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Walk on Jones Beach raises awareness of dangers of drug abuse

John Brower, 59, receives a hug from a

John Brower, 59, receives a hug from a friend before a 5K walk at Jones Beach in Wantagh on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. The walk raised money for Outreach, a substance abuse nonprofit, and was organized by the Brower family to remember John Brower Jr., who lost his life to opiate addiction in 2014 at age 25. Credit: Steven Sunshine

John Brower Jr.'s trajectory toward a fatal heroin overdose began with a doctor's prescription for painkillers.

It's a common scenario, and a 5-kilometer walk in Brower's name along the Jones Beach boardwalk Saturday helped bring awareness to the widespread addiction to prescription drugs, said Neil Sheehan, an officer at Outreach, a Queens-based nonprofit that has substance-abuse-treatment centers in Brentwood and Bellport. The walk also raised money for Outreach.

Brower's parents -- John and Jody, of Dix Hills -- founded the walk. After the death of their 25-year-old son in June 2014, they vowed to use his story to help others.

"I can't tell you how much it hurt to lose a child," said John Brower, 59. "It's completely devastating. If I can save someone's life and do something to prevent another family going through what we did, then John didn't die in vain. We've got to get rid of the stigma."

Several hundred people walked with the Browers, some wearing T-shirts emblazoned with John Brower Jr.'s photo. Many were family, friends or neighbors.

Jody Brower, 54, said more than $10,000 in online pledges was raised by Saturday morning, and more would come in from cash pledges and event registration fees. The couple plan to make the walk an annual event.

John Brower Jr. took OxyContin to relieve pain from injuries suffered in a 2012 car accident, his father said. By the time the prescription ran out, he was addicted and began obtaining the drug illegally.

Brower Jr. twice told his parents he had a problem. A month after the second stint in rehab, he died of an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl, his father said.

Brower Jr. probably switched to heroin toward the end of his life because it is a far cheaper opioid than OxyContin, Sheehan said.

Brower Jr. didn't fit the stereotypical image of an addict. He earned high grades at the University of Maryland, where he majored in accounting, and he worked in Manhattan as an accountant during most of his addiction, his parents said.

Brower's best friend, Jimmy Jantzen, 25, of Dix Hills, walked Saturday. He said the death illustrates how addiction strikes all communities.

"He was the smartest person I knew," Jantzen said. "This could happen to anyone."

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