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Gripped by addiction, Dallastown man hoped to help others. Now it's his family's cause

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

Alexander Lauer hoped sharing his own struggle with heroin addiction would help others on the same path.

The Dallastown native was an avid supporter of the local chapter of Not One More, a nonprofit organization bringing awareness to the opioid epidemic, and he carefully documented his roughly 10-year battle in journals.

Mary Lauer, left, and her husband Donald Lauer, right, sit with their son Garret Lauer, of Orlando, Fl., at the kitchen table as they look through photo albums, journals and a plethora of notes and other research materials at their home in York Township, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. The materials belonged to Garret's younger brother Alexander Lauer, 33, who lost his more than 10 year battle with heroin unexpectedly on Nov. 20., just one week after being released from York Hospital for drug treatment. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Lauer dreamed of helping others and was working on a company he called End the Struggle, according to his older brother Garret Lauer. 

The 33-year-old father of two envisioned a platform that would allow him to "talk about what he's going through" and welcome those interested in doing the same, his brother said.

It almost materialized, Garret Lauer said.

Now, Alexander Lauer's family will take up his cause. 

On Tuesday, Nov. 20, Alexander's father broke down his door after not hearing from him and found his son unconscious in his bedroom. Alexander Lauer died after overdosing on heroin that is suspected to have been laced with fentanyl, Garret Lauer said.

Alex Lauer, of Dallastown, with his mother, Mary, and father, Donald. Alex died from an overdose Tuesday, Nov. 20. He was also involved in combating the York's opioid epidemic.

Remembering Alex: Garret Lauer remembered his younger brother as a "good person and a family guy," someone who always shined with his humor, strength and intelligence. 

But like the more than 70,000 Americans who died by overdose last year — 171 just in York County, according to Coroner Pam Gay — the addiction proved too strong for Alexander Lauer.

“That’s what’s interesting about (his death)," Garret Lauer said. "My brother, being as smart and strong as he was, still needed to do the drug because it was so powerful. When he got introduced to it, it gripped him."

More:Drug, homicide deaths rise in York County in 2017

More:EDITORIAL: The children of the opioid crisis

More:Opioid-related hospital stays in York County triple the state rate in 2016-17

The Lauer family isn't new to death from addiction: Alexander Lauer's uncle and cousin also died from overdoses in the past two years, Garret Lauer said.

Alex Lauer with his brother, Garret. Alex died from an overdose Tuesday, Nov. 20. He was also involved in combating the York's opioid epidemic.

Fighting the epidemic himself: While the family suspects fentanyl was mixed with the heroin that killed him, the family has not yet received autopsy results. Authorities are increasingly finding heroin laced with fentanyl, which is roughly 100 times stronger than morphine. 

Alexander Lauer was far from ignorant of his addiction and the dangers of heroin and fentanyl, his brother said, and he tried to use that knowledge to help others.

For instance, he was involved in local chapter of Not One More, though he never spoke publicly at the organization's meetings, Garret Lauer said.

Addiction advocates who are also struggling themselves aren't uncommon, said Vickie Glatfelter, president of Not One More's York branch.

"It shows there's a deep understanding among people that have the disease about how grave it can be and how hard it is to overcome," said Glatfelter, who didn't know Alexander Lauer. "It's a lifelong battle, and it's never going to go away."

More:State seeks public input on recovery home certification

She added there is an increased risk of relapse and overdose during the winter time due to depression, anxiety and other factors.

Mary Lauer, left, and her husband Donald Lauer, right, stand with their son Garret Lauer, of Orlando, Fl., as they hold a notebook that belonged to Garret's younger brother, Alexander Lauer, at their home in York Township, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. The notebook is just one of many vessels of notes journals and other research materials that Alexander Lauer, 33, used as he worked through his more than 10 year battle with heroin addiction. Alex lost his battle on Nov. 20., just one week after being released from York Hospital for drug treatment. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Documenting his struggle: Garret Lauer remembered his brother as "stubborn" when it came to rehab, having been in and out of treatment for years and eventually taking treatment into his own hands "and just doing it himself." 

"I think now, Alex would want people to know you can’t do it alone," he said. "You need professional help and to stick to it. You need to reach out and talk about it honestly."

The family now aims to continue spreading Lauer's message through a project called Alex’s Open Book Life Legacy Program, which compiles stories of those affected by the opioid epidemic.

Garret Lauer said the name was partly inspired by the open journal his younger brother left behind, and it's currently operated by him on his Facebook page. 

He now hopes to make a group Facebook page and potentially create a separate online forum for individuals to share their stories, he said. For longer term goals, he wants to make it a worldwide effort and hold events related to the work.

Mary Lauer, left, and her husband Donald Lauer, right, sit with their son Garret Lauer, of Orlando, Fl., at the kitchen table as they look through photo albums, journals and a plethora of notes and other research materials at their home in York Township, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. The materials belonged to Garret's younger brother Alexander Lauer, 33, who lost his more than 10 year battle with heroin unexpectedly on Nov. 20., just one week after being released from York Hospital for drug treatment. Dawn J. Sagert photo

So far, 39 people have reached out to Garret Lauer to talk about their stories, four of whom were addicts themselves, he said.

“This is what Alex wanted to bring out," he added. "If we can save one life, Alex would be happy about that."

Alexander Lauer's visitation took place on Thursday, Nov. 29, at John W. Keffer Funeral Homes. Rather than flowers, his family asked for donations to support his daughters, which can still be submitted at the GoFundMe page here.

So far, friends, family and more have donated more than $6,700.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.