Robert Malouf, Jr.’s life was full of promise. In his high school days at Jackson Prep, he was active in sports, graduating in 2009. He then moved on to the University of Mississippi, where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. After graduation, he was employed at Trustmark National Bank. He was loved by his family and had many friends. His mother, Lee Malouf, said he had a way of making people feel comfortable and at ease. In January 2017, at the age of 25, Robert died from an accidental opioid overdose. That year alone, over 45,000 lives were lost from opioid overdose.
“When he passed away, I started learning about substance abuse disorder and addiction,” his mother said, reflecting on her son. “So often, people only think that people do drugs or get high just to have fun. For him, it was also about getting everyday balance in his life. It is sad and there is so much stigma around it.”
Lee has learned a lot since those initial days of shock in 2017. First, she attended town hall meetings with Stand Up Mississippi and book discussions with End It For Good which led to work with initiatives like Mississippi Harm Reduction. Recognizing gaps in the substance abuse disorder community, Lee opened the Robert Malouf, Jr. Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation for Mississippi to honor his legacy and to assist many struggling with addiction.
“I have wanted to create a fund for a while. There were so many people who responded after his passing and many friends who have kept up with me,” she said. “People want to help in some way. I hope there will be a great deal of impact in the community.”
Lee would like to see more sober living homes come to fruition, which provides the next step after rehab. There is a particularly great need for sober living homes for women and pregnant women. Additionally, Lee is interested in providing support to disadvantaged persons who do not have the funds to pay for treatment and housing.
Another gap identified is transportation to take people to and from sober living homes to twelve-step programs, doctor’s appointments, work and other aspects of everyday life. Many simply cannot afford the next step, Lee said, and need help finding jobs. “It’s a huge benefit to be able to go to these separate living homes as a step towards getting out in the real world.”
Every day, 128 continue to die from opioid overdose around the country, leaving family, friends and community behind. Lee says, there is more we can do.
“Addiction is not a moral failing or a weakness. It is a complicated health issue. Since my son’s death, I began to meet people in recovery who had struggled with addiction, and I listened to their stories. Like most of us, their stories were of the joys and sorrows of life, and the turns their lives had taken when they made their best and worst choices. I realized they were people very much like me, and their stories give me hope.”