Federal Prosecutor Speaks Out About His Son’s Overdose Death

By Kelly Burch 01/16/17

“This epidemic hits everybody, and I think my situation exemplifies that.”

Bruce Brandler
Bruce Brandler Photo via YouTube

In the past few years, the country has learned that opioid addiction can strike anywhere—and now, a recently promoted U.S. Attorney in Pennsylvania is cementing that message by sharing his personal story of losing his son to a heroin overdose 10 years ago. 

“If you think it can't happen to you, it can,” said Bruce Brandler, according to the LA Times. “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.”

Brandler’s son Erik died of a heroin overdose nearly 10 years ago, when he was just 16. Brandler found marijuana in his son’s room, and confronted him again when he was hospitalized for an ecstasy overdose. “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,” said Brandler.

Erik received treatment that included frequent drug testing. However, his parents didn’t realize that the youngest of their three children was dabbling in heroin until they received a middle-of-the-night phone call from the hospital on the night of Erik’s death. 

Amid his grief, Brandler also had to confront his own assumptions about opioid addiction. He now hopes that by sharing his story, he can help other people do the same. “I want to evaporate the myth that heroin addicts are just homeless derelicts,” he said. “This epidemic hits everybody, and I think my situation exemplifies that.”

Brandler hopes that as U.S. Attorney, he can fight opioid addiction through prevention, treatment and prosecution, when needed. He plans to aggressively prosecute doctors who overprescribe pills, as well as people involved in opioid deaths, like drug dealers. 

Five people were criminally charged in light of Erik’s death, including the friend who he took drugs with. Despite Erik showing signs of distress, the friend did not seek medical help for hours. He is now serving a more than five-year prison term. 

Brandler says he speaks out so that his personal connection to the opioid crisis can help break down stigma and encourage conversations about drugs in all families. Federal appeals Judge Thomas Vanaskie told the LA Times that Brandler’s story is one that needs to be told. 

“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.” 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.