By Patricia Beech –
What leads good kids – athletes and A+ students with caring, attentive parents to heroin?
“They think they’re invincible,” says Diana, the mother of a heroin addict now doing time in Ohio’s Reformatory for women. “They think they’re in control and won’t become addicted, that has to be it.”
Diana’s daughter, Kelleyanne, began using drugs while in high school. A 4.0 student, she says her peer group, which consisted of athletes and A students, all used drugs recreationally.
“If I’d hung out with kids who didn’t do drugs I don’t think it would have made a difference,” Kelleyanne says. “I think I would have still used because an opioid prescription was my gateway drug, that opened a lot of doors which eventually led to alcohol and heroin.”
She admits even if she had not been prescribed the powerful painkillers she would have still hung out with the kids who used drugs, and suspects she would have still become addicted.
“I think it might have taken me longer to become addicted, but if it had been some other kid who brought Percosets to a party, I would have taken them. I thought I had it all under control, even though I could see myself going in that direction, it just would have taken more time. The thing that was so much different for me in general was that the friends I was hanging out with who were doing this stuff were also cheerleaders, and basketball players, and football players, and kids making straight A’s.”
Studies have found when it comes to addiction, teens are particularly at risk. The prefrontal cortex of a teenager’s brain, which is responsible for sound judgment and appropriate decisions, isn’t fully developed.
Partnering an immature frontal lobe with other issues like drug availability, peer pressure, poor self-worth, and mood disorders is often all it takes to steer a young person toward addiction.
“I wasn’t a smart teenager,” Kelleyanne says. “I genuinely believed because I was a cheerleader, I was intelligent, I was affluent, I was making the President’s List in college while I was on heroin, and because I was able to do these things, I absolutely felt entitled – like I had a get out of jail free card. Then, when I woke up in an orange jumpsuit surrounded by orange jumpsuits, I quickly realized it didn’t make a bit of difference.”
Was there anything that could have stopped her from using drugs at that time? She says, yes.
When her former high school announced they would begin randomly drug testing athletes she attended a school board meeting to offer her support for the testing.
“If someone had threatened me with a drug test when I was a cheerleader, maybe that would have been the only push I needed to not use,” she says. “I might never have used heroin to cope with difficult situations in my life, my mind wouldn’t have immediately gone to drugs as a way to escape pain.”
Recent grim statistics reveal that Ohio leads the nation in opioid overdose deaths. The Buckeye State has recorded the most heroin-related deaths and the most synthetic opioid deaths, surpassing even larger states like California and New York.
A survey conducted at treatment centers across the country found that 90 percent of heroin users were young white men and women in their early twenties. Nearly three-quarters said their addiction started not with heroin, but with prescription opioids like Percosets and OcyContin
According to another recent study, drug overdose deaths last year likely exceeded 59,000 – a result of the heroin epidemic being made more deadly by the influx of illegally manufactured fentanyl and carfentanil. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under age 50.
“It’s so important to keep the lines of communication open with your kids,” says Diana. “If you suspect your child is using, reach out and talk to other parents who are also facing it because they will tell you don’t try to sweep it under the rug, and when they say they won’t do it again, don’t believe it.”
It was a hard-learned lesson for both Diana and Kelleyanne.
“What happened to me was kept very hush, hush,” says Kelleyanne. “Everybody wanted to sweep it under the rug and pretend like it didn’t happen, and so I continued to keep it a hush, hush secret too.”
Diana now goes every Thursday to a group meeting for families coping with drug addiction. She worries that other families who share her experience are not taking advantage of the resources made available to them.
“It’s funny, almost everyone I talk to has been affected by this problem, but we only had four people at our last meeting,” she says. “I don’t know if people are embarrassed to come, but I think it’s better to be in a room full of people who are talking. It helps to sit down in a room, and on a first name basis only, share your experiences. It feels so good because you no longer feel alone.”
Diana say that isolation is the worse enemy for those affected by drug abuse.
“We need more groups where people can come and talk and get advice because this is not something that we as parents can fix,” she says. “The addict has to decide not to live this life. They have to understand that bad things happen to people everyday, but we learn how to cope and remain productive.”
Despite the grinding pain and frustration she has experienced as the mother of an addict, Diana says she still has hope for her daughter.
“I’ll never give up on her. From the day she was born, the first time I heard her cry, before I even saw her, I fell in love with her instantly. It was a feeling that warmed my heart in a way that I can’t explain. I will be there for her forever because she is my girl and I’m proud of her no matter what.”