Tell me the story of your child’s addiction.
I have two children in recovery right now. My son was the first one I knew was ill. I remember the day he and I were putting groceries in my car at the grocery store parking lot. He says, "Mom I have something I need to tell you. I'm using heroin." I'd known he had been using Oxycontin before that and now he had transferred to heroin. I was aghast that my son was doing this knowing I was a medical professional.
With my daughter it was a little bit more insidious. I didn't know she had been using hard drugs like that until much later. She would tell me little stories and it began to sink in that she too was ill. She used more than heroin. She would also use meth and benzodiazepines.
Both of my children have overdosed more than once. One afternoon we happened to walk in on our son while he was in his bedroom — he said he was really tired at four in the afternoon. I was actually videotaping him only to realize he had overdosed. I quickly put my phone down and told my husband to call 911. Luckily I had Narcan at home and we were able to revive him before the paramedics got there. My daughter has overdosed three, maybe four times that I'm aware of. I'm lucky to have both of my children still alive. My son first came to talk to me about his illness about nine years ago. My daughter — I couldn't tell you how many years she has been sick. She's been sick for a long time with alcohol use when she was in high school. Both of my children are in their 30s now.
I was writing prescriptions for Narcan before it was legal for everybody to use. I also taught people how to use it. I found a pharmacist that would carry it for me.
People ask about side effects of naloxone. Well, the only side effect you're going to get is that the person's going to go through withdrawal. We use this form in labor and delivery when a mother has received narcotics during labor for the pain and the babies come out with respiratory depression. They get naloxone in the delivery room. That's how safe this drug is. It's been around since the 1970s.
How are your children doing today?
My son is over a year in solid recovery. He used Vivitrol injections for six or seven months this time around and then decided he wanted to try recovery on his own with no more medication. He's doing well now. He is starting his own business. He has a girlfriend, two cats and a dog and he's trying to make everything on his own. Struggling still. It's very hard to find a job when you have a criminal record, whether you deserved it or not. My daughter is freshly out of 120 days in recovery facilities. She spent a month in a recovery facility in Michigan a couple of years ago and that didn't hold. We're still fresh into recovery for her. We're very hopeful, but we're always hopeful. She wants to get her children back and that's her main drive to remain in recovery. Her children currently live with me. We started helping her with the care of her children many years ago. She also has a criminal record and her son was in CPS back when he was 6 years old and then again starting in 2016. We have both children now since 2016 on and off, but mostly on. When my daughter got very sick this last fall, we took over the care completely and wouldn't let her see them until she got into a treatment program. Her son is 12 1/2 and her daughter is 4.
My son just got his first job lined up for this year and he's really excited. He does seal coating. Last year he had to work for other people. He just lined up his first assignment for the year with his own business.
When did you first realize you were dealing with a drug addiction problem?
For my son, it was when he came and told me nine years ago. For my daughter, it was when she was caught driving under the influence — and her son was 6 at that time. But it was some years later when we found out about the other drug use.
One thing that happens with parents when we are faced with a situation like this is we kind of lose track of time and space because it's such a horrible thing to have to endure. And when my son was sick and relapsing, I thought at least I have one child that is healthy — and then I found out later that both of my children are sick. And it's like … how could anybody ever deal with more than one kid being sick? Welcome to my world.
During all of this, what was your biggest fear?
Death. That one of my children will inadvertently use the wrong drug or too much of a drug and they'll be dead. My grandson lost his daddy a few years ago to lung cancer at a very young age. So if he were to lose his mother he would be an orphan.
I have a very close relationship with my son. It would take my breath if I were to lose my son.
Some parents have lost their children. And there are those of us that fear losing our children every day. Every day. I feel really bad for people that have lost their kids, but I also feel really bad for us. We never know if we're going to go over to our daughter's place and find her dead. The guy she was with called us once and he said they were over at Burger King and that they ran out of gas. And that they had my granddaughter in the car, but that my daughter had overdosed. He had injected her. And thank God he called us. After he let us know, he went back over to her place and robbed her.
When you think back, was there anything that put your children at risk for drug addiction?
Both of my children were in abusive relationships. My daughter was the victim of date rape when she was a teenager. My son was the victim of domestic violence. He was the male and the young lady was very abusive and I believe that she is the one that created his use — by his trying to escape or to be one of the crowd. He also says that marijuana was his gateway. Marijuana also helps him stay sober. I wish it were legal. We have a lot of people that have criminal sentences for marijuana. That's just wrong. I'd put marijuana in the same category as casual alcohol. Wouldn't it be ridiculous to have criminal sentences for people who drink alcohol or have a beer with their dinner?
Have you wondered whether you could have done something different as a parent to prevent your children’s addiction?
I think all parents wonder what they could have done differently. I was there for both of my children. I was always available to them no matter what. My children were active in sports. They were active in school. They were active in our church. No, I don't know if there is anything I could have done differently.
Has your children’s addiction affected how people treat you?
I have lost friends due to my children's addictions. Only because they don't want to hear about it. So I found new friends, made new friends and have new friends because of my children's addictions. Their children are also in addiction. Like Kevin and Tanya and Dawn and Michelle and Justin. I know so many people right there with me. So the other people, I have contact with them a little bit but not nearly like I did beforehand because they can't comprehend the anguish we go through. So they block it out, especially those who have children that are highly successful in society: college education, marriage, children and good jobs.
I have met so many people and gained so many friends through many of the groups that I am part of online. We used to meet at a Panera on the other side of town. We would have the big table and there would be nine, ten, twelve of us. And here we are and we're all talking and all laughing about addiction and all of the crap that our kids have done to us and what they've done to themselves. And we're laughing and I'm sure the people around us are saying, "What's going on over there that these people are laughing about heroin addiction?" You can't cry anymore. You have to laugh about it. Everybody's story is different but everybody's story is the same. We have so many things that are just … the same. Like … our kids disappear. We don't hear from them for days. They don't answer text messages. Where the hell are they? And oh my God my computer's gone again. Everybody's got the same stories. I used to laugh and say to my son, “You know it's a good thing I sleep with my mouth closed. You might have gone after my teeth.”
Couldn’t your children have made better decisions and not abused opioids? Were your children just weak-willed?
Initially they both had choices and made the wrong choice. But after that choice was made, the switch for both of them was turned on. And they no longer have a choice.
Did you ever try shaming or punishing your children to make them stop?
Oh yes. I think we tried every avenue to try and convince them to stop. But as I educated myself on the disease, the pathology of the disease and the mental areas of the disease, I learned that they can't help it. If they could help it, they wouldn't be doing it.
Did you ever feel ashamed or disgusted with your children?
Hell yes. I still carry it with me even though I know they are living their lives. They made these choices to use or to continue to use or to reuse. And as much as they love me and love themselves, they can't stop. I'm still quiet about it sometimes when I see people I don't know. Because they don't understand. But usually when we open up, we find out that there's somebody in their family that is also afflicted with the disease.
Do you ever feel hopeless or want to give up on your children?
I have. When my kids relapse, I have a hard time understanding why they choose to use again knowing they will have to go through withdrawal again. How can they want to go through that again knowing how bad they are going to feel? Or not knowing whether they are going to overdose again. How can they take that risk? But the call of the disease is so strong, they can't help it until they have all of the tools. And even when they have the tools, they may not be able to prevent relapse.
Parents in your position are often stuck between wanting to help their children and wanting to cut them off. Were you ever worried you were enabling the drug abuse by trying to support your children financially or provide housing?
Yes. My spouse and I have both enabled our children as well as tried to support them in their recoveries. It's very difficult.
How many times did you give your children money and worry they were just using it for drugs?
I can't say that I ever gave them money knowing it was going towards drugs. I would do things like go to the pawn shop and buy back my items if they were still available. I would also buy back my husband's items and put them back before my husband realized they were gone.
Where do you think the line is between supporting and enabling your children?
One of the sayings we have is that if you make them mad, you are supporting. If you give them what they want and they're happy, you're enabling. If you say no, then you're not.
My son looks very much like the guy that's in the Versace Eros commercial. And sometimes we joke if we haven't heard from him in a while it’s because he has obviously been busy making these commercials.
What needs to happen to get your kids into recovery?
Ultimatums. Unfortunately we had to have an ultimatum with my daughter's children. We told her if she did not get help, she was not going to see her children again, supervised or not. We also had to stage an intervention with our daughter. And even though there were people there that loved her and she heard our statements, it wasn't until her son stood up and gave his statement that she folded and said, "Okay. I'll go."
The first time my son was in a recovery program and hospitalized, one of the personnel that worked at the facility said to me, "Recovery is priceless." I had this shirt made specifically like this because of what she said, because recovery is priceless. No matter what the ailment is.
I call my children my million-dollar babies, because I have spent so much on keeping them alive.
What did her son say?
He said he wanted his mom back. He was sorry that she was ill. And that he really missed his mom and that he wanted her back. That she is all he has now because his dad is gone. She started to cry. I think she was for the most part pretty speechless at that time. She refused to go to treatment that day. It took her another two days before she would go. And even then she tried to back out. But she went.
She's back in her home now. She's been home for two weeks after being gone for 120 days. We would take the kids out to the facility almost every week, depending on the weather since it was wintertime. I think one time I took her son and didn't take her daughter. In a way it was bait and it was also so she could remember why she was there. And my grandson really missed his mom. It was important for us to let him see his mom and know she was getting better.
Can you identify anything positive that has come from your experience?
Personally, I have learned so much. I have been self-taught for the most part. I've taken classes. I go to conferences on addiction. I go to family therapy sessions so I can help other parents go through this. I think it has made my son and I closer and more understanding of each other. My daughter … school is still out. She's still revengeful. And because of my children and their illnesses, I have changed my career path. I work directly with people in addiction and their families.
What do you do to cope?
Sometimes I feel like I'm going to cry, but can't. I do go to the gym two to three times a week. I listen to music.
I also teach overdose awareness and naloxone training to anybody that would like it. I was one of the first people to write Narcan prescriptions for people and taught them how to use it before the state said it was OK to do that. I was like — what are we doing here? We need to be saving lives. I can write the prescription. I can teach it. Here you go. You have every right to carry naloxone as a health care provider. So if you want a prescription, here you go. This is how you use it. And that's how I helped myself cope with a lot of this. If I can help other people save their kids, I'll do everything I possibly can. Also, in the family groups, people would give little tidbits on how to manage the dumb stuff when you have a child addicted to opioids. And one of the best things I did was we took the lock off the bathroom door. We finally realized what was going on behind that door and that he wasn't standing in the shower for an hour. I used to call them his hour power showers. No. No. No. He was using his drugs in the bathroom. So if you have a lock on the door, you can't get in there to save your child. Take the lock off the bathroom door. Sorry. And as long as you're living in my home and you have this disease, there's no lock on your bedroom door either.
My pharmacist friend and I put this kit together. It also has gloves in it and a mouthpiece. But when it's your own kid you really don't care. You just breathe for them.
I’ve done CPR on my son. We saved his life. We did CPR on him while waiting for the Narcan to kick in. And then he wakes up and he says, "What's going on here? I was just sleeping. And what's a cop doing here?" I told him, "Those are first responders, son. You were dead." He had a pulse but he wasn't breathing. I probably still have that video in my phone. We videotaped the whole thing. Isn't that creepy? My husband didn't know what the heck was going on. I told him to just call 911. I ran out to my car because that's where I kept all my stuff. Now we have Narcan all over the house. It wards off the evil spirits [laughter].
The Evzio does not contain needles or drugs. This one is really expensive. It comes in two different models. This is the old model. You flip the top off here and it screws on there. Put the nasal mister on that end. I tell parents and family members to practice with it before you ever need it. Have everything put together in case you ever need it. Because if you are scared, you are not going to be able to help as well. And that's where this kit comes in handy. This costs thousands of dollars. Some insurance will pay for it. Some won't.
This is what first responders carry. It can be delivered nasally or intramuscular. It doesn't come with a needle. Unfortunately, with so much fentanyl out there nowadays, people may need more than one dose. The most important thing to do is call 911. Because people can come out of it and then go right back down because of the opioids still in their body.
How are you doing today?
Today I am doing OK. I am very grateful that both of my children are alive. I am rebuilding a relationship with my daughter. My relationship with my son is strong. So today, everything is OK. Well, most things are OK today.
Do you have any advice for parents currently trying to help their child deal with opioid addiction?
If you are married, stay connected to your spouse. Addiction with children can ruin a marriage, but it can also strengthen them as well. It does affect the entire family. Encourage your spouse to talk about the disease with other people and they will realize that they're not alone. If God is your rock, continue your relationship with God.
The other good thing to tell parents is if you have any doubts at all, get a safety deposit box and lock things up or get valuable things out of your house because they'll find things and they'll sell them. And you never get them back. Heirlooms. Get them out of your house.
All of my jewelry is gone. The only stuff I have now is stuff I have replaced. I bought the lawnmower back a couple of times. My husband's torque wrench has probably been in three different pawnshops. I think I bought the computer back three or four times. I finally said, "Son, if you think you need to pawn it again, would you just come to me and ask me for the money instead of pawning it?"
What advice can you give to parents of younger children so they can help their kids avoid opioid addictions?
Get educated. And also find out what organizations are available in your county, in your community, in your state, so you can get drug awareness programs put into your schools. Not necessarily the D.A.R.E. program. Both of my children went through the D.A.R.E. program. Both of them told me all the D.A.R.E. program did was encourage them to go out and use drugs because they wanted to find out more about them.
List two things that you think need to happen that will put an end to the opioid crisis.
There are some countries that have legalized heroin to the point where people can go there to get their drugs. A lot of people think that's counterproductive, but it is a safe place to get drugs and the drugs are not adulterated with other components like fentanyl that will kill people. That's a bonus. The other part is if you have injection sites, you then have a captive audience and you can encourage people to get into treatment and into mental health programs. Harm reduction is important.
Why are you comfortable having your picture associated with your story?
Because I'm your average middle-aged white woman mother of an addict. Mother of two addicts. I am you. I am everybody. I love my children desperately just as any other mother loves their children desperately. And we have to help each other and identify with each other.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Don't give up on your child. Children that are supported through their addiction are much more likely to survive than those that are not. We did some tough love by telling our daughter she could no longer have her kids. But we didn't throw her out on the street either. Most importantly, be there for your child. Your child has a disease. You wouldn't desert them if they had some other disease.