Teresa describes her brother RJ as creative, a talented writer, and incredibly bright. Teresa and RJ were extremely close growing up and as young adults, until RJ’s prescription opioid addiction took hold of him and eventually took his life. RJ was 32 when he passed away from a prescription opioid overdose. When they were kids, RJ would often host parties at their house when their mother was away, relying on Teresa to keep his parties a secret. Not wanting to betray her big brother’s trust, she kept his secrets safe, and she continued to do so as they got older and RJ began using prescription opioids recreationally. Teresa trusted her brother, so when he told Teresa he knew what he was taking and that she shouldn’t worry, she believed him. She was too young to anticipate how things could turn out, but looking back, she now wishes that she had reached out to get him help sooner.
RJ’s addiction led to car crashes, an arrest, and multiple failed attempts at treatment. He eventually enrolled in the military in an effort to get himself back on track. He served in Iraq in 2006 and returned home still struggling with his addiction. He was in recovery for six months before his final relapse and the overdose that caused his death. Following his passing, Teresa found RJ’s diary, which revealed her first true look into his suffering and struggle. It became clear to her that he had simply been pretending to be okay, when in fact, he was losing his battle with addiction. Teresa has become an advocate for drug use awareness and policy, among other social issues. She is co-founder of Speak Up Florida and is an ambassador for Shatterproof.