“My Brother Deserved Better:” How Personal Tragedy Led Jen Kljajic to Counseling at Lucid Lane

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Jennifer Kljajic’s brother Mark was prescribed opioids after a hockey injury and subsequent surgeries left him in chronic pain. Mark experienced a years-long struggle with medication and tolerance withdrawal symptoms, which ended in tragedy. Today, as a counselor, Jennifer helps others rewrite their story through her redemptive work with Lucid Lane.

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Clinical Director of Counselor Success, Jennifer Kljajic has found her purpose. She aims to give people a new lease on life that her brother, Mark, never had.

Injury, chronic pain, and an opioid prescription

A hockey injury and subsequent surgeries left Jen’s brother Mark in chronic pain as a young adult, and his job in construction required him to be physically able. So he was prescribed opioids. “He did fine on them for a while, but when he got into his 40s, he started to have tolerance withdrawal symptoms—the pain was getting worse and he started to have panic attacks,” Jen explains. “Then, he was prescribed Xanax, which actually potentiates, or makes the opioids stronger.” Yet Mark didn’t realize this, and neither did his doctors, as this was before the 2016 FDA publishings about warning against co-prescribing of opioids and benzodiazepines made it into the mainstream. What followed was a vicious 5-year cycle that worsened his tolerance withdrawal and gave him more troubling symptoms—including seizures and strokes. He was no longer able to work his construction job and became distant from friends and family. That’s when his doctor fast-tapered him off opioids. HHS guidelines state that anyone who has been on an opioid longer than a year should be slowly tapered which is at the most 10% a month. Around this time, Mark told his loved ones, “I’m going to be okay. Don’t worry about me—I just don’t feel well right now.” He really liked his doctor, and he had confidence that he could handle it. Things would get better. Then, for a couple of weeks, he stopped answering his phone. “We would invite him over and he would say he didn’t feel well,” his sister recalls. After their father underwent heart surgery, Mark did visit his mom and dad. It would be the last time they saw their son alive. That day, Mark asked his mom, “If anything were to happen to dad, would you need me?” And she said, “No, I’m okay. I wouldn’t need you. Of course, I would want you to be with me. But I  know you are going through a lot and I’m okay. I can take care of myself” “I know our mom was thinking she was relieving him of any burden, but he was looking for a reason or purpose to live. The dysphoria that comes with withdrawal can make everything look hollow and empty, but she didn’t know,” Jennifer says.

Jen Klajic, Clinical Director of Counselor Success Jen Klajic, Clinical Director of Counselor Success

“What I had been through was devastating, and it can happen to anyone. And I just said to myself, something has to be done.”


Mark took his own life at his parents’ house later that day. Reports determined that at the time of his death, Jennifer’s brother had only benzodiazepines in his system and no opioids.

“The benzodiazepines really make people see things in a negative way,” Jen explains. “It acts as a central nervous system depressant. And it says right in the pamphlet that it causes depression and or suicidal ideation.” “The combination of severe opioid withdrawal and paradoxical, adverse effects of benzodiazepines is what brought him to his knees,” says Jen.

There were no empty seats on the day of Mark’s funeral, his sister recalls. So many people told her that her brother had helped them. “He was a sensitive person,” she says. “He wasn’t a trained therapist, but his friends said that he’d helped them through some of the darkest times. We just couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t him. He was a life force and he shined so brightly.”

Physical withdrawal from benzodiazepines

Prior to Marks passing, Jen had her own experience with tapering and withdrawal symptoms from taking a benzodiazepine short-term to help with sleep. After investigating what professionals were doing about benzodiazepine withdrawal, she came across Lucid Lane, and ultimately entered discussion about a position at the company. Jen believed in their mission and connected with the founder whose wife went through the same withdrawal she went through.  An immediate bond was formed over shared experiences. “What I had been through was devastating, and it can happen to anyone. And I just said to myself, something has to be done,” she said. “My employment offer from Lucid Lane came 7 minutes in my email before my brother took his life at 2:32 on April 7, 2018.  As devastated as I was, I’m a person of faith and to me this was a sign that I had to immediately go to work on this and accepted the position.”

Today, Jennifer can help others rewrite their story through her redemptive work with Lucid Lane. “My hope is to help individuals as a therapist, but also to educate doctors in the community and the world about the problem of benzodiazepines and opioids, even when taken as prescribed,” she explains. Jennifer feels a sense of responsibility to help others after what she and her family lost. “It feels like I’m giving life back, that I’m able to do this in honor of my brother and give other people opportunities that he didn’t have. Watching people make it through their journey and achieve their goals is unbelievable…like watching a miracle. I have seen people get their spark and their functioning back. It’s really one of the most privileged experiences I’ve had, to help people continue the narrative of their life.”

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