But Brandler, now the chief federal law enforcement officer for a sprawling judicial district that covers half of Pennsylvania, said he felt a responsibility that came with his new, higher-profile job. “It’s easier to cope with the passage of time, but it never goes away,” Brandler told the Associated Press in an interview. “And, frankly, this whole heroin epidemic has brought it to the forefront.” Fatal heroin overdoses have more than quintupled in the years since Brandler lost his son. The illicit drug, along with highly addictive prescription pain relievers like oxycodone and fentanyl a substance more powerful than heroin now rival car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. Erik’s death proved that heroin doesn’t discriminate, Brandler said. He urged parents to “open their eyes” to the threat and talk to their kids. “I want to evaporate the myth that heroin addicts are just homeless derelicts,” said Brandler, who, before his son’s overdose, held that impression himself. “This epidemic hits everybody, and I think my situation exemplifies that.” The opioid crisis was already taking root when Brandler began having problems with Erik, the youngest of his three children. The teenager’s grades dropped, his friends changed and he began keeping irregular hours.
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