SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Kevin Simmers knows the feeling of helplessness in fighting heroin addiction first hand.
For Simmers, a retired Hagerstown police officer, that helplessness developed into frustration as he and his then 18 year-old daughter Brooke ran into a series of roadblocks and administrative red tape in seeking treatment for her heroin addiction in late 2013.
“We tried all the things that we thought would help,” said Simmers, during a special lecture sponsored by the Shepherd University Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Sport Studies at Erma Ora Byrd auditorium Monday night.
However, after multiple tries to get and stay clean, accompanied by a succession of relapses, Brook Simmers, then 19 years-old, died of a heroin overdose in April 2015 when she was found in the back seat of her car in a church parking lot.
Simmers’ attitude toward drug addiction was somewhat different in the early1980s after he had graduated high school.
“When I finished school, President Ronald Reagan had a big push then for the war on drugs,” Simmers said. “The way we were going to do it is handcuffs and incarceration.”
Simmers joined the Air Force where he trained dogs to sniff out narcotics. Discharged four years later, he was hired by the Hagerstown Police Department in the early 1990s where he was assigned to the narcotics unit and eventually became part of a Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force.
“I was targeting users and dealers — any type of narcotics,” Simmers said. “My feeling back then was ‘make as many arrests as you possibly can.’ “
Simmers recalled the day his daughter called him in late 2013 to ask for help, telling him she had developed an addiction to the opioid pain killer Percocet.
The next year and half would be an in-the-field education for Simmers and his daughter, running into seemingly counter intuitive administrative regulations to securing Brooke immediate addiction treatment.
According to Simmers, Brooke was initially refused insurance coverage for treatment because she was deemed a non-critical candidate.
“Her addiction had not progressed to the point where she needed in-patient treatment,” Simmers said “It was not serious enough, they said, because she had not been arrested, she had not overdosed, and she had not been hospitalized.”
Instead, Brooke was approved for out-patient treatment where she would go to daily classes every night.
“I didn’t want to take that as an answer,” Simmers said. “If you are having a heart attack with chest pains, the doctors are not going to say, ‘well you’re still conscious. Let’s not call an ambulance just yet.'”
After attending two weeks of out- patient classes, Brooke dropped out, telling her father she had her addiction under control. She returned to work
In a few months, Simmers again heard from his daughter.
“She had lost her job, and she had started to look unkempt, which was very unlike her,” Simmers said. “You could tell that things were spinning out of control again. She said she was now addicted to heroin and was shooting up every morning.”
Now 18 years old, Brooke had to be the one to commit to treatment. Brooke was eventually accepted to an in-patient treatment facility in early 2014. However, Simmers later found out that she had checked herself out against medical advice and had relapsed back to drug use.
After a few more attempted recoveries and relapses — including an overdose at a heroin dealer’s house in Baltimore, Maryland.
Seeing his daughter’s drug addiction struggles first hand changed Simmers perspective on drug abuse and its unrelenting pull on the user.
“An addict is not a weak-minded person,” Simmer said. “I am not of that camp anymore.”
In the wake of his daughter’s death, Simmers and his wife Dana decided to start “Brooke’s House,” a public charity whose goals is to build a long-term, residential treatment facility for young women suffering from addiction in Smithsburg, Maryland.
The HPERS department presented Simmers with a $300 donation from the Vince Gonino Fund to help with the construction of Brooke’s House.
“This is one small way for HPERS faculty and students to give back to community and help fight drug addiction,” said Professor Stacey Kendig, department chair of HPERS.
Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/