The opioid epidemic is still very much surging. People are continuing to die in silence. We need to intervene in a way that promotes open discussion and action. We cannot continue to be silent. We must put into action ways to support people.

For years we have been discussing the opioid crisis, including measures to promote safety and decrease moments like this. Yet throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen overdose rates rise, along with increased difficulty accessing services for those desperately in need.

This is a clear sign that more needs to be done to combat the continued opioid crisis, not only because of this young man who died too young, but for all the people out there who feel like they are alone in this and don’t know where to turn.

At Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, I am proud to say that we do everything we can to help people in their moment of need. No one should feel like they can’t seek mental health care because they don’t have insurance. The team at Linden Oaks can help you find mental health treatment, regardless of your insurance situation, so you get the care you need.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an opioid addiction, you’re not alone. We can help you get your life back. Explore services at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health or fill out this assessment form online and one of our team members will contact you. You can also call us at 630-305-5027.

Learn how we’re leading the fight against opioid addiction.

Want to find out your risk for addiction? Take our free online Addiction Aware Risk Assessment and get next steps.

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