As a narcotics cop and an Air Force security officer, Kevin Simmers thought he knew the best way to deal with addiction. Arrest everyone, lock them up, fight a war on drugs.
Simmers thought that until his daughter got addicted. Now he has a very different plan.
This is the story of a father’s promise to his daughter, of a home for addicted teens built out of love and sorrow.
From peeling paint and sagging floors, Simmers is conjuring a treatment center his daughter could never find. It’s just south of Hagerstown, in a 220-year-old stone house.
“It’s too late for my daughter, but it might not be too late for yours,” said Simmers, with tears rolling down his cheek.
Simmers signed up for the Air Force in the Reagan years.
“My whole goal in life was to be on the front lines of the drug war,” Simmers said.
After the Air Force, he joined the Hagerstown Police Department.
“Handcuffs and incarceration, we’re going to win this drug war,” he reflected.
Simmers perspective shifted when his daughter Brooke was born.
“Her and I were very close,” Simmers said. “I coached her in sports…coached her soccer team.”
But Brooke started to change in middle school.
“I could see things were starting to spin out of control. She would start to use cigarettes and alcohol,” said Simmers.
She moved out of their small-town home at 18.
“Two months later, she told her dad she needed to talk…She tells me she’s using Percocets, which is an opiate painkiller.,” Simmers said. “She’s using them every day. And she can’t stop, and she needs help.”
So, began a downward spiral. Simmers desperately tried to get his daughter treatment. He constantly ran into roadblocks, from reluctant insurance companies to run-down halfway houses.
Brooke came home for Christmas in 2013.
“She started to tear up, and she said, ‘Yeah, I’m shooting up with heroin every day.’ So I felt like, when she told me she was shooting up with heroin, I felt like someone just cut my heart out,” Simmers said. “She fell down on the lawn and said, ‘Dad, just shoot me, I can’t stop using this stuff.’”
Still he had to wait to get her inpatient treatment.
“If you’re having a heart attack, I’m taking you to the hospital right now. This is a life or death situation,” Simmers said. “An 18-year-old shooting up with heroin is a life or death situation…. She’s shoplifting, she’s prostituting, she’s doing anything she can to get that drug.”
Simmers remembers keeping Brooke home long enough one night to watch a basketball game together. He went downstairs later to congratulate her on one day clean.
“She was on the floor with a tourniquet around her arm, and she was overdosed on the floor,” Simmers said.
Even jail didn’t help. Brooke got out of jail and went back to her old crowd.
“She started to overdose, and the people in the house got scared…they threw her out on the street like a dog. Brooke drove away from that house…Her sponsor told her, ‘You need to call your dad.’ And Brooke said, ‘I can’t call my father, I’ve disappointed my father enough, I’m not going to disappoint him again,” Simmers said. “So, my daughter drove to a nearby church, where she played basketball as a kid, and she crawled in the back seat of the car, and she died there of a heroin overdose.”
Brooke was just 19.
At her memorial service, addicts Simmers had arrested came and asked him to please do something to end the terrible epidemic of opioid addiction.
“My wife and I decided we were going to fulfill Brooke’s dream now,” Simmers said.
They’ve raised more than $1 million in cash and contributions. They’re just a few hundred thousand dollars short of Brooke’s dream; A beautiful, comfortable place where young women can get treatment on demand.
“God willing, it’s going to save a lot of women’s lives,” Simmers said.
Simmers said the opioid crisis is not a law enforcement problem, he said it’s a health problem. He said until we have treatment on demand for everyone, it’s going to keep getting worse.