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'An unbearable pain' | Deadly drug overdoses on the rise in East Tennessee

Rachel Purnell lost her fiancé, Russell Brewer, to an overdose this spring. She's starting a recovery group in his honor.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn — Memories of Russell Brewer fill the walls of Rachel Purnell's apartment. 

His favorite hat and glasses sit on shelves where she can see them. Pictures of their first date, Christmas mornings and family lie below a sign that reads 'If I had my life to do over again, I would definitely find him sooner so I could love him again.'

"That's just the truth," Rachel Purnell said. "His laugh was absolutely annoying and hilarious, but absolutely contagious. He loved to sing, he loved to dance."

Russell Brewer had struggled with addiction for most of his life.

"It brings a monster out," Purnell said. "You don't know that person. They don't know that person."

This past spring, Brewer died from a drug overdose, leaving behind Purnell and his kids.

"[Our] two-year-old, I'll ask him 'Where's daddy?' and he'll point to pictures," Purnell said. "But there are times when I'll say, 'Where's daddy?' and he'll point up."

Credit: Submitted

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She called their loss earth-shattering.

"I'm terrified of what I'm going to have to explain to my two year old when he gets older," she said. "To lose somebody that close to you is an unbearable pain."

Brewer had tried to get help through rehabilitation programs and halfway houses. Purnell tried to help him too.

"I get angry sometimes," she said. "But more so, I hurt because of all the pain that he had that went unnoticed "

Purnell started a group in Oak Ridge for those touched by addiction. She wants it to be a safe place for people still struggling and those who've lost their loved ones like her.

"Everybody deserves a chance. I don't care how many chances that takes," she said. "You should always give somebody the benefit of the doubt, regardless of their situation."

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