By Jan Enogren
On March 12, 2020, Boca Raton resident Brice Makris became one of the more than 100,000 people in the U.S. that year — many of them between the ages of 18 and 45 — to die from a drug overdose. He was 23.
This number was an increase of nearly 15% over 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many overdoses, including his, were due to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is more than 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is linked to illicit drugs manufactured overseas and distributed through illegal drug channels.
For John and Michelle Makris, the loss of their son was devastating.
“He was a great kid — an excellent student and very bright,” remembers his dad, John Makris, 68, a retired CPA and investment adviser. “He had a great upbringing, was close to us and his older brother, Alec.”
Michelle Makris, 61, says the family “ate dinner together every night and talked about everything — sex, drugs and rock and roll.”
“Brice went to Spanish River High School and the early college program at FAU,” his father says. “He loved his summer camp in the Berkshires, practicing martial arts, being social and hanging out with friends.”
At 6-feet-5, Brice resembled his dad, with a head full of curly brown hair.
“He was athletic, and everyone considered him their friend,” his mother says. “He was fun-loving, enjoyed philosophy and intellectual discussions.”
He graduated from Florida State in August 2019 with a degree in biology and a minor in psychology, hoping to become either a physician or earn a Ph.D. in epidemiology.
That dream was cut short by one fentanyl pill.
He hurt his back and turned to unprescribed drugs.
Michelle Makris, a former marketing director for MDVIP in Boca Raton, says Brice knew he needed treatment and came to his parents for help.
“We knew he was doing OxyContin,” says his mother, who, along with her husband, retired to devote themselves to raising awareness about substance use disorder. “He was in chronic pain due to a fractured back. While his doctors never prescribed opioids for him, he got them from a friend and felt relief.”
Michelle Makris says that “substance use disorder is a disease that develops over time.”
“Brice was trying to detox on his own, but we got him into treatment.”
He had been doing well in recovery, and when he got out, took a job as a behavioral therapist working with autistic kids. He aspired to counsel people in the recovery community.
It was during a relapse that he overdosed and was poisoned with fentanyl.
His mother doesn’t blame him for relapsing, saying she understands relapse is part of the recovery process.
“We have to understand this disease is not the effect of a bad decision, bad parenting or bad kids,” she says. “Brice had a disease and could have survived the overdose if the pill hadn’t been laced with fentanyl.”
Since his death, the Makrises have made it their mission to fulfill their son’s commitment to the recovery community. They have partnered with the Hanley Foundation of West Palm Beach in establishing the Brice Makris Endowment Fund for lifesaving treatment scholarships and addiction prevention programs.
On Dec. 11 the couple will host the second annual Brice Makris Brunch at Boca West Country Club to raise money to support substance abuse prevention programming in Boca Raton schools. They also are working with Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg to advocate for local policy changes and lay the groundwork for strong and successful recovery communities.
Aronberg and Louie Bossi, executive chef of Louie Bossi’s Ristorante and founder of Delray Beach’s “Taste of Recovery,” will serve as honorary chairs of the event.
“There are thousands of smart and talented individuals, like Brice, right here in our community who suffer from substance use disorders,” said Jan Cairnes, CEO of the Hanley Foundation. “Events like this are critical to spread the message of hope and raise funds that allow us to expand our substance use prevention and recovery programs.”
Experts say removing the stigma of substance abuse and recognizing it as a disease that deserves the same attention as other medical conditions are crucial to people seeking help.
“It requires research, early detection, treatment plans and follow-up,” says John Makris. “Most importantly, the stigma needs to be converted to empathy so we can erase the shame our loved ones experience.”
People with the disease “need love, kindness, treatment and supportive recovery.”
With almost three years since their loss, the Makrises have found perspective by knowing they’re doing good for others.
“The grieving process is forever,” says Michelle Makris. “After a lot of therapy and allowing myself to grieve, I find I can live with joy and grief in the same place.”
“We wake up with this pain and go to sleep with it,” says John Makris. “But Brice would want our lives to go on. We do this to honor him. It’s the least he deserves.”
Jan Enogren writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org
If You Go
What: Brice Makris Brunch fundraiser with the Hanley Foundation
When: 11 a.m. Dec. 11
Where: Boca West Country Club
Tickets: $150 at hanleyfoundation.org/events/brice-makris-brunch
Honorees: Max Weinberg of Delray Beach will receive the first Brice Makris Community Spirit Award. Other honorary guests are Troy McLellan, Tina Polsky, Andrea Virgin, Spencer Siegel and Andrea O'Rourke.