The statistics are frightening. According to experts in the field of substance abuse who examine everything from the use of alcohol to Zoloft, thousands of children are dying each year from drug addiction.
- According to DrugFree.org, about 15 percent of 7th graders have experimented with marijuana. The use escalates to 50 percent by grade 12.
- Alcohol use usually begins by age 11 or 12.
- Stronger drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamines, are usually first experimented with beginning at age 15.
- Prescription drug abuse is outpacing all other illicit drug use today.
- Treatment admissions for prescription pain killer misuse has risen dramatically over the past decade. The misuse constituted 1 percent of all admissions in 1997 and now represents 5 percent, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
People reading such statistics tend to quickly forget them because they are just statistics. Cold, hard facts seem meaningless, until they affect people’s own children.
My family is among the heartbroken whose stories lie hidden beneath these statistics. But we’re more than statistics. We’re real. We hurt. Unrelentingly.
We parents who have lost children to drugs are like fish out of water, flopping around, trying desperately to survive this nightmare. We’re fighting the undeserved feelings of guilt, dealing with the what ifs and trying to find ways to work through the incredible, unnatural suffering of losing a child— even worse, losing a child to drug addiction. The heartbreak is horrendous enough, and then society stigmatizes us.
I am compelled to do whatever I can to inform everyone that not only bad people do drugs. Good kids do drugs, too. Kids from the right side of the tracks are also being derailed by drugs. Believe me; drugs can hurt your family. Talk and listen to your children. Learn the warning signs.
Begin the drug talk early. What is early? It’s a rather nebulous time frame. A lot depends on your child’s maturity. Yet, age 10 is generally a good time to begin. Consider starting the dialogue by asking your child what he or she knows about drugs. Listen first.
Upon reflection, my husband and I waited too long to have “the drug talk.” Scott was age 15 and his brother Dale was 16 when crack cocaine first began to spread its tentacles in our little town in Florida. We had no idea of the magnitude of the formidable foe we were up against. We were totally unarmed, not due to a lack of concern on our part. It was because not much was known about this drug and its devastating effects back in the 80s.
Scott was enormously talented. He could play any musical instrument, had his own band, a high IQ and was a loving son who championed animal rights. He was an all-around good guy.
Then on Scott’s 17th birthday, a band mate gave my son a line of cocaine as a birthday present. Some birthday present. Scott was instantly and irretrievably hooked. From his 17th birthday up until he lost his 14-year battle with the Addiction Monster, our lives were in constant upheaval. Our family was always waiting for the call that we intuited was coming but were helpless to prevent.
Scott was on restriction in his teen years. He was in and out of five rehab centers complete with private counselors. He exhausted our bank account. You name it, we did it all in an attempt to keep our son alive.
If love could have saved him, Scott never would have died. Scott managed to become a paramedic and a resident nurse. People adored him; they gravitated to him. Scott could charm the birds out of the trees.
But Scott also was an adrenaline junkie with no self-esteem. A reason why some kids turn to drugs is to self-medicate their inner turmoil. Research shows that ADD and mental illness often go hand-in-hand with addiction.
It’s a knife to my heart when I hear people saying things like if the parents had done a better job, then the child would not have turned to drugs. We raised two sons identically with love and generous servings of praise and adoration. One depended on drugs, one did not.
It’s going on eight years since we last hugged, kissed, talked to and laughed with Scott. Contrary to popular belief, the passage of time does not diminish the heartbreak. It is with us every day. We just grow a little stronger.
Our son’s desperate struggle and self-loathing for how he’d ruined his life and his wishing he were dead came to an abrupt end on December 1, 2002, when Scott overdosed on crack cocaine and heroin. Our lives as we knew them also ended that day. Scott’s suffering is over; ours endures.