Heroin Hits Home: Robby’s Story

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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- When you see him smile back at you from the family photos, it's hard to believe that Robby Brandt is gone.

Dead of a heroin overdose at the age of 20.

"We were close; we were very close," said Rob Brandt, Robby's father.

Robby's tragic journey toward addiction and death is an all too familiar one.

Accidental drug overdoses now kill over 1,700 Ohioans a year, according to the latest numbers.

That's more people than die in the state from car wrecks.

The FOX 8 I-Team first exposed the deadly trend in a series of investigative reports three years ago. Since then, the epidemic has only worsened.

In Robby's case, he was put on a prescription for opiates for pain after having his wisdom teeth pulled as a teenager. Opiates are painkillers that are heroin's legal cousins that go by names such as Oxycodone and Oxycontin.

His parents had him off the painkillers in two days, but the damage was done.

"We didn't know that his brain could latch onto that drug or that feeling that quick," said Rob, "but that medication lit up his brain, and he liked it."

Rob said other people may have felt sick, "but for people who are prone to addiction, they get this euphoria, and the brain remembers it, and it wants more."

His parents, Rob and Carla, got Robby into rehab, only to have him relapse, but they got him back into rehab again.

Robby had graduated from Olmsted Falls High School.

He was 110 days clean and set to deploy to Afghanistan in 2011 when he was found dead of a heroin overdose in an East Cleveland parking lot.

That morning, he had reached out to three friends and got each of their voice mails. The fourth call he made was to a drug dealer.

"He just didn't want us to know he was struggling," Rob said, his voice shaking a little. "He just didn't want us to be disappointed."

Even though Rob and Carla did all they could, Rob said "there's not a day that goes by" when they don't think about whether there was anything else they could have done.

"You just know, you didn't save your kid," Rob said, fighting back tears. "And we're his parents."

The Brandts have taken their loss and made a difference, forming a foundation called Robby's Voice that seeks to help raise awareness of the problems involved in battling addiction.

Rob said people have to get by the stigma and accept that addiction can happen anywhere in any home.

"What are you willing to do to protect your child's life?" he asked.

And, he said, for families grappling with addiction, they need to understand heroin's power and its chemical seductiveness.

"It is so strong. It will kill you so quickly," Rob said. "And it will chase you the rest of your life."

For more on the Robby's Voice foundation, click here.

*Web Extra -- For an additional interview with Robby's father, watch the video player below:

**Tonight on Fox 8 News at 6 p.m., Bill Sheil will look at perhaps the most innocent victims in the epidemic: babies who are born addicted. He'll also look at why the epidemic has exploded in recent years.

For more on this week's series, click here.

54 comments

  • Gwen RN

    It is a sad story and he seemed like a loved son… however, I highly doubt it was a few oxy’s from a tooth extraction that got him addicted to heroin. He was, as usually happens in these cases, hanging with the wrong friends and fell to peer pressure. This is the only cause of addiction. I do feel bad that the parents tried so hard to pull him back, that is the definition of LOVE!!

    • Laurie

      I completely agree with you Gwen, I also feel this is a little dangerous to blame a couple days usage of a pain killer caused him to use heroin. We must start to focus on the real reasons for these addictions. Availability, peer pressure and shame.

    • Margo Florian

      Gwen you are wrong. Some people can become addicted after trying a drug once! The chemical make up of these prescription drugs is the same as Heroin. Some people have the chemical make up to become addicted. They don’t wanna be addicts. And for all those just being mean….do some research!

      • Gwen RN

        Margo, then what you are explaining is natural selection. Because no-one can go through life without needing narcotics for some reason. A dental procedure (as mentioned above), a broken leg, a minor surgery to remove a cyst, etc… So, if you have the logic you mentioned above, that means he was simply a ticking time bomb and it would have happened to him anyway. Is my logic flawed?? Again, please know I’m not being mean, his family has suffered a great loss – but it was not a few oxy’s that caused it.

      • Candice

        I really do believe that being on those pulls for a few days couldbe got him to want more. No one knows what happened for sure, but that is not only believable but likely. Im in recovery 2 years. Never did drugs and got hooked after needing opiates for a broken bone. It made me not feel. I had peace. So yes, there was probably somethong internally happening that we will never know, that opiates allowed hom to escape from.

      • Candice

        I really do believe that being on those pills for a few days could have got him to want more. No one knows what happened for sure, but that is not only believable but likely. Im in recovery 2 years. Never did drugs and got hooked after needing opiates for a broken bone. It made me not feel. I had peace. So yes, there was probably something internally happening that we will never know, that opiates allowed him to escape from.

    • tina

      Gwen you couldn’t be more wrong what Robbie’s dad is saying is that once he had his first taste of oxycodone after that extraction he knew then he liked that buzz so then he began doing pills recreationally and once u get broke or dopesick you end up reaching for the heroin cuz its cheaper and readily available. Robbie’s dad has a profound understanding of how the kind of addict works and how it cane to be, I am speaking from my own personal experiences.

    • ABC

      Mr. Brandt explained that he wasn’t an addict because of the few days of use, he just got a feeling that he liked. It was a feeling his brain liked. I believe that some people are more prone to addiction then others. Robby definitely had a more addictive personality. Not just with drugs, with anything his brain realized he really enjoyed. When he got his motorcycle you could not peal him off of it. He rode everywhere, told every one. He loved it. It was another high. Through high school he got more script meds then ended up using heroin because it was cheaper and more easily acceptable.

  • Lisa

    So sorry for the loss it is sad to loose a brother or sister at anytime but to loose them to drugs is very sad. I hate drugs so so bad. I wish they could catch every drug dealer and every drug on the street all over the United States That’s just how I feel about it

  • ed kearns

    so overblown…1 script didn’t turn him into a junkie…this went on for months probably and those who cared for him failed him…close the book..There are no losers here except the kid…

    • Gwen RN

      His family does not sound like they failed him, it sounds like they tried everything they could to help him. But according to Margo, this would have happened no matter what they did.

    • Jennifer

      Wow Ed you are a true peace of work!!! What an a$$ you are to say that kid was a loser. I hope u never have experience the loss of a child. You should be are up though casting your stones from your glass house!!!!

    • ABC

      Please don’t talk bad about people you don’t know because if you knew him you would know this wasn’t the case. Robby did well in school, we were in honors physics together. He joined the military and couldn’t have been prouder and was going to make a great soldier. This whole family is wonderful, including the person you are currently calling a loser.

  • renna

    Don’t be so f*c*en cold-hearted & judgmental! This can happen to ANYONE! You do everything you can as a parent to help your kid…and no parent should have to bury their kid. You people make me sick to not have any empathy what so ever for the parent who has to bury their kid – regardless of age or the young man who lost his life to this horrible drug. He may have been trying to reach out when he was making those phone calls…its heartbreaking that he couldn’t call his parents to help for whatever reason he felt he couldn’t….

  • Joyce

    Yea, the first thing a nurse does when you’re admitted to the hospital is hook you up to Morphine. No questions asked, protocol, they call it. I went to ER for stomach issues and right away they tried administering morphine, I asked the nurse why and what for, she said “protocol”. I asked her if she knew I had no allergies to this drug, she said “no” but its protocol! Of course I refused the drug. She seemed shock that I called her out on this protocol. People, please ask questions when you seek medical care. Just don’t “assume” that they know best!

    • Gwen RN

      Joyce, you do realize that a nurse cannot administer anything to you without the order from a doctor. Now with that said… I have been to the ER many times and experienced the same thing as you. They just want to cover the symptoms and send you home. Always refuse something you do not want or need. Always ask questions as well – this is your right.

  • Kim

    Sorry for your loss. My grandchildren lost their dad to herion 5 1/2 years ago. He was only 23. My daughter almost followed right behind. She hit rock bottom. I have been raising my grandchildren for the past 5 years. My daughter is clean and is expecting a child in April, has a good guy and will have her other children back with her in June. She says it is a struggle everyday to stay clean, you just have to want it bad enough. I thank the Lord everyday that she is still here. No matter what we do as parents, we are their best enablers. Herion takes such control over them. And yes, they started out with oxycontin.

    • Sheena

      I know how it is to be an addict. I was addicted to oxys and heroine for many years. After the father of my children died of an overdose u would have thought that was my wake up call but no that made it worse it was until I kept getting into with the law and my parents finally said no we r not bailing u out this time and signing over my kids to them did I realize its not worth loseing my kids and family for ever did I make the final decision to change it didn’t happen over nite it took the want and drive and a good support system to over come it. ” tuff love” my mom said at first I thought they were being mean but now being clean for almost 4 years I realize they did it to save my life and I could never put into words how great full I am for that. So anyone one out there who thinks its not possible I am living proof that it is. I now am getting my children back expecting a new little one in April have a house and great man in my life and a better relationship with my parents then ever before!!! I know I will always be an addict and it will always be a struggle but I am prepared for that

  • k

    I never used to use drugs, drink, or even so much as take a Tylenol or Nyquil for a cold or flu. Then one day I got hurt at work and was given a script of 5/325 percocets. The night I went home and took the first one was the night the addiction started.

  • Nonie

    His problems and addiction did not stem from a brain memory after a two-day stint on narcotics. They were much deeper than that, and on many fronts.

  • Rob

    First, thank you to Bill Sheil for bringing this to further light with compassion and truth. Second, understand that the first use did not “create the adiction.” It triggered an effect in his brain that allowed the addiction to progress. It created a feeling and a desire to get that feeling again, and then the physical dependency followed. We must understand the power of these drugs when used indiscriminantly, combined with the fact that 30% of our population has a genetic pre-disposition to addiction is a dangerous combination. The facts bear that out. We have too many pills out there and an attitude among the kids that take a pill and feel better.

    We just need to understand this and adapt acordingly because if we do not, the death rate will continue to rise.

  • Rob

    Nonie –

    I appreciate your comment, did not know you knew Robby or lived in our home. Actually, his brain did remember the feeling and since you knew him so well, he certainly told you that he liked the feeling and he remembered it. Couple that with the challenges of growing up, availability and a lack of education and the rest is a path that we walk and live.

    I would love to hear about the rest of his issues, maybe it will help us understand more than what we know today.

    Even at that, I know many teens that became addicted through experimentation; just that simple. There ar others that face challenges in life and because the drug helps them escape things, they use it not realizing the strength and suddeness of the addiction. Yes, there are several roads. At some point every addict is exposed; Robby was exposed through his surgery; not unusual as many addicts are exposed that way. Robby was also, clearly, predisposed to addiction but you knew that.

    Don’t miss the point of this message – we need to be aware and understand the dangers, the signs and the impacts. We need to use and educate accordingly and appropriately. There is a reason that 97% of those on chronic pain medication don’t improve – but you probably knoew that

    • Candice

      Thanks for all that you do in raising awareness. I am part of a heroin awareness team in schools. And i hear you have done this also and impact a lot of people. Thanks for not being ashamed, for helping to ban the stigma.

  • dgw

    If you have any respect for the pain that these people feel at the loss of their son, friend, etc., please keep the arguments off this page. Maybe it was the few days of oxy, maybe it wasn’t, the point is that deaths like this don’t have to happen and awareness is the first step.

  • Steven Abelt

    I am very sorry for the loss of family members from drugs, but personally, I need the Oxycodone when I have tooth pain. I took it in half a pill at a time, and it got me through the roughest time EVER! At first they gave me vicodin, but they did absolutely NOTHING for me at all. I thanked God for the Oxycodone. Its only when people abuse or misuse drugs when they become a problem. I saved my pills just in case another tooth went bad, my wife had a root canal done by a lousy idiot dentist and he botched it up so bad, she had to go get medication. In the middle of the night, she was in so much pain she woke me up in tears going out of her mind. I broke half a Oxycodone and in like 8 minutes she already had almost no pain. We didn’t abuse them, and it did not go to our brains and screw us up like this report said happened in this case. The father is wrong! His son got on drugs to get high, probably brought on by peer pressure. There is something more to all these stories!!!
    If these misled people yell hard enough, innocent and deserving people like us, will no longer have access to what we NEED in real emergencies! And that’s a real problem!!!

    • tina

      You my friend are naive, you don’t have the predisposition or the mind of an addict therefore you do not understand nor will you. Your comments are ignorant.

  • Linda Myers

    Not only do I Blame drug dealers for this epidemic that has got way out of control, I blame Doctors!!! Doctors do their share to spread this epidemic.. Its one thing to prescribe a person a drug to help them thru a temporary discomfort. It is another thing to prescribe a person a drug for the rest of their life.. I know people who has went to the same doctor for 5-10 years and received prescription , they start you with vicodins and then you return to tell the doc it don’t help and they up your scripts to percoset, and not just 3 a day but at a high dosage per day,,, JUST MAKES ME SICK… Drug makers and physicians, they are as much to blame as any drug dealer!!

  • djl

    I lost a nephew to heroin, my sister knows your pain of the loss of a son, I know the loss of a nephew. Im sorry to hear of your loss Im happy as a parent to see you guys take a tragedy and turn it into something good. Too many would have turned a blind eye to helping others, and not have told their story. We as parents would like to believe that because we love our kids and do what we can for them that we are not as risk, but that is so far from the truth. Heroin doesnt care what you paid for your house, how much you have in your bank account, or even how many pta meetings you have attended, it will get you. I have never heard anyone say when they hold their newborn child…i cant wait for you to become a heroin addict….we all have big dreams for them, and becoming an addict isnt 1 of them.

  • Rebecca Eckenrode

    I’m so glad to see that you are all addiction specialists. Here’s a suggestion…..do not pass judgement or attempt to figure this out, it’s none our business to do so. The family was simply speaking out about the lose of their child. Furthermore, if any of you are so inclined read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Educate yourselves before you get on your know-it-all, Holier than Thou high horse. Sincerely-Recovering alcoholic/addict.

  • RJarrett

    First off NO ONE Should Judge these folks secondly please act like human beings for once people a death is a death and should be treated more respectfully .
    My condolences to the family I live this same nightmare with my own child and luckily the drug has not claimed her life Yet Notice I said yet… It is my worst nightmare- Please don’t tell me how bad of a parent I am and how its all my fault you don’t know me….

    Here is one thing that needs to happen -Rehab facilities are a Joke in most places I say the money cars jewelry and junk collected from the arrest of dealers should ALL go to rehab the people the dealers addicted in the first place.

    so I’ve seen some try to say things like oh no you cant get addicted from a few oxy tablets really? the drug opiate actually Changes a persons Bain and THAT IS A FACT! so weather or not a person already had a mental disorder most likely yes the drug would then maybe more desirable But again the drug changes the users Brain so even a “normal ” Brain WILL be affected.
    Before You try coming at me with Garbage DO YOUR research Cause I have little tolerance for Ignorant people.
    thank you

    • Rebecca Eckenrode

      I couldn’t have said it better….I must say though the dealer is just as sick if not sicker than the addict. Your child is in my prayers everyday.

    • Randy

      Sure opiates and opioids change chemistry in your brain. So does nicotine, marijuana, coke, alcohol, fatty foods. They all bind with receptors in the brain and cause euphoria . Just because someone does a drug once doesn’t mean their brain is now forever changed and they just can’t help themselves to the drug. Addiction is a disease. But its different than most other diseases as its caused by choices by the individual. Theres a huge number of people who get prescribed percocet when they need it, love the euphoria, but when they are gone /not needed they don’t constantly search out that feeling. Its a terrible thing to lose loved ones to addiction, especially ones so young. And once addiction is there its a monkey that will never fully be off your back, no matter how many years sober you’ve been. But people got to take responsibility for themselves. They may be predisposed to addiction but it still boils down to choices made before someone is a full blown addict. Once heroin gets a foothold in ya it turns people into unrecognizable shells and will kill.

  • randy

    hi, i know for sure that it can happen, cuz it happen to me, i had knee surgery, and was givin perks, and i didnt even know this was going to happen to me, im 53 yrs old, i smoked marijuana for 36 yrs and never did anything else, but when i had this surgery, i got so hooked that im a mess now, ive been to treatment 6 times,and relapes every time, i know it sounds bad, but you have no idea how bad this is,!! ive even lost my daughter over this, she had my first grad daughter and wont let me see her, so im so hurt over it, but she dont understand that i hate it and i want off this but no matter how hard i try i relapes, i pray to god to help me ! i want to see my daughter, and the baby so bad !! so my advice to anybody reading this is DO NOT EVER TAKE PAIN PILLS !! cuz it will happen to you too !! plz pray for me !!!

    • RJarrett

      Most loving God,
      we ask your blessing upon all
      who suffer from addiction.
      Strengthen them to reach out for help.
      Enable them to take the first step to recovery.
      Bless them with the persistence to persevere
      in the fight to be free.
      Give courage and hope to their families,
      drawing them close together

      in the power of your love,
      which alone can transform our living.
      Amen.

  • Joanne G

    I lost a 37 year old son to it……and it was a legal Rx! There should be a limit to how many they get, and find a painkiller that’s not addictive. Too many young people are being lost to it.

  • bhd

    My addiction started with a percocet. Yes a percocet. It gave me the best feeling in the world & before that I didn’t even know what a percocet was. Ever since then every couple months the amount gets higher. 1 a day 3 a day 5 a day…so on & so forth. I want rehab but it would help if they all weren’t so pricey. Maybe that’s something to work on….getting low income people help too. It is my fault 100%. I had a choice but at the same time, if you want to help, give us help. Spreading awareness is pointless if its already an epidemic. Its a choice. You can spread awareness all you want but, its a choice. If they want it, they WILL do it.

    • BESTRONG!!!!

      Community Action Against Addiction its on Euclid I have called and taking my loved ones there! If you truly want the help its there….10$ a month for non insured at least that was the cost # years ago

  • brokenheart

    my husband and I have been dealing with a similar story… my husbands mother and father are both users of this horrible drug. My inlaws have infected others with this drug they have enabled their teenage daughter to use this drug with them. They are currently in treatment but still choose to use. WE CHOSE NOT TO DEAL with them any longer….. their addiction has caused many problems in our lives and its been going on for 10 + years…. so sad when you lose a battle to this drug! it doesn’t even seem to bother them that we no longer associate with them or that they don’t get to see their only grandchild….hope other people have better luck staying sober!!! God Bless!!!!

  • dave

    I went to school with Rob, he was a nice kid. Him and I frankly didn’t always see eye to eye but we didn’t hate each other. We could still keep conversations. Mostly because i was more nerdy and such…

    I remember the week when he has his wisdom teeth out though because I tried talking to him in class and he couldn’t respond too well.

    To all you saying that “just a few days can’t trigger an addiction” apparently haven’t done your research. All it takes is once for your brain to like a feeling/effect to know it wants it again. This kind of thing can happen with LITERALLY anything with the human brain, not just drugs. A few days is MORE than enough time for your brain to get used to something new that makes you “feel good.” It can happen with illegal substances, it can happen with legal substances, it can even happen with feelings like love or sadness. If you enjoy it, generally you’ll want it more. It’s how the brain works.

  • Loren Tomblin

    I was severely wounded in Viet Nam and they gave me all the morphine and pain killers I wanted. I woke up one day and told myself I don’t need this shit. That was 46 years ago. Addiction is a state of mind. Let go of what you can’t control.

  • Praying sister

    This story hits home! My sister is only 25 and has been using heroin for the past 3 years! Her story begins using perks.. Than oxy’s she used those everyday not taking by mouth but snorting them. She went to a doctor told him she had pain on her stomach with was a lie! The foc did this for anyone! It runs her life! I couldn’t take it nomore.. She had to small children and she would use in the same house with them.. I know deep down she loves her children .. But she loves to have that buzz..after her kids were removed and she went to jail because she was caught red handed with heroin she was released s few hours later in my hands.. I took her to st. Hospital.. They started to withdrawal her., she entered a rehab center and left before her outtime in 2 weeks she relapsed that same day! A few months went by and she then got caught sterling at a local store and did 7 months in the county jail’ I prayed everyday that she would wake up and be done with that life ! She sounded like she was ready to live normal again she wanted her children! Well she got out in last June and used again that night… Sence then she overdosed 5 times! She hasn’t lost her life yet ! I know it’s a sickness .,, and you can’t stop on your own you need that professional help. Were still raising her children .: I pray for her daily! It’s a routine before i go to bed and when I
    Awake in the moring ! This story has touched me!

  • Dolores

    Watching you on television was like reliving the pain you are going through. In 1992 my 30 year old son took his own life because of an addiction to cocaine. He left 2 small children. He had gotten out of rehab 30 days earlier and relapsed. I think he knew he could not stop.
    My husband died of a stroke 14 months later. I know he blamed himself because he couldn’t save him. But we, like you and your wife, did evrything we could possibly do. It has been 21 years ago and still to this day I don’t know what we could have done differently. At that time suicide wasn’t talked about openingly. I talked about it and was surprised to find how suicide had touched so many other peoples lives. My son’s daughter is now a herion addict. I have tried everything but nothing is working. She has 2 small children who are greatly effected by this. I talk openingly about her heroin addiction trying to help others. Drugs are not a victimless crime.

  • Lisa

    I lost my brother 4 yrs ago. It’s the most heartbreaking thing to loss someone close to you but from drugs it’s harder to understand. He was awet kind to everyone he always had the most warming smile and would have never thought he would pass so young from accidental overdose. I think a person can have addictive personality to many things, and once your body get ahold of something that makes you feel good and forget about what your mind doesn’t want to think about that’s when you want more. He had a good life , a home , a wife and a great job but when he looked on the mirror he didn’t love himself for whatever reason he had. He took that piece of the puzzle with him when he left.. I no as a kid he did drugs pot, pills but it never consumed him enough to not achieve life’s goals.. But I fill with him it was the company he kept.. He always had upstanding friends and then he had low life’s that made him feel better about himself… And those are the friends he spent time with the night before he died… So it’s sad to say that he’s gone and very missed by his sister that couldn’t help him love himself to want to stay on this earth !!!!

  • Frank

    Addiction really is a disease. I don’t think anyone should look down on someone because of it. It could happen to anybody. A lot of people fail to realize how similar heroin and morphine actually are; the only difference is that heroin enters the brain faster and to a greater extent than morphine (because of an addition of two acetyl groups) and after the first 3-5mins heroin is converted to morphine. So It’s totally understandable how someone can go from taking a prescription painkiller such as Vicodin or percocet to using heroin especially because heroin is easier to find, cheaper and faster than stronger prescription opiates.

  • ABC

    Robby was my best friend. We were inseparable in high school. He had this way about him that the minute he walked into any room every one would smile. He had the most beautiful huge smile that everyone loved. He made everyone around him happy. He is missed by many every day. He is now in a place where he can drive his car or motorcycle as fast as he wants, where ever he wants and run around like a goof. I see signs of him still with me every day and even though I miss them some make me laugh or smile because I know it is him. But it is just amazing that the Brandt family has taken such a horrible situation and have turned it into a foundation to save lives and educate not only current addicts, future addicts, but also parents, family and friends of addicts on signs and ways to help.

  • Praying sister

    It’s hard to hear all these story’s in really hits home.. I asked my sister that is addictive to heroin to watch robbys story and she won’t! She said it’s to depressing ? True it is! But I thought it be awake up call for her. Does anyone think she’s scared to see because she is in denial..or because she knows she will lose her life if she dont give it up? ???

  • Carolyn Marcum

    Last night I was home with my housemate and friend and her son was upstairs and sent a text to her phone asking her not to come to his room because he didn’t want her finding his body. He told her he loved her and was sorry for all of the problems he caused her. We heard a thud. The rope he tried to hang himself with broke. He is fighting a heroine addiction and has been calling places for help. He has no insurance and hadn’t been able to find the help he needed to overcome this addiction .He tried on his and can’t beat it. He came downstairs and we seen the rope mark on his neck as he bolted out of the house. My friend called the police and told them he was suicidal and they came out looking for him. They found him and were so supportive of my friend and her son. He was taken to St.Vincent Charity hospital were we were hoping he would stay until this morning when he had an appointment to get in Rosary Hall. The hospital released him because he wasn’t “suicidal” enough. He came home and this morning was in a car accident causing him to miss his appointment. Now where does he go as he tries to fight this addiction on his own? There needs to be help somewhere for those wanting to really kick this horrible drug! He is 24 and has been on this drug for 3 months. It started with a infected tooth. He has no insurance so went to the er and was given Percocet and it went downhill from there. Help!

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