I’d like to start by thanking the men and women of the Martin County Sheriff’s Office. Thank you for your service and dedication to Martin County, and for the reason we are here today: your efforts to help Stuart and the surrounding area deal with the opioid epidemic. 

I never imagined I’d be standing before you all at a press conference about addiction. Like a lot of people, I had preconceived ideas of what an addict looks like. I was wrong. My brother, Kai, is what addiction looks like.

Kai was much more than an addict. He was a loving father who beamed with pride every time he talked about his son. He was a patriot who loved his country and served overseas in the Navy. He was a friend to many and would happily give the shirt off his back to help someone in need. He was a brother who stood proudly beside me as the best man at my wedding.

Kai was a force of nature. His smile forced you to smile back. His hugs could take your breath way. He had a wicked sense of humor. His laugh was infectious. It filled a room. Kai got along with everyone. He had a magnetic personality that drew people in. This is the Kai I remember.

Sadly, his path to addiction is not uncommon. He went to the doctor for treatment of a work injury. They prescribed prescription drugs to numb the pain and allow him to continue working. He didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford continued doctor visits, so he turned to the streets for relief.  

It started with Oxycontin. As we now know, that led to more drugs, and he was soon shooting up Opana.

In that last years of his life Kai struggled with depression. After losing both of our parents and going through a painful divorce, his emotional pain matched his physical pain. His drug habit allowed him to get through the day until his addiction took his life. 

In the days following his death I had many questions: why didn’t he come to me, or anyone, for help? Why did he keep his addiction a secret? 

There’s such a negative stigma on the term “addiction”. Maybe he was too proud to face that, so he carried his burden alone. 

I applaud the Martin County Sheriff’s Office for approaching this epidemic with a mix of great police work and support. Through their efforts, they’ve worked to close drug houses where Kai got high, and get dealers off the street. They’re also showing empathy for the addicts who are battling this disease, and it is a disease. After Kai’s death, they began using Narcan, which has already saved lives.  

I hope we can all begin to approach addiction with more empathy. I know how quickly you can lose someone to addiction. Maybe some of you are facing the same thing right now. Law enforcement alone won’t solve this problem. As a community, we need to empathize with the pain and suffering that can lead to addiction. We need to support people who are brave enough to ask for help. We need to chip away at the stigmas that force so many of our brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors into a life of shame and secrecy. We all play a role in turning the tides of this crisis.

We hope that can be Kai’s legacy, and in death he can save lives. We recently launched KaiSchmidt.org to help families with loved ones battling addiction. You can find resources there that may help you support the people you love who are struggling. You can find that all on KaiSchmidt.org.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share Kai’s story, and thanks again to all of you who are working hard to make a difference in Martin County.