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:

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**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.

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