Kathy O’Keefe of Flower Mound works tirelessly to make certain her son Brett’s death at 18 years old from an accidental drug overdose counts for something positive and productive. It was March 20, 2010, and Kathy and husband Ben were driving home from San Antonio when their cell phone rang. The voice at the other end told them their son was dead. The message hit with the force of a lightning bolt, but at the same time, it wasn’t completely unexpected. Somewhere deep, they’d waited for the call from the time Brett was 14, when the disease of addiction became his companion.
“Accidental drug overdose is not the same as suicide,” Kathy explained. “Suicide is an intentional act, with death being the desired result. There’s nothing accidental about it. And addiction, whether it’s to drugs, alcohol, food, etc., is a disease. It is not a choice.”
O’Keefe, by education, is a professional architect with a minor in psychology, providing her with some of the critical tools she needs for ensuring safe futures for other mothers’ sons.
“Winning the Fight — WTF — was born at Brett’s funeral,” she said. “Brett used WTF frequently, usually in a joking way. We decided to have the phrase symbolize something else.” The 501c3 organization was born during he visitation at his funeral.
“Brett was addicted to heroin, and I knew most of his friends were doing the same,” Kathy said. “We so desperately lacked the resources and education for fighting drug addiction at that time. We now know we must be prepared to meet it head-on if we intend to gain control, and that includes drug education, resources, and support for the addicts and their families.”
The WTF website is amazing, offering in-depth education on a variety of drugs, their effects, their interactions with other substances, insights on specific drugs’ mental, emotional, and physical
manifestations, and much more.
“There are things we know and things we’re still learning,” Kathy said. “We know addiction can be brought on by different mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. It can be a result of trauma, and it can also be genetic or hereditary. We can work with trauma and mental stress, but genetics is something very different.”
Brett was severely ADD and dealt constantly with other kids making fun of him. “He found out at a very young age that cigarettes, alcohol, and eventually drugs, made him feel better about himself.”
Education, basic as well as advanced, is the foundation of WTF. Education leads to awareness, and when the two combine, they form an effective weapon for combatting the currently significant and destructive uptick in drug usage nationwide. It results in an empowerment that declares this fight can be won, is being won, and is keeping families whole.
“We can’t fight what we don’t understand,” Kathy said. “For instance, the brain’s frontal lobe doesn’t develop until 27 or 28 years old. Addiction is less likely to occur if first-time drug usage does not happen prior to that age. Keep medications in the home under lock and key. How many times is a pill accidentally dropped and picked up by a child? Every family should have Narcan and/or Naloxone on hand in the event of an accidental overdose. These are practical, everyday precautions.”
It may sound dramatic, but our country is involved in a form of drug warfare. It’s so serious that the Department of Drug Enforcement (DEA) is reaching out to smaller organizations such as WTF to help spread the word. Military bases in the United States are overrun with fentanyl, with countries such as China involved in the drug trafficking. We’re fighting chemical warfare and poisoning, and it all comes together as a terrifying picture.
“We hear about peer pressure on our kids,” Kathy said, “but please understand it’s not peer pressure but peer acceptance they’re after. There’s a difference. It’s important to find out what a person with the disease of addiction is receiving — emotionally, psychologically, physically — from whatever substance he or she is using. Then, maybe, we can determine how to replace that substance with something else that gives the same results but without the addiction.”
Kathy’s work is fueled by an endless passion, with the support of Ben, her husband of 34 years, and Brett’s 33-year-old older brother. She travels. She teaches. She researches. She gives presentations. It
doesn’t — and it must not — end. In 2022, WTF offered counsel to 388 families and provided 273 referrals for therapists, treatment facilities, IOP, and more. They showed the “Not Me” documentary to 7,068 people and provided drug education classes to 6,877 more. Staff and volunteers visited 21 facilities to determine if their recommended resources could provide the expected level of quality care. And so much more.
Their efforts are endless, but WTF does that matter as long as the fight is being won?
See WTF — WinningTheFight.org for more information. Flower Mound, 972.467.7704.