CHESTERTON — At his funeral, Kellie Ballah made her brother a promise: She wouldn't let his death be in vain.

She would speak out about the dangers of addiction, hoping to prevent someone — anyone — from meeting a similar fate as Jason.

He had tried to get off dope, tried and tried and tried again. Until the end.

He had seemed like a new man after his last stint in rehab. He had found God, found inspiration. Started his own painting business. Got his own place.

"We had done this over 10 years. We could tell when he was really changing and when he wasn't," Kellie said. "This time there was a complete difference in him. We thought, 'This time, we're going to make it.'"

He didn't make it. A week after he moved into his new apartment, in Rockford, Illinois, Jason Forbes took too much heroin and died. He was 36.

Kellie Ballah spent two years grieving her twin brother's death. After that, she was ready to talk.

Two were tight knit

From the womb, Kellie and Jason were as close as two people could be. Their parents divorced, so the twins were the only constants in each other's lives. They grew up in Hobart, attending Baptist schools.

Jason didn't start using drugs until after high school. His sister had gone away to college, while he stayed home and got in with the proverbial wrong crowd. He started with cocaine, graduating to heroin. The battle had begun.

For the next 14 years, he was in and out of treatment, including, his sister said, "the fancy rehabs ... the ones that cost $25,000 each time you go, with no insurance." His family kept footing the bill, never giving up on him. He would get clean, come home, use. Wash, rinse, repeat.

"It just seemed that no matter how much he tried, he would go right back into it," Kellie said.

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But something seemed different about him after that last stop at the faith-based rehab in Rockford. He told his family he wanted to give back, to go into schools and tell kids not to pick up drugs in the first place.

Too little, too late

Then his sister got the call that Saturday night in August 2015. Jason had been dead more than 12 hours.

In her eulogy to him at his funeral, Kellie vowed to do what he never had the chance to do. She has spoken before the Porter County Substance Abuse Council, in front of students. She blogs, posts about Jason's story on Facebook, participates in an overdose walk in LaPorte.

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"I'm finally at the point where I can talk about him without breaking down and being so upset about it," the 38-year-old said, not breaking down during a recent interview at the cozy home in Chesterton she shares with her husband and five kids. "Because, don't get me wrong, it comes in waves for sure."

While he was alive, Kellie wondered why her brother wouldn't just stop. After he died, she realized he had to wake up every day and fight the urge to use.

She now thinks the best way out of this crisis is prevention. She urges parents to talk to their kids about drugs early; middle school is too late.

"You need to be open and honest with them that there are bad things out there that can hurt you," she said.

"With kids, when I do these talks at the school it's, 'Don't try it. Not even the first time.' Because it's going to be so hard to stop. And it just overtakes your life: your work life, your social life, your home life. It overtakes everything. It's just this spiral you cannot get out of."

For those already caught in that spiral, she believes the solution is more-affordable treatment, not jail. She also thinks there's value in speaking out. Families of people dealing with addiction often feel ashamed. They shouldn't.

"This is a disease," she said. "You wouldn't shame somebody in your family for coming down with a sickness. Why is it looked poorly upon if you have a family who is struggling with drug addiction? I think we can find comfort and help in talking about it."

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.