Faculty Spotlight

Opioid epidemic hits home for Brandman faculty member; learn how you can do your part

October 22, 2018 by Brandman University
Faculty member Tami Capellino and her family embrace after releasing her son's ashes into a favorite lake.                    

Tami Capellino’s oldest son’s struggle with drug addiction started with his first taste of an opiate when he was given morphine after a sports injury in middle school. Sadly, it ended with his family gathered around his hospital bed after 12 days on life support and saying their final goodbyes.

“Our story is not that different from a lot of stories,” said Capellino, the chair of the Educational Administration Department and associate professor in the School of Education at Brandman University. “I’ve had faculty and staff reach out to me and share their story. We have students who are struggling with addiction.”
More than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids according to the CDC. “This truly is an epidemic,” Capellino said.

Years after her son’s initial injury, Capellino noticed some leftover OxyContin was missing. It didn’t occur to her to lock up the medication or any other drugs that had been prescribed for surgeries and sports injuries to various family members.

“It was a decade ago, before we knew the dangers of OxyContin and other opiates. We now know that many youth and adults start down the path of addiction with the use of prescription drugs,” said Capellino who is also an advocate and health educator.

She hopes that spreading awareness will convince others to clean out medicine cabinets by taking part in the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, Saturday, Oct. 27, sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Take Back Days are held each October and April.

The website allows you to search for a collection site nearest you. The April Take Back produced 474.5 tons of prescription drugs from nearly 6,000 locations. “Every prescription we can keep out of the hands of children, could be a life saved from the throws of addiction.” said Capellino.

Building awareness

Shortly after her son’s death in August, Capellino wrote a series of social media posts, that were viewed by thousands, leading up to Overdose Awareness Day. A few edited excerpts are shared here.

A post on Aug. 28 shared words Capellino lives by and shares with others: “If you have a loved one struggling with addiction in your life, please learn all you can, become aware and do not help ‘blindly.’ Even good intentions can lead to disastrous consequences.

  • I can’t and will not support a loved one struggling with addiction in such a way that it supports them staying active in addiction.
  • I will never will have a loved one struggling with addiction die off my $20.
  • I will take the heat for saying ‘No’ because it is the right thing to do even when it is often one of the hardest things to do, especially when you love someone.
  • I will understand that “helping” is actually enabling if they are using.”

On Aug. 29, Capellino shared a photo of her last text exchange with her son and wrote: “Always be sure your last words are ‘I love you’ …. Text someone you love and tell them!”

A post on Aug. 30, accompanied by a heart-wrenching video of Capellino bringing home her son’s ashes, discussed vulnerability and shame. “Through our family’s decade journey into the throws of addiction, I have shared our story to friends, colleagues, my students, even strangers. Inevitably many share their own battle or their family’s battle. I’m always touched they trust me with their story and know I understand without judgment. The instant human connection runs deep, and you can see the comfort they instantly feel. I feel it, too.”

Capellino family
Tami Capellino with her children and husband after Kyle's graduation from the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center. From left are Troy, Tami, Kyle, Codi, Tony and Taylor. "Kyle was clean for a year and a half around that time.  He was filled with such hope and was so proud of himself."                  

“People have shared via private messages, pulling me aside during meetings, emails, etc. The stigma and shame attached are paralyzing for many and isolating. This is an epidemic. You are not alone!

“It is an honor to be Kyle’s Mom and honor I was able to take him on his last ride home.”

On Aug. 31, Overdose Awareness Day, Capellino paid tribute to her surviving children with a post titled “Family is Forever.”

“Since Kyle’s passing, many who have watched a loved one struggle with addiction often comment, ‘At least he is no longer in pain.’ On some levels that does indeed bring comfort. I can’t even imagine the daily emotional, mental and physical pain one suffers in active addiction, but I do know the pain the family suffers watching a loved one struggle and the tremendous pain of losing them.”

“Today I want to acknowledge my other three children who lost their brother and will bear this pain longer than I will be here on earth, as well as siblings of addicts across the country who have endured the roller coaster ride of addiction, family disagreements, fear, anger, emergency calls, interrupted vacations, hospital stays, searching inmate lists, incomplete holidays, tears, etc. Addiction and drugs have a way of forcing itself to be #1 by creating a ripple effect in the lives of everyone it touches.”

Next steps

Capellino shares her family’s story with a remarkable combination of strength and vulnerability.

“It’s the loss of hope I grieve the most. If they’re alive, there’s hope.”

The danger is never over, Capellino said. She has three other children and shared, “I’ve been upfront with all my kids about how strong addiction runs in our family.”

It can also happen to anyone, she said. “They think they can beat it. They think one pill won’t hurt them and it spirals.”

It’s why she tells her story. “If you have prescriptions, lock them up. Don’t take chances. You never know. It may not be your kid. It could be a kid’s friend.”

Better yet, she said, if you don’t need them, give them back.

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