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Heroin in Hudson: one family's story

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Heroin in Hudson: one family's story
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

It is a story this Hudson family never thought they would be telling -- the addiction of their son to heroin. But what they have learned over the past nine months has convinced them that their experience is just another case of what is becoming an epidemic for middle class America.

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Their son was an athlete in high school with a solid group of friends. He was heading to college after graduation. His parents were able to give their children all the advantages they hadn't had, but looking back Dad wonders if there maybe too many of them.

They believe their son's drug use began in what he probably believed was a casual fashion -- the use of prescription painkillers. They have since learned of parties where everybody brings whatever pills they find at home or wherever, put them in a bowl and then take them to get whatever high they deliver.

The problem is that the painkillers are addictive and expensive and it isn't long before they don't deliver the high they did those first few times.

Dad believes that is when his boy was introduced to heroin but not the way the older generation thinks of it -- being shot from a needle into your arm in some seedy back alley by the "dregs of society."

The appeal of heroin to his son probably came when a user or drug dealer told him that he didn't have to inject heroin but could rather melt it and then inhale the fumes through a straw. One hit of heroin is cheaper than a single painkiller and lasts longer. "And as long as he wasn't shooting it into his arm, it wasn't such a bad thing," said Dad.

The thing the dealers didn't tell their son is that there will never be a "high" like that first one and he was about to start "chasing the dragon," a never-ending journey to get that feeling back again. Heroin addicts are born after only a few uses and it takes more and more of the drug to keep them high.

Once he started to use heroin their son's whole life became about three things: do I have enough for today, if I don't, where can I get it, and how am I going to pay for it? Their son never stole from them or anyone else but did ask them to use their credit card to fill his car with gas. Mom said he used his wages from his delivery job to buy his drugs.

Looking back there were signs. Mom said she remembers her son would get irritable, seem tired, have stomach cramps and sweat. These are symptoms of heroin withdrawal and they can come on after only a short time without the drug. "But my mind didn't go there. I think back now and wonder why I didn't suspect but I can't think about that now. We have to think about what's ahead. That's what's important now," she said.

Their son's new reality became theirs last September when they came home to find him passed out on the couch with his cell phone going off at his side. They tried to wake him but couldn't.

Dad remembered, "I don't know why I did it but I got up and went outside to his car. I looked in the center console and I found a spoon and a needle and I knew."

At the emergency room a doctor confirmed what they feared but told them his condition wasn't life threatening and they would need to find somewhere else for him to get help..

The doctor questioned their son, asking if he had ever tried to stop on his own. He said he had but it didn't work. The doctor said, "There is no human being strong enough to kick this on his own."

Finding somewhere for their son to go that night proved difficult but they finally found a detox facility where he could go for three nights. "I was in a panic," Mom said. "I got on the Internet and was just desperate to find someplace he could go and be safe."

They found a facility in Michigan and their boy was on a plane for Detroit within 24 hours. He was over 18 and could have refused treatment but he didn't. They prayed and hoped for the best. Dad's insurance would pay the bulk of the expense but they had to send their son with a $6,000 check just to get him in the door.

The treatment took nine weeks and when he returned he seemed better, stronger and above all, free of drugs. They thought life could go on as it did before the drugs. "I tried hard not to hover around him, give him his privacy and make him feel like we trusted him but it wasn't long before we learned the truth," said Mom.

Less than three weeks after he came home from treatment, their son was using again, using cash advances from a credit card to pay for his heroin. This time they found a Hazelden facility, one that employs the AA, 12-step approach to addiction and recovery. Their son was 24 days into a 28-day program when counselors told them he would need extended treatment, a very costly option that isn't covered by insurance. To pay for the out-of-state extended treatment recommended by Hazelden, Dad cashed in $40,000 from his 401K retirement fund -- enough to pay for the treatment, the penalty for the early withdrawal and the taxes. "All through this I kept thinking that we were so lucky we had resources we could use. But what would it be like if we didn't? What do parents do who can't pay? It's your kid."

Mom and Dad, along with their other children, recently participated in some family therapy with their son. His sister explained how his addiction had impacted her life. They all talked about that and, with some coaxing and support from others in his group, their son opened up and talked to them honestly. "He made eye contact with me and was sincerely remorseful about what he had done to the family. It was not just about him anymore. That's a big change," said Mom.

Their son turned 21 in treatment. Mom and Dad are cautiously optimistic about their son's chances of staying clean and sober this time and they are not certain if they want him to come back to live here where the trouble all began. They believe he might be safer if he stays near his sponsor and the recovering friends he has made through treatment. They believe in the 12-step program and the recovery mantra of "90 meetings in 90 days and then 90 more."

While not ready to go public with their story, these parents want to share what they have learned in hopes that it might be of some help to families just like theirs. First and foremost, Dad said he would like to get the message out to young teens and pre-teens that heroin isn't a recreational drug like alcohol or even marijuana. "You use it once or twice and you are hooked and eventually you will be shooting it into your arm. You don't think it will happen to you but it will."

And from Mom, "If you suspect anything is wrong, confront your child right away, don't wait. The clues can be physical or behavioral, be about things like money or relationships. Don't be afraid to say the words."

There is a code of silence among friends about drug use. Dad says if you have a friend who is using, tell the parents. "Drop the dime and call them. You could save a life."

And in the face of all the other challenges that go with addiction, the finances to deal with it can be overwhelming. This couple's advice is not to give up, and not be ashamed to ask for help from whatever sources you can find. Dad said, "If I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd take it all and set up a foundation to help parents help their kids."

For more information about heroin and other drug addictions go to Hazelden.org. A free online screening is available. Or call (800) 257-7810 for help. Locally, outpatient treatment is available at Programs for Change. For more information contact Peter VanDusartz at (715) 531-6752 or go online to www.hudsonhospital.org and click on hospital and clinic care.

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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