BEVERLY HILLS (CBSLA.com) — Renowned litigator Robert Shapiro and his wife Linell lovingly remember their first-born son Brent, who died at 24 due to an addiction.
In a sit-down interview with CBS2’s Pat Harvey, the Shapiros of Beverly Hills described Brent as an amazing human being, one who was highly competitive and had a lot of energy.
“Brent was an amazing human being,” Linell Shapiro said. “He was handsome. He was beautiful inside and out, and the most loved person I’ve ever known.”
Brent grew up in a supportive environment among celebrities and privilege. He was active, but in his early teens, Brent became involved with alcohol and drugs.
“At that time, you know, he’s 16. I suspected he was smoking grass. I suspected he was drinking but, you know, ‘OK, so it’s kids. It’s experimenting. He’s still doing great in school.’ Unfortunately, we let it slide too long,” Robert Shapiro said.
Shapiro says that after high school, it became readily apparent that there was an issue.
In an effort to help, the Shapiros sent Brent to several rehabilitation and sober-living programs and when he returned home, Brent seemed to have turned his life around. He was accepted to USC and made the dean’s list.
“Brent said, ‘I am a drug addict. Prove to me I’m an alcoholic. That I can’t once in a while just have some wine or beer with the guys.’ And that ultimately was his downfall,” Shapiro said.
Brent had remained sober for 18 months, but things took a tragic turn Oct. 9, 2005.
“He broke his sobriety,” Shapiro said. “He had a drink of Jägermeister, had another one, and then for some reason that is inexplicable decided to split an Ecstasy.”
“He got violently ill and began to projectile vomit and people said, ‘You know, he’ll just sleep it off.’ ” Shapiro said. “They didn’t call us. Didn’t call anybody.”
Shapiro explains that around 7 a.m. that morning, Brent began aspirating.
“You have about a 5- to 6-minute window to get to the hospital,” he said. “When in doubt, pick up the phone, dial 911.”
In fact, since 2013, a 911 good Samaritan law has been established in California, which provides legal protection to bystanders during an overdose and encourages them to seek emergency help.
“This is a disease, and it shouldn’t be a shameful disease,” Shapiro said.
From the grief and tragedy of losing their son, the Shapiros started the Brent Shapiro Foundation for Alcohol and Drug Awareness to use his legacy to save other lives.
The foundation supports Brent’s Club, a program designed to mentor children at an early age and before they experiment with drugs and alcohol.
“We had an idea that rewards will work for keeping kids off drugs,” Shapiro said. “If you agreed to sign up with your child to allow us to test them once a week with saliva noninvasive, and if they pass, we would give then a reward.”
The rewards provided for the 200-plus Brent’s Club participants, who range in age from middle school students to high school students, include gift cards, special field trips and gradually increase with the intention of helping the kids with college applications and scholarships.
The program is based in the Boyle Heights Variety Boys and Girls Club with a second location to open in Compton. Their goal is to expand nationally through sports clubs.
“We’ve had a 100 percent success rate,” Shapiro said. “We have not had one child fail a test.”
Shapiro urges parents to watch their children for signs of addiction.
“You see something that is changing in your child. Child was doing well and is not doing well. Your child was active and now your child is acting depressed. Your child is hanging around with the wrong people,” Shapiro said.
“My hope is that we can get people talking about this. We’re losing an entire generation of people,” he added.
Adi Jaffe is the Executive Director of Alternatives Addiction Treatment in Beverly Hills. Click below to watch a clip that provides information from Jaffe on tips for parents.