With two brothers five years older and two sisters five years younger, the middle child of Bob and Bottsy Catalano had plenty of room to carve out his place in the world and boy did he. Dennis Patrick Catalano was kind, conscientious, warm and easy to like and care about for his entire life. He was somewhat shy as a young boy but made friends easily and kept them because "Denny" was loyal, reliable, generous and trustworthy. He embraced the culture of his upbringing in Atlantic City and they fit together like a hand in glove. He loved Atlantic City and never left it during his 45 years of life. He loved to have fun and he was drawn to friends who knew how to live life and laugh a lot and get into the Chelsea kind of mischief that produced classic stories that could be told over and over again. He had a keen intellect, a wit faster than the speed of light and a smile that could melt the coldest of hearts. He was a hard worker, a hard player, a great father, a faithful and loving husband and the kind of brother and son that any family would dream of. His favorite movie was "Jaws" and he was known to reply in any given conversation with one of many favorite quotes from that movie and somehow the quote made sense and was meaningful to the conversation. Like the rest of the family he loved to eat, carried extra weight for a period before reaching adulthood and eventually took on cooking as a past time. He actually became very good and was very protective of his special recipes because if he told you too much he would "have to kill ya". We all still shoot for his pasta sauce as the gold standard. One of his greatest passions was fishing and boating. In fact he obtained a Captains license and spent every summer out on the family boat with friends and eventually with the beautiful family of his own he created with his wife Lynda. He adored his wife and embraced her two children Anthony and Nicole as his own before having two more children, Elden and Francesca. He could have had a Dennis Jr., but his great love for our mother (Eleanor) resulted in him creating a combined name of his and our mother's instead. Most people would have probably said "Nah", but my brother was his own person and we are happy that Elden carries both his and my mothers names into this world. He loved hockey, had a blistering slap shot and was a fan of the New York Islanders since he was a kid. He was not easily influenced and was accepting of all people. Denny didn't care if you were black or white, gay or straight, a christian or a jew. My brother Denny had the most admirable of qualities and they were apparent as a child. These were nourished throughout his life by my parents, his grandparents, aunts and uncles, Our Lady Star of the Sea school and church, Chelsea Hockey League and the wonderful Atlantic City institutions and traditions that made him the best man I think I ever knew. His family loved him immensely. We miss him dearly.
Like myself, Denny got a healthy DNA dose of what both sides of the family tree grew in abundance: a propensity for the wild and crazy. Most people would argue that I got a bigger dose than my brother did and that would be correct. No one ever questioned Denny's sanity. It was just a given that he had brass balls. For my brother, his genetic code mostly meant 20 years of beers with the boys, more than occasional sports betting and fearlessness that gave birth to classic stories to be told the next day and over and over again over the years. They were harmless and entertaining. They fulfilled his appetite for ongoing belly laughing thoughout life. We were high risk for developing issues with alcohol as kids born and raised in Atlantic City, the "World's Playground" compounded by a family tree loaded with alcoholism. Both Denny and I shared this and we both became victims of the man-made public health crisis known as the opioid epidemic. Also in the genes for my brother was a hip problem and like our father, Denny had his replaced an an early age and that is when his brain first came in contact with a mood altering substance other than alcohol. He was probably 40 years old. He worked full-time and invested his life in learning the family land surveying business after high school, whereas the rest of us chose college and different paths. He was being groomed to take over the family land surveying business, had become a father and his post-hip replacement recovery was not the the life without pain that he had believed was in store. We all started to see someone with traits we did not recognize as being part of my brother and they weren't. His once coveted participation in any event became undesirable and it felt sad to gather with just the four siblings at holidays and other events. We never thought his life was at risk. We all thought we had time to help when he wanted it. There were traces of Denny but mostly person we no longer recognized toward the end of his life, except for moments when it seemed to be 100% him. He and I talked about opioid addiction and I gave him referrals to Suboxone physicians. He knew of my struggles with it and that I was not judging him. Our family was mostly in disbelief and denial, not knowing exactly what to do. He had a treatment episode in Florida and I remember hearing that he felt great being off pain medications. All seemed to be taking a wait and see attitude when we received the news that Denny was found dead at home on November 5, 2013. A million hearts seemed to break at once in Atlantic City and all around it. Not Denny Cat. How could this have happened.
As a person in the field for the past 25 years, my exposure to the science, scandal and stigma of addiction was full time and that is really what it took for me to understand the great tragedy of my brothers death and the deaths of thousands all rooted to the same circumstances. Some refer to it as the perfect storm and I think it is appropriate to now explain what this means because it makes a difference regarding how you remember my brother Denny. No one ever talks about him. We should be talking about him, missing him out loud and remembering one of the greatest people to walk among us. There is no reason to feel shame because my brother did not do anything wrong. He was a victim in this perfect storm and it could have happened to anyone and actually did - almost 200 other people a day. I want you to know why.
My brother and I, and millions of others, received a pain medication that should have never escaped the lab, much less been in every medicine cabinet in the country. There were more prescriptions than people in some localities and these pills found their way into the party mix of teens and young adults, along with alcohol and marijuana which had addiction potentials of 10% and 11% respectively. These medications had addiction potentials that exceeded 70%. Oxycontin and Oxycodone were forever used as "end of life medications", and on a very short-term basis following surgery, for decades. That was until the late 90's when the manufacturer of these medications colluded with the FDA to change the label for these powerful chemicals to allow doctors to prescribe them for long-term, around the clock use without ever testing their safety for long-term use. The FDA officials who conspired with Big Pharma then went to work for them and billions were made flooding the market with these drugs, which had an identical molecular structure as heroin. They told doctors they were not addictive and if you stubbed your toe you got a prescription for "perks". In the past, they were never prescribed for more than a few days and the impact on end of life patients was monitored only to the extent that they made them comfortable. If these medications were tested for long-term use it would have been discovered that they would create a death trap. Not only did they have an infinite tolerance factor but they had a guaranteed physical dependence attribute even after a short period. What this meant was that more milligrams of the medication would be required continuously over time for the medication to remain effective until the inevitable fatal dose was reached. What near immediate physical dependence meant was that the body would become unable to function without the medications and abruptly stopping would cause a shut down known as withdrawal, a condition that is unbearable and is only relieved with the ingestion of more opioids.
My brother was a sitting duck for what the world would eventually witness as an epidemic that hijacked the brains of hundreds of thousands of Americans in every city of every county of every state in these United States of America. He was prescribed Big Pharma's poison pill that was untested for chronic use and included an undertow of dependence so powerful that it changed the person he was. The hallmark of this devastating condition became true for my brother, as his brain was rewired to believe that sustaining opioids in his bloodstream was as important to survival as oxygen and water. Scientists have discovered actual tissue damage in the part of the brain that regulates our survival instincts and this is where a shift in priorities happened for everyone but it was not a voluntary shift made by the person impacted.
TO BE COMPLETED