Ursula: A personal story on how drug addiction affects us all

Jun 2, 2023, 3:22 PM

drug ordinance city council drug addiction seattle drug possession...

Drug users prepare cocaine before injecting, inside of a safe consumption van set up by Peter Krykant on November 6,2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. Peter, a recovering heroin addict and former drugs worker, has set up the drug consumption van where addicts can inject safely and take drugs under supervision. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: This article talks about suicide and drug addiction. If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-8255 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The story of the two Northshore Elementary School principals, who are on leave for their alleged cocaine use, is a sad reminder that drug addiction knows no boundaries. So often, we talk about the addicts on the streets of downtown Seattle or in homeless encampments next to freeways.

But the reality is, each and every one of us is affected by addiction. If not personally, then through a family member, a friend, or a colleague.

Two Northshore elementary principals on leave after alleged cocaine use

In my case, it was my oldest brother George. After years of drug use, he died by suicide in 2001. He was only 41 years old.

George was brilliant. He was tested when he was a young boy and had a genius IQ. Growing up, I would marvel at his musical skills. I remember attending piano recitals where our very demanding piano teacher would gush over his masterful piano playing and would reward him with the top prize. George was also an incredible chess player and was invited to play (for fun) with several world chess champions who were in the Philippines for a tournament. George didn’t lack friends either. He had a quick wit, a self-deprecating sense of humor, and was kind and sensitive. But later on in life, he told me he struggled with depression, which played a big role in his addiction.

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When he was 13, George started smoking marijuana. By the time he graduated from high school in 1978, he had also graduated from pot onto much heavier drugs. By that point, our family had already tried to get him into treatment, but the brief hospitalizations did little to slow down his escalating addiction. On our last day in the Philippines, we were worried that George wouldn’t make it to the airport for our permanent move to the United States because he had been partying all night and barely made it back home on time.

Over the years, George tried repeatedly to get on the right path and we tried to help him with emotional and financial support, compassion, and even tough love. But with each start and stop, it just got harder and harder and, in April of 2001, our worst fears were realized. After filling in for the early morning anchor shift, I was awakened by a phone call from my dad. He gave me the horrible news that George died by suicide while they were in Eugene, Ore. for a surgery my brother was supposed to have that morning.

He didn’t leave a note but he had talked about wanting to end his life in the weeks prior. We had tried, in vain, to get him into counseling again but his heart and mind were not up for it.

More from Ursula: Turning soul-crushing grief over fentanyl into fuel for change

My beautiful, brilliant, kind, sensitive brother George is the reason why I take such a hard stance on drugs. There is no way I could, in good conscience, support efforts to make it easier to get hooked. I voted against legalizing marijuana in Washington. I am not in favor of decriminalizing hard drugs. But I wholeheartedly support making drug and mental health treatment much more accessible and affordable. Even for middle-class families like ours, the cost of drug treatment was a barrier in continuing to get care for him after the first couple of tries failed. Thankfully, my brother never went to jail for drugs, but his addiction stole many potentially happy years away from him and his family.

It kept him from reaching his potential, which would have been endless. It kept him from seeing his equally brilliant son grow up to become an incredible father of a baby boy named George. If my brother George were alive today, I think he would probably agree with me.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-8255 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ursula: A personal story on how drug addiction affects us all