“I didn’t want to believe it could happen to my child” –
By Patricia Beech –
Kelleyanne is a local heroin addict who began using drugs recreationally after a doctor prescribed her 60 Percosets a month for pain related to scoliosis. She was 14 years old.
That was 2005, and doctors across the country were widely distributing new high-powered narcotics, often for non-medical purposes in pill mills that were only beginning to show up on law enforcement radar.
By 2007 prescription narcotics were the second most abused drug after marijuana – surpassing cocaine, heroin, meth and crack.
Law enforcement’s subsequent crack down on pill mills would inadvertently open the door to heroin use among many of those addicted to prescribed narcotics.
Suddenly, the old image of the heroin addict as a whacked out junkie lurking in the back alleys of America’s cities no longer applied.
It had been replaced by fresh-faced kids and young adults in rural America where families were only beginning to understand that drug abuse does not only affect the abuser, but also the lives of everyone around them.
Kelleyanne’s mother Diana says she had no idea there was a risk of addiction when she allowed her daughter to take prescribed narcotics.
“I trusted my doctor,” she says. “If he had told me there could be complications and that bad things could possibly happen, I don’t think I would have even filled the prescription.”
She believes the narcotic fueled her daughter’s descent into drug addiction, and Kelleyanne admits she often took Percosets to parties to share with her friends.
Even though she was a very attentive mother, Diana had no idea her daughter was using the pills recreationally.
“I was involved with everything she did, and I never saw any sign. I can’t even tell you that while she was in high school I ever once thought something might be wrong – never,” she says. “These were all good kids – all her friends were good kids from good families. But now we know that doesn’t make any difference.”
Kelleyanne was, in fact, a good kid and a high achiever. She ranked in the top five of her graduating class with a 4.0 GPA, she was captain of the varsity cheerleading squad, and in her senior year she won the lead in her high school’s musical production. She also tried heroin for the first time.
After graduating high school she became pregnant, but the baby, born a month early, did not survive.
“The warning signs started after the baby died,” says Diana. “In hindsight, that was the worst day of my life, I not only lost my grandchild, I lost my child too because that’s when her drug use really started becoming serious.”
Diana went to visit Kelleyanne a few days after the baby’s funeral. She says she could tell “something was different” about her daughter.
“I remember thinking ‘you are acting so strange, I’ve never seen you like this before’,” Diana said. “She was all over the place, very busy, she was not acting like she had just lost the baby. I knew how awful I was feeling, but she was just acting almost like it didn’t happen. She was keeping herself away from it. I also noticed a lot of sniffing and that kind of thing. That was the very first time I started wondering what was going on, but I thought it was just her way of trying to deal with it.”
Diana admits she often rationalized and excused her daughter’s behavior because she couldn’t admit the truth to herself.
“I did that a lot throughout all of this,” she says. “I thought, ‘no, not my child, this isn’t happening, not to my child’.”
But, it was happening, and Diana, who now actively participates in a drug abuse awareness group that helps family members learn to deal with the effects of addiction, says parents should take action the moment they suspect their child might be using drugs.
“If you feel like there’s something wrong, I would say, it’s time to sit down with your child and say ‘talk to me’.”
Even without physical evidence – she says, “Go with your gut, Mom’s have instincts and they know when something’s wrong, don’t worry if it’s going to upset your child. If you think there’s a problem you need to talk right then, not when it gets worse, because it is going to get worse, a lot worse than it was when you first suspected it.”
Studies have found that young people do go to great lengths to hide alcohol and drug use from their parents. If they are leaving physical evidence, such as marijuana joints, drug paraphernalia, or empty liquor bottles, it is a strong indication they have already lost control of their drug use.
When weeks later Kelleyanne announced she was moving to Florida, Diana objected.
“I though it was a horrible idea, but she was 19 years old, I couldn’t stop her, I could no longer discipline her, or ground her, or send her to her room – I had to let her go.”
While living in Florida, Kelleyanne’s drug use escalated out of control, eventually landing her in trouble with authorities.
“She lived with a friend of mine who let me know what was going on – it was bad,” Diana said. “Kelleyanne was spending all her money on drugs and was arrested for shoplifting, and being the enabler that I am, I paid for her to get out of jail, and I bought a plane ticket for a friend to fly down and drive her home because she didn’t have a license at that point.”
Diana felt certain that after being arrested and incarcerated her daughter would “never do this again”.
“People need to understand – you can’t believe drug addicts when they say ‘I’m not going to do this anymore, I’m over it, I’m not going to do this anymore’. The parent in you wants to believe that so much – don’t!”
With the help of her family and friends, Kelleyanne did manage to stop using – for a while.
Diana says she isn’t sure whether or not her daughter was ever completely honest with her at that time.
“It’s hard to say – because there are a lot of things that tell you something’s wrong,” she says pointing to her heart, “There was a lot of that.”
Within the span of one year, her “perfect child” was graduated, lost a child, and sank into the depths of drug addiction. Diana says she wondered “where did my kid go?”
“The guilt consumes me,” she says. “I know parents hear it all the time from other people who say ‘it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault’, but you live it and you always wonder what could I have done differently as a parent. Being an addict’s mother is a very sad and scary place to be. It’s so hard sometimes to know the right or the wrong thing to do, and I have so much guilt because I didn’t know the right thing to do.”
Asked what advice she would give parents who suspect their child might be using drugs, she says, “Talk, just talk and talk and talk. Don’ t give up. I think kids are afraid to talk to their parents sometimes, but it’s so important to keep open communication. Kelleyanne didn’t tell me at 14 that she was experimenting, of course she didn’t. As parents we have to realize it’s out there and if it grabs your child, you may not get them back. For parents who can’t conceive of their child doing that – I was there too, and because I was there, I may have contributed because I didn’t want to believe it could happen to my child.”
Look for Part Four of this series in the July 12 edition of The People’s Defender.