“He went from an amazing musician and a trusted friend of hundreds of people, to a liar and a thief and would do anything for his next fix,” said Ryan Heath of his friend Scott Brandle.
Brandle, like thousands of other people in Northeast Florida, died from a heroin overdose. And like so many who grieve, Heath hopes to find meaning in his friend’s death. But not just Brandle’s death—according to Heath, the former musician is only among the most recent in a string of deaths that have touched Heath’s circle of friends. “I’ve easily known 16 that have died since the pain pill clinics started up in the late ’90s,” he said; of that number, seven have died in the past two years.
On Aug. 26, Heath and his very musically connected friend, Order by Chaos bandmember David Rowe, host Kickfest, a music festival organized to raise funds and awareness for the opioid epidemic in Northeast Florida. All of the funds raised, explains Heath, will go to help fund a pilot program for new treatment strategies with St. Vincent’s Riverside, Gateway Community Services and River Region Human Services: Dr. Raymond Pomm’s treatment program for opioid addiction at River Region treatment center. Pomm is medical director at River Region and Gateway Services.
“This isn't a problem just for ‘druggie junkie losers’ anymore,” said Heath. “This is happening to politicians, judges, cops, firemen, lawyers, teachers, mothers, fathers, grandmothers […] I can go on and on and on.”
As a firefighter, Heath has experience with the drug problem in a way that few do (though he said he's dealt mostly with cocaine overdoses). He talked about how paramedic friends of his regularly respond to desperate calls to administer Narcan, and give CPR to near-lifeless forms. His said these stories and his own experiences have shown him that “there’s a false belief that heroin addicts as users are only shooting up. That’s a very wrong statement and not true at all, because most people are actually snorting it, smoking it or eating it.”
In May, Jacksonville City Morgue had to turn away some of those who had died because there wasn’t enough room—the increase in the number of those who die from overdoses has strained the facility. That horrifying situation makes it clear that the solution won’t be simple, nor will it be easy. It's hoped that Dr. Pomm's new treatments, combined with awareness, must help.
Kickfest, with Cloud9 Vibes, Searching Serenity, Puzzles to Pieces, SuperCollide, Jim Murdock and DJ Capone, is held 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26 at Dee’s Music Bar & Grill, 2141 Loch Rane Blvd., Ste. 140, Orange Park; all ages, 375-2240, $10.