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Drew Van Horn — haunted by half-brother’s OD death — dies 3 years later


The last four years of his life, Drew Van Horn was haunted by guilt.

Drew, who was 25 when he died last summer after overdosing on heroin in a Palm Beach Gardens motel, had struggled with addiction for eight years, first with OxyContin, then with heroin, said his father, Scott Van Horn.

Click to read the special report

Not long after Drew started using, his younger half-brother Blake Vail “followed in his footsteps and started doing drugs because his big brother did,’’ Scott said.

>>Heroin epidemic, hidden in shame, draws little action to stop the dying

>>Interactive Calendar: All the lives lost

On March 12, 2012, Blake died of an overdose.

Drew would later learn that Blake, after taking a combination of drugs, called his big brother at 12:30 a.m. that day in a panic. Drew, who had gone to bed, looked at his phone when it rang but didn’t answer and went back to sleep, his father said.

“That was absolutely devastating to Drew,’’ said Scott. “I told him, ‘You’ve got to live for something. Don’t let him die in vain by you doing that, too.’ That was a big struggle for him in rehab. He had that hanging over him.’’

>>What is addiction? Why some can’t give it up, others can walk away

>>Heroin scourge: 'Not a thing being done about it'

Drew, a native of Oklahoma City, was likeable and easily made friends. He was a good-looking kid and for a while he dated a Thunder Girl, as the cheerleaders for the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder are known, Scott said.

Drew also had been in and out of treatment centers in Oklahoma and Tennessee and spent time in jail for offenses related to his addiction, Scott said.

“He hated what he had become. He would come to me and be so devastated: ‘Dad, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I did it again.’ I know he meant it,’’ his father said.

>>Full Coverage: Generation Heroin

His mother sent him to a treatment facility in West Palm Beach in 2015, said Scott.

On June 30, Drew overdosed on heroin at the Windsor Hotel. He died three days later at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. He was one of four heroin-related overdose deaths in Palm Beach County on July 3.

After he was taken to the hospital, Palm Beach Gardens police found a letter on the bed of Drew’s hotel room from Unity Recovery Center, a substance abuse treatment facility in North Palm Beach.

>>This veteran survived Iraq but couldn’t beat heroin

The letter said he had entered the program on May 3, 2015, and successfully completed it on June 3, 2015. It also said Drew started a 30-day residential intensive outpatient therapy program on June 3.

Police also found his journal. On June 27, the entry said: “As of now I am in full relapse mode. It’s just a matter of when I get to do it, not if.”

When Blake died in 2012, dozens of friends attended his service in Oklahoma. “Drew told me later that after the funeral a big group of them went to Dallas, three hours from here, and did drugs,’’ Scott said.

“I told Drew, ‘I’m just telling you, man, if you OD, I am not having a funeral for you. I am not going to have all your friends celebrate and get high. That’s not going to happen.’’’

When Drew died, the family had a private funeral with immediate family.

>>Opiate, opioid, Narcan? Words to know about the heroin epidemic

 >>How to recognize an overdose and save a life

In his obituary, the family pointed out that Drew died of a drug overdose: “We will all remember Drew with so much promise and potential, and we hope and pray that others facing this struggle will overcome this terrible disease.”

Scott said there was “no doubt in my mind” that he wanted the obituary to explain why his son died so young, as many parents of addicted children across the country are doing.

“I just felt like, if anyone else out there reads it or some of his friends saw it and said, ‘Enough is enough,’ and it saves one person, then great,” he said. “It doesn’t do me any good to hide it.’’


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