Tony’s story: brother’s lesson in drug abuse

Col. Robert Winston
86th Airlift Wing vice commander

***image1***It was Saturday morning, May 5, 1995, when the police told me my brother was dead. They told me over the telephone and were very cavalier about it. But I understand why they were so callous. My brother had died of a heroin overdose, and they probably figured that I was another junkie too.

I came from a normal Air Force family. My brother, Tony, and I grew up on Air Force bases and loved riding our bikes down to the flightline to see the planes. All of our friends were Air Force brats and most dreamed of one day becoming pilots.

But when my brother was 14, he went to a Grand Funk Railroad concert with some friends and smoked his first joint of marijuana. Most of his friends were smoking the stuff, and he just wanted to be part of the crowd. It was a decision that destroyed his life.

My parents told us about the dangers of drugs. The schools educated us all about how drug use could ruin your future. But he must have listened to his peers who said not to worry, he couldn’t get addicted to pot. Tony liked the pot and continued to smoke it and started experimenting with other ways to get high. Tony’s grades in school started slipping. He began to become a discipline problem. The only thing he cared about was getting high. Drugs became the center of his life.

My parents tried everything they could to stop my brother. Family meetings, church counseling, professional counselors and boarding school couldn’t pull Tony away from the drugs. When he turned 18, he dropped out of school. About this time he started using heroin.

Tony married, had three children, abandoned his family, drifted, remarried, had another child, then abandoned them. One doesn’t have time for such trivial things when one is a junkie. I have no idea how many other people’s lives were ruined by the drugs my brother sold to help support his habit.
He stole thousands of dollars from my parents on two different occasions to buy drugs. I hate to think of what Tony must have done to support his heroin habit, but he was hooked and couldn’t stop.

Despite all this, we loved my brother. He really was a nice guy. Tony knew he was destroying himself and hurting all those around him, and he was miserable. We never stopped praying for him. My parents sent him twice to detoxification hospitals to kick the habit. But he couldn’t kick the habit. I really don’t think it’s possible to stop once you are hooked on heroin.

On the night my brother died, he drank a bottle of Sour Mash, took some depressant pills, then put the needle in with the venom that took him from us. He was found sitting on the toilet, cold. Not a very dignified end. It all started with that first joint that ensured acceptance from the gang.

For the young readers, my message is just don’t do it. What you may think is a harmless experiment will become the first nail in your coffin. Marijuana use is the first step. Just say no. Dump any friends who offer you drugs. You don’t need to hang out with losers like that.

Parents need to watch their children. Who are their friends? Who are their heroes? What are the words of their favorite music saying? How is their behavior and school performance? Do whatever it takes to keep your children away from drugs.

To my fellow Air Force members, my message is that I will not tolerate any illegal use of drugs. I will do everything in my power to put drug users away, and take pleasure in doing so.