As an addict’s use spins out of control, what happens to the rest of the…
Heroin Kills, Especially When Parents Don’t Talk
What kind of environment do you believe puts a person at risk of becoming addicted to heroin? Did you imagine an upper middle-class community, one in which parents nurture their children and are drug-free themselves? How about a community populated by good students, children who have many friends and extra-curricular activities?
Statistics show that even parents who believe they’re giving children everything they need to be successful might be leaving out the one technique that can keep their kids drug-free: talking.
A New War With a Different Enemy
Bucks County, Penn., is one of those idyllic communities. Located about an hour outside of Philadelphia, it’s sometimes called the “genius belt” because it was the home of such notables as Pearl S. Buck, James Michener, Oscar Hammerstein II and Dorothy Parker.
Washington Crossing State Park is named after an event that took place there and changed our nation’s history: George Washington and crew crossed the Delaware River, turning the tide of the Revolutionary War. Today, Bucks County — along with the rest of the nation — is the site of a different war. This time, the enemy is heroin.
“For 2011-12, for the first time, heroin was the primary drug of use, surpassing alcohol for those seeking county-funded treatment,” said Diane Rosati, the acting executive director of the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, in a quote shared by the Burlington County Times. “Heroin is not new to the suburbs. But it has become more available, less expensive and more acceptable.”
The newspaper shares startling data on the epidemic’s rise in Bucks County: “Countywide, the number of Bucks County residents admitted to publicly funded addiction treatment centers for outpatient admissions for heroin addiction rose by more than 40 percent, up from 347 in 2008-09 to 536 in 2011-12, the last year for which data is available. The overall increase, which includes all levels of care for heroin and synthetic opiates, is up 54 percent, rising from 460 in 2008-09 to 645 in 2011-12.”
Sadly, the epidemic is not limited to Bucks County. Heroin use has risen steadily in the United States since 2007.
Maggie’s Story — and How to Keep From Repeating It
In a public service announcement from the Bucks County district attorney, a woman named Maggie holds back tears as she shares the story of her daughter’s descent into heroin addiction. A dentist prescribed Percocet to the woman, then 21, for tooth pain. She was prescribed more opiates two weeks later when she went to an emergency room with a kidney infection. “She was almost instantly hooked,” Maggie says.
Her daughter eventually discovered that heroin was cheaper and more accessible than prescription pain medications, but she still resorted to constantly stealing from her family to afford her addiction.
“To support her habit, my daughter has stolen every single thing of value from our home,” Maggie says. She lists many of the items: cash, food, wedding bands, air conditioners, a late aunt’s pearl necklace — even the candy her son was selling for a school fundraiser.
Maggie cut ties with her daughter after finding her passed out in a car at her children’s day care center, where she had been shooting up while waiting to pick them up. Maggie now has custody of the three children.
“I have come to the grim realization that I will likely bury my only child if she’s not able to beat this addiction,” Maggie says after describing a near deadly attack on her daughter in an alleyway. Maggie lives in terror each time the phone rings that she’ll be told her daughter has been arrested or assaulted, has overdosed — or that she’s dead.
Heroin is incredibly addictive, Maggie tells the audience. Fifty percent of people who try heroin become addicted on the first use, 75 percent on the second. But there’s another set of statistics that Maggie emphasizes:
- Teens whose parents speak to them regularly about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use.
- Only 25 percent of teens report having these conversations.
What Parents Should Do
Maggie says she wants parents to understand how easily her story could become theirs. “My daughter is the antithesis of what most people think when they hear the words ‘drug addict,’” she tells the audience.
Her daughter lived in the suburbs in a stable home, did well in school, and was involved in athletics and community activities. She was well-liked and supported by her family. “And yet, here we are,” Maggie says of addiction’s toll on her family’s life, “all because of a toothache.”
No longer holding back tears, Maggie implores to the audience, “Go home tonight and talk to your children. Do it every night, until they’re sick of hearing from you. Do it until they understand the risks and the consequences. Don’t assume your kids know how you feel. Tell them!”
Other advocates echo the importance of discussing drugs with children. “Parents are the number one resource for prevention,” said CB Cares executive director Kimberly Cambra. Her organization helps parents and children develop the tools of success, and she says that education might drive a positive shift. “We are believers that educating the community is saving lives,” she said.
Helping children to make good choices — including to remain drug free — is every parent’s responsibility. Talk to your kids. Their well-being and yours could depend on it.
By Edie Weinstein, LSW
Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1