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January 23, 2018

His display seeks to raise opioid crisis awareness

Photo/Don Del Rosso
Charlie Brooke borrowed the display from the McShin Foundation and erected it outside his Waterloo Street home Monday afternoon.
It’s time to wake up people and realize these people who overdose can be your children. That’s all I’m trying to do.
— Charlie Brooke
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Warrenton man wanted to “make some noise about” the opioid overdose crisis.

So Charlie Brooke, a 73-year-old recovering alcoholic, asked The McShin Foundation of Richmond if he could borrow the addiction recovery group’s “White Marker Project.” The portable, outdoor exhibit features 3,500 small, wooden crosses – most of them attached to four chain-link fence sections stabilized by cords and sandbags.

The white crosses equal the number of addiction-related deaths in Virginia during 2016.

The display also includes three plastic banners that read: “Do You Know How Many Virginians Die Each Year Due to Addiction?”

The nonprofit gladly accommodated Mr. Brooke, a retired postal worker and United Airlines custodian.

The approximately 6-by-40-foot display arrived on a trailer from Richmond around 2:30 p.m. Monday.

By 3 p.m., two McShin volunteers and Mr. Brooke had erected the display on the front lawn of his home at 214 Waterloo St. — two doors east of Warrenton Middle School.

He hopes the exhibit will draw increased attention to Fauquier’s drug overdose problem, Mr. Brooke said.

In 2017, the sheriff’s office and town police documented 104 drug overdoses.

“I wanted (the display) on my front yard, next the middle school, so the kids walking by and other people to see the enormity of the epidemic — that more teenagers die from drug overdoses than from car wrecks.

“It’s time to wake up people and realize these people who overdose can be your children. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

By 4 p.m. Tuesday, a Warrenton police lieutenant and officer visited him to discuss the exhibit and let him know that town staff members might contact him about whether it violates the zoning ordinance, Mr. Brooke said.

“They weren’t punitive talking,” Mr. Brooke recalled. “They just said they wanted to know if I had something to do with it. They were very friendly; the lieutenant put his arm around me to talk to me.”

Town Attorney Whit Robinson plans to discuss the matter with Planning Director Brandie Schaeffer and other staffers before drawing any conclusions.

Until then, “I don’t have any comment,” Mr. Robinson said Tuesday afternoon.

Whether the exhibit violates the ordinance could be irrelevant, because the foundation will remove it Friday, said Chris Connell, who manages McShin’s office at 30 John Marshall St. in downtown Warrenton.

The town council in January denied McShin’s special permit application to open a 14-bed addiction recovery center at the John Marshall Street building.

Citing zoning and the comprehensive plan, the council unanimously rejected the proposal but pledge to work with county government and others to help identify a more suitable location for such a program.

In September, McShin and other groups began providing addiction counseling at the John Marshall building. The property’s commercial zoning allows that use by-right.

Mr. Brooke knows a lot about addiction.

“My father was a pharmacist at the old Drug Fair” in Warrenton Village Center on Lee Highway. “And he taught his children better living through chemistry. If you had a problem, there was something he could get to make it better — uppers, downers. He was on pure cocaine, pharmaceutical cocaine and Paul Jones, a cheap liquor.”

His father, mother and he became alcoholics.

“The disease ran in the family, ran rampant,” Mr. Brooke said. “My father drank off both his legs (lost to amputation) . . . . Laid in bed, yelled and screamed for another drink until the day he died.”

Mr. Brooke described his mother as “bag lady” who “ended up on the streets of Norfolk” but eventually got sober through treatment he arranged for her.

His older brother and only sibling had been a “heavy drinker but not an alcoholic.”

Mr. Brooke began drinking at age 14.

Though he would use “anything that would affect me from my neck up . . . Quaaludes, marijuana, hashish — anything,” he preferred and became addicted to beer.

With treatment, Mr. Brooke eventually quit drinking at age 30. By then, his wife and their young son had left him.

He finally gave up beer because, “I got tired of throwing up in bed” and “I ended up being just like my father was — stuff I said I would never do, like stop on the side of the road and urinate, I ended up doing that.”
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fauquiermeow · January 23, 2018 at 7:35 pm
Thank you Charlie. Your honesty and care are needed right now. It is so easy for the hedonism of chemically altering our sh!tty reality to take precedence over stable, long term happiness. iF only kids knew this, if only we could impart our entire journey so that they could skip some of the pain.
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