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Steve’s Story

Steve grew up surrounded by the love of family and friends. He was a loving son, fiancé, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew and friend. He loved his fiancée Lexi, her beautiful daughter Isabella and his large extended family. He was loved in return and had a wide circle of friends.

steve3Steve was a Dean’s List student at the University of Minnesota with a degree in Economics. He ran marathons and excelled in sports … as an all-conference soccer player at Edina High School. He was a gifted musician and part of band called The GooneyBirds that played regularly in Minneapolis and performed throughout the country for several years. Steve became a successful financial advisor and in 2009 was named by Mpls St. Paul Magazine as a FIVE STAR: Best in Client Satisfaction Wealth Manager.

In December 1996 Steve suffered a life-changing injury to his back. Although never diagnosed as a condition that could be successfully treated, the injury left him with continuous electric-shock-like sensations going up and down his back. This was the chronic pain he dealt with for the remainder of his life.

Steve’s condition caused him to seek help from many medical and mental health professionals. The constant pain and the lack of a treatable diagnosis led Steve to become depressed. He was prescribed anti-depressants which helped, but did not eliminate his symptoms. Eventually, in 2005, he was prescribed opioids (narcotic painkillers) by a well-intentioned doctor who had been taught that opioids were safe and effective for long-term use. At the same time Steve was taking clonazepam, a benzodiazepine. He later wrote about the painkillers: “At first they were a lifeline. Now they are a noose around my neck.

Steve became addicted to the painkillers, and by 2009 he was getting prescriptions for opioids from more than one doctor. His primary-care physician then insisted that he get help, so Steve chose to go to the 3-week rehabilitation program at the Pain Rehabilitation Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in January 2010. There he learned techniques for dealing with his pain, was weaned off of the opioids, and sent home with instructions for tapering off of the clonazepam. The doctors at the Mayo Clinic also recommended that he go to the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Center City, Minnesota. He was encouraged to go by his family and his therapist, but Steve believed that he could handle his addiction without further treatment.

steve2Steve’s situation seemed hopeful after this, especially since he had re-connected with Lexi, his high school and college sweetheart and the love of his life. They became engaged in August 2010, and planned to marry.

Eventually Steve’s addiction made him unable to manage his pain with the techniques he had learned at the Mayo Clinic. He sought out a “pill mill” doctor who prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines in the quantities he requested. Lexi realized that these amounts were excessive and that Steve was addicted to the painkillers. She made the difficult decision to tell him that he needed to stop taking the pills and/or go for chemical dependency treatment by April 15, 2011 … or she would have to leave him. He agreed to go to Hazelden.

Steve went to Hazelden on April 15th and completed 28 days of treatment. While he was there, the doctor who had been prescribing Steve’s opioids and diazepam (Valium) came under investigation by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. On May 14, 2011, the Board took disciplinary action against this doctor’s license for “unprofessional and unethical conduct” and for “prescribing a drug for other than medically accepted purposes.” The doctor surrendered his medical license and the Board agreed to “close its files in this matter.”

Steve relapsed shortly after returning home from Hazelden. 28 days of treatment was not enough, and the disease of addiction had “hijacked” his brain. His fiancée and family were following the advice of Al Anon to “Let Go, Let God” and “Detach with Love” in hopes that Steve would “hit bottom” and seek help. He had refills of his prescriptions waiting for him, and when these ran out, he sought out heroin. This killed him on July 1, 2011. Until the night of his death, Steve had never taken an opioid that had not been prescribed to him

Steve was a kind, fun-loving, sensitive and generous young man who took care of others at the expense of himself. He suffered with chronic pain for 15 years. He tried hard to get well and did not want to die. His death certificate shows that the “immediate” cause of his death was “mixed drug toxicity (opiates and benzodiazepines)”. The real cause of his death, however, was the disease of addiction, brought on by the over-prescribing of painkillers. After his death his family established The Steve Rummler Hope Foundation with the goal of helping others who suffer from chronic pain and the disease of addiction.

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