Music doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the souls it touches, and heroin doesn’t discriminate in the souls it takes.
Chasity Fox knows that all too well.
Her brother, local musician Richard “RJ” Holmes, died in October from a heroin overdose.
Now, Fox wants to use music to bring people together at Frederick’s Baker Park at the Hope for Change fest, a daylong music and addiction awareness event culminating in a candlelight vigil to honor those who have lost their lives to overdoses.
“I thought, music brings people together. It doesn’t discriminate — just like drugs,” Fox said.
She recalls her brother as a “great kid” who never smoked or drank in his teenage years and had his choice of colleges as an A student at Catoctin High School. But Holmes pursued his passion and did his best to promote the success of his former Thurmont-based punk band, Corrupted Youth.
But when Holmes was still young, a bad breakup triggered depression. He started drinking and soon after was introduced to illicit drugs. Holmes developed a serious dependency, losing his job, his car and more. At one point, Fox said, “all he had left was a book bag ... and holes in his clothes.”
She sneaked a peak at his cellphone and found messages with vague allusions to drugs — things like “I got the fire”— and confronted her brother.
After his addiction became known, Holmes overdosed in Fox’s home twice and was saved both times by emergency care and stints in the Intensive Care Unit.
After the second stay in ICU, Fox helped her brother take control of his life, getting him back to college, managing his money and watching him go to and from a stable job. That lasted more than five years, until Holmes was seriously injured in a car crash and suffered intense and nagging pain.
A cycle of substance abuse and arrests for related crimes ensued.
Holmes was released from the jail in Carroll County on Oct. 17, 2016.
He died from an overdose in the early hours of the 18th — at his mother’s home. He was 30.
Fox stood by as first responders streamed into and out of the house, and listened as her brother failed to respond to three separate shots of an opioid overdose reversal drug. She held his foot and prayed as a CPR machine thumping his chest was turned off.
Her family was devastated.
It’s still a challenge for some members of her family to talk about Holmes’ death, but Fox said they are all supportive of her advocacy efforts, which take up most of her waking hours outside of work.
“I think it helps me with grieving. It keeps me busy,” she said. “If I’m home, and bored and thinking, that’s when I tend to break down.”
Fox formed the RJ’s Lasting Strength Foundation after having recurring dreams that she needed to do something to help with the heroin epidemic.
Other signs also pushed her to continue. She applied for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS — and was approved on what would have been her brother’s birthday.
The foundation’s first big event will be the Hope for Change Fest.
The Frederick County Health Department will be there to discuss training for opioid overdose reversal drugs.
Representatives from other local addiction awareness charities will be on hand, along with counselors, support groups, healthy living advocates and food vendors.
“Hopefully, someone who really needs help will come and have all the resources they’ll need,” Fox said.
It’s a free event, but attendees can donate to the foundation.
Fox plans to donate foundation funds for Vivitrol treatments, “strength bags” with toiletries and other necessities to people coming into and out of rehab centers, and Christmas gifts for children who have lost parents to addiction.
But the foundation’s main fundraising will go to helping families defray the cost of funerals. In many cases, families are already financially burdened from treatment efforts, but can’t move their loved ones’ bodies from the morgue without funeral plans — most often required to be paid upfront.
“That [focus] was my mother’s request. That’s what hit us the hardest,” Fox said.
Her family was able to lean on a friend, who took a credit-line increase of $8,700 to pay for RJ’s funeral; the family held fundraisers and pooled money to pay him back a short time later.
Despite a confident and energized outward devotion to her cause, Fox still has moments of deep sadness — and sometimes anger, too.
“Things need to change. It’s not working the way it’s going,” she said.
In 2016, county law enforcement agencies responded to a total of 409 opioid overdoses and reported 54 deaths.
Fox wants families to become more aware of the signs of drug abuse to seek help earlier, for stigmas to drop, and for treatment to garner even greater priority over punishment.
Most of all, she wishes there were more compassion for those struggling with addiction and their families.
“It’s an addiction and the pull is just so strong. It’s evil,” Fox said. “Everyone in this world deserves help.”