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COPING WITH A TRAGEDY : After the Death of a Son, 24, From Cocaine, Bart Starr Is Committed to Having an Impact on Battle Against Drugs

August 28, 1988|BOB OATES | Times Staff Writer

"What happened is that idle curiosity led Bret to cocaine when he was a senior in high school. Then his problem snowballed in college, and curiosity escalated to addiction. It was so hard to see because I loved him dearly, although we were never romantically close.

"Bret's tragedy, as you know, is just one of many. And there will be thousands more of these tragedies, millions probably, because cocaine is both the most popular and the most powerful of the drugs."

For Bret, as for so many others, the final chapters of the scenario were as familiar as the beginning: Treatment, tears, fears, denial, pain, the ceaseless need for money, promises, lies, clean breaks, relapses, the daily crisis, withdrawal, renewal, heartache, misery, new starts, uncontrollable addiction.

There is only one good place for a user to stop, the experts say: the first day, just before the first time.

"Nancy Reagan has it exactly right," said Starr. "Just say no. Say no or die. But that's a hard point to make with youngsters when everyone is conspiring against them, from their friends to their enemies, from their peers to the dealers who make so much money out of this."

It has been eight weeks since Bret Starr was found on his face, lifeless, in Tampa, where he had tried to make a new start. Another new start. Beside him on the floor was a folded, worn greeting card inscribed with a message by poet Barbara Upham.

It was an ode to love that Bret apparently had carried in his hip pocket since he received it from his mother three weeks earlier.

Its message:

"Love means believing in someone. . . .

"Love is a constant journey to what others need. . . .

"Love takes time. . . . "

It was all there, tenderly expressed--all but the ending. For one reader, the last line wasn't in any poem: "Killed by cocaine."

This time, love wasn't enough.

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