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‘Educate the tribe’: Brothers say key to long-term sobriety is family support for addicts

TJ, David Pass share survival story that led them to start Eagles Bridge Intervention Team

Over the past 12 months, nearly 90,000 Americans have over-dosed, according to the CDC. Florida alone has accounted for nearly 8,000 of those deaths. A local man and his brother who was almost a statistic are working together to offer services to families who have an addicted loved one.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The pandemic only added to the epidemic of drug overdoses in the past year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 88,990 Americans died of drug overdoses within the past 12 months. Florida alone accounted for 7,555 of the deaths.

One Jacksonville man says his brother was almost a statistic. Now the two are working together to offer services to families who have an addicted loved one and feel they have little hope left.

“It’s like with any other disease,” said TJ Pass, CEO of Eagles Bridge Intervention Team. “If your loved one gets diagnosed with the disease, you’re going to go to their doctor’s appointments with them. You’re going to support them. Why don’t we do that with addiction?”

TJ Pass and his brother, David, are using their experiences to not only help those suffering addiction enter into treatment but to remain sober in the long run.

Since TJ went down the path of drugs and is now 15 years sober, he’s holding the flashlight for other families across the country, offering hope and education.

David said he and his brother haven’t always had the relationship they have now.

“My brother used to be somebody that I didn’t know, and now he’s my best friend,” said David Pass, COO of Eagles Bridge Intervention Team.

When TJ was 15, he turned to drugs.

When TJ Pass was 15, he turned to drugs. (WJXT)

“Within two weeks, I was arrested,” TJ said. “I tried cocaine, acid, alcohol, and had a possession with intent to distribute charge.”

TJ told News4Jax it just progressed after that. His mom and stepdad were addicts. The Pass brothers lost their mother to domestic violence as teens. Their dad didn’t know about substance use disorder, so they continuously moved -- for a fresh start.

“Each time I moved was with the idea if I could just start over, I would be okay,” said TJ.

Eight cities. Four different high schools. Four different colleges.

“Just to start over. If I start over, I would not do drugs anymore,” said TJ.

His dad let TJ, a chemically dependent person, become part of his recovery plan, which didn’t work. TJ fell into the same patterns no matter where they were.

“I didn’t have a problem,” said TJ. “I had a solution that was killing everything around us. The problem was I couldn’t not use drugs, no matter how hard I personally tried, but the truth is, I had a place to sleep, I had a car, I had food … people who love me, would not let me suffer those natural consequences.”

TJ said he manipulated his family into a system that allowed him to drink and use drugs. At age 25, he overdosed with 11 different narcotics in his system. He was in the hospital for two days.

RELATED: ‘Sadly second nature’: JFRD crews respond to over 5,000 overdose calls in 2020

“From 25-28, for three years, I tried to get sober on my own, every day,” said TJ.

It wasn’t until he was 28 that he got sober because he got outside help. By that time, their father died. David and other family members cut TJ out of their lives.

David Pass said he and his brother, TJ, haven’t always had the relationship they have now. (WJXT)

TJ described his addiction as chasing a never-ending thirst.

“It was not understanding that I was addicted until it was way too late,” said TJ.

In 2007, TJ founded Eagles Bridge Intervention Team to bridge the gap from treatment to long-term recovery and help break the cycle. TJ realized he became sober when getting out of treatment because when he came home, his family changed their attitude and outlook toward him.

“Had my brother and my uncle not really understood that -- through the education they got through the family program they did -- if they hadn’t got that, when I got home, I would have drank again. I would have smoked crack again, because I’d already done it for four years, over and over again,” TJ said.

Their story mirrors the 300 families they have had interventions with.

“We get people to go to treatment and then after we get them to go to treatment, we spend the rest of the time with the family, and we teach them how to deal with an addict in their family,” said David.

Using their experiences to educate families.

“The idea is we wrap our arms around the family, and we educate the tribe, so that when the addict comes back and they start trying to do their old new routine, everybody is aware, and they’re prepared. They see the behavior. They call it out. They get the counselor on the phone and we get rid of all the secrets,” David said.

The Pass brothers have helped save hundreds of lives, including David’s fiancée, Crystal Young.

“I had overdosed and completely got beaten up that night and was in the hospital. It was a horrible deal, but we managed to make it through that,” said Young, who moved to Florida after Pass created Eagles Bridge and is now a peer consultant for the Intervention Team.

For families who feel they are at a point where they can’t do it anymore, there is help. The Pass brothers strive for addicts to stay in long-term sobriety by getting the entire family on the same page. It’s a lifestyle change.

Since insurance only covers rehab, programs like what EB Intervention Team is doing aren’t covered. They do what they can to help, but also created a GoFundMe to help families who want to support their loved ones but may not have the financial means.

About the Author:

Multi-media journalist with a special interest in Georgia issues.