Facing The Threat Of Heroin

Newtown Bee BY R.C. LORCH

West Nile virus or SARS were to appear in Newtown, the concern and reaction would be swift and thorough. Medical experts would converge on the town to discover the source and prevent its spread. The media would be present to report all aspects of the health threat. We would use any available measures to avoid contamination and educate ourselves about preventing a possible epidemic. Right now, though, it seems to me that any mysterious virus or bacteria could not possibly cause the physical or emotional devastation that heroin addiction brings to the teenage addict or his family.

As the school year begins, strict new standards have been proposed by the Newtown school board seeking to curtail alcohol use among teenage students. The board has also addressed another more serious problem. An article appearing in the September 5 issue of The Newtown Bee made reference to a 2002 survey among students reflecting that the number of those using drugs has remained stable, but that the type of drug being used is different. The substance is heroin and the use of this particular drug will surely not remain stable. Its highly addictive nature, current availability, relatively low cost, and lack of stigma once attached to its use are sure to make the one-year-old statistics obsolete.

My personal focus reaches far beyond the problem of alcohol abuse as our teenage son has progressed from teenage drinking to heroin addiction. This process took only three years. In late May, after observing changes in his behavior, receiving strange phone calls in the middle of the night, and finding suspicious items in our home our worst fears were undeniably confirmed. Although we did suspect his using something far different from alcohol or marijuana, he finally admitted taking potent prescription pain medications that were easily obtained from friends in town. What he neglected to disclose, though, was that he and these same peers were also sniffing heroin occasionally. For many of them injecting the drug was inevitable. My son, as many other teens in this town, never fit the stereotypical image of an addict. He went to school, played sports, worked, and even occasionally went to church on his own. To the very best of our ability we tried to monitor his comings and goings and knew most of his friends. Most nights we ate dinner together, we talked often, and most importantly, we shared the love and comfort of family.

In the past few months he has been in two detox centers, a two-month rehabilitation facility, and a hospital. Each intervention has failed because he came back to our home after treatment. We have since learned that the recovering addict risks relapse when returned to the toxic environment where the nightmare began. He must avoid those familiar people, places, and things that will inevitably lead to using again. And so, coming home is no longer an option for him. We have to love him from a distance; we can no longer use our parental instincts to protect and help him because that is called enabling. He must find his own way to recovery. I often wonder if our family will ever truly “recover.”

As I write about my son I am aware that several other parents in this community share in my own despair. Within days of learning about his disease, a friend recommended a support group that was begun several months ago by the Parent Connection. It had never occurred to me that there would be so many other local parents in need of help and support for this problem. Coping with the addiction of a child while attempting to maintain something close to a normal home life has been practically impossible; this group has been a true comfort.

Several members have since embarked on the difficult mission of disclosing the severity of this problem in more public forums. For obvious reasons there has been some resistance. Although an uncomfortable if not unbelievable situation, heroin use has and will remain a threat to the well-being of Newtown. It is not merely a good town’s reputation that is at stake – it is the safety and future of our children. The danger of this drug is not just in the minds of its most current casualties, the damage that it causes to a community, a school, a family, or a loved one is irrevocable…I know what it can do.

(R.C. Lorch is a resident of Main Street. The next meeting of the Parent Connection is Wednesday, September 24, at 7 pm, in the Newtown Middle School auditorium.)

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