Dean family

Bob Dean, left, of Queensbury, is seen with his sister Angie and brother Shawn. Both of Dean’s siblings lost their battle to addictions.

Courtesy photo

My brother died of a heroin overdose a year and a half ago. Last week, my sister succumbed to the same addiction. My father died, five months after my brother, of cancer and a broken heart. But I do not want you to feel sympathy for me. I am going to be OK. I am fortunate to have a loving wife and three daughters. My wish is to be a regular guy — a dad, husband, teacher and coach. Unfortunately, heroin addiction has affected my family and challenged me to either pick up the pieces and move on or attack. And I am choosing the latter.

By now, someone you know has been affected by the epidemic. In the 1940s, Look magazine called Glens Falls “Hometown, USA.” Today, we are referred to by global publications like The New York Times as one stop off the infamous “Heroin Highway.” However, that is not who we are. We are a community that takes action. It is time for us to step up and be the blueprint for other towns in our nation to defeat this.

For too long, heroin has cast an ugly shadow over the foothills of the Adirondacks. At the moment, no one is safe. Heroin does not discriminate against race, religion, economic standing, sexual orientation, political party affiliation, or whether you are a Queensbury Spartan or a Glens Falls Indian.

My brother’s and sister’s identities were not defined by heroin always. Shawn loved to make people who were hurting laugh. He was a good person like that. Angie was a super extrovert — the life of the party — whose laugh you could hear from two rooms over. Heroin gave no meaning to their lives. It only served as an agent to end them.

Their deaths are not any one person’s fault. I am very angry and it is sometimes therapeutic to envision kicking the crap out of a drug dealer. I want to throw blame in a thousand directions, but rather than waste energy with fruitless endeavors, I am working within our community to find tangible solutions, educational opportunities for our young people, and to get the help addicts and their families need but is not adequately provided in our area.

There is a Charles Wood Cancer Center at Glens Falls Hospital for the community to be proud of, and we are and should be, but when 120 sons, daughters, mothers and fathers die each day from opioid overdose — the leading cause of death for people younger than 50 — why can there not be a state-of-the-art, science-forward rehab and drug treatment center in our community? Drug abuse should not be seen as a moral failing, but rather a national epidemic that is killing more people than AIDS did in the ‘80s.

For my part, I have recruited my fellow Queensbury football coaches to work with families and local area doctors to ensure when an athlete is injured, they are prescribed an appropriate amount of the correct pain medicine and not a blank 30-pill addiction sentence. With the help of Dr. Denise Buher of Orthopedic & Spine Physical Therapy, we’re working to recommend several alternative methods for pain management and Dr. Buher has expressed a willingness to work with Queensbury Schools on this issue. My hope is other doctors and local area schools follow suit.

I plan to speak to our high school health classes to share stories of their fellow alumni, my brother and sister, and how their once infinite potential for beautiful lives was struck down by a deadly but beatable epidemic and how they, the students, can be a part of the solution. Their future depends on it.

This is only the beginning. I am asking you, my fellow community members, those who I see at Adirondack Thunder games, Stewart’s Shops and men’s softball leagues, this one simple question:

What are you going to do about this?

Bob Dean is special education teacher at Queensbury High School, where he’s worked for the past 14 years. He is a 1994 Queensbury graduate and coaches football and wrestling in addition to travel softball with his daughters. The essay was written with Mike Rogge, an award-winning 12-year career journalist who is Mr. Dean’s cousin, a 2004 Queensbury alumnus and lives in Tahoe Vista, California, with his wife and their two dogs.

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