A cautionary tale: Addiction devastates families when children succumb
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Greg is struggling to help two children try to recover from their addiction.
“My biggest fear is them being dead. I know people that are dead from it, personally, and if not death then a life of misery and failure and struggle.”
He spoke to The Recorder on the condition that we use pseudonyms for the sake of his sons’ reputations.
Greg and his wife have raised several children in Greenfield, the last two in time to pass through high school as the opioid pill problem grew.
He recalls that it was about three years ago, in the fall, that he ran into a casual acquaintance in downtown Greenfield who told him to keep an eye on one of his teenage sons. The man said he had seen his son among the people coming and going from a residence associated with dealing pills.
“I told my wife this, told her one of our younger children is doing pills. She couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it.”
The couple had already raised and sent other children off into the world, as far as they know with no exposure to anything harder than alcohol. They didn’t know what to believe or to do, even as the younger son’s behavior worsened over the next several months. Greg said his wife is better at talking to the kids, and she kept at the younger son.
Finally, their fears were confirmed when some hundreds of dollars — to which only the younger boy had access — went missing. Confronted, he broke down and admitted his problem.
They have since learned that he had begun taking pills at parties in high school, and was taking as many as three or four 30-milligram Percocets a day.
The couple got the teenager into counseling, and Greg began seeing a teen addiction specialist himself. Against the counselor’s recommendation, he purchased home urine tests online and began screening both younger sons.
That led to the discovery that the elder son had a problem as well.
No easy road
It hasn’t been an easy road, even with professional help. The urine tests caught both sons a couple of times over two years, and although the family didn’t initially understand what was going on, withdrawal wreaked havoc.
Greg said the older boy, who he believes had used less, would sleep it off, but the younger could become almost violent. Once, early on, he had to kick him out of the house for several weeks.
“I didn’t know what it was. I just knew the rage was enough to make me and my wife uncomfortable, because he’s not like that otherwise,” he said.
Greg considers himself lucky that he caught the problem in the early years, when things like the wake-up call of barring his younger son from the house could still make a difference. Cutting him off for three weeks between high school and college underlined what the boy might have been taking for granted.
“I think this is going on in households all around Franklin County, and parents aren’t aware, and had it not been for that gentleman that tipped me off on the street, I may have been two or there years into it before I knew,” he said.
He feels fortunate that he caught his younger son when he did, between high school and college.
Confusing treatment system
Beyond the personal struggle with his sons and the friction it created in his marriage as he and his wife adopted different approaches at different times, he says he experienced great frustration at the fragmented and confusing treatment system.
Greg first thought of the Brattleboro Retreat. He called, but the Retreat insisted that his son call because he was not a minor. Greg insisted that realistically it wasn’t going to happen. Then, he recalls, they said that they don’t handle withdrawal and referred him elsewhere.
Then there was the maze of insurance. Some programs wouldn’t take his insurance, others wanted approval from the insurance company first, and the insurance representatives had their own ideas about where or whether he should take one son or the other.
“It’s days and days of this, fighting with insurance, fighting the programs trying to figure out if they’re going to take him,” he said.
“It feels like you’re chasing your tail.”
Eventually he was able to get one son into the Brattleboro Retreat’s intensive outpatient program — or IOP, one of the several acronyms people in the system learn to speak.
That was a couple of years ago. Speaking last summer, Greg felt both sons were doing better; the occasional urine tests had been clean for nine months.
But since then, he caught his older son using something called a Whizzinator. Like the urine tests, the device is available online, and designed to fool those urine tests with what the manufacturer describes as “medical grade” synthetic urine, heated with chemical pads and delivered through a fake penis.
The older brother, the one who seemed safe, had quietly escalated to snorting heroin.
Now, he’s in a long-term treatment program, where he will stay for up to a year.
That took another struggle, beginning with two days of calling detox facilities only to hear the staff tell him to call back in a couple hours.
“That went on for two days, and the next thing you know you have a cooperative family member heavy into a detox situation, starting into withdrawal,” he said.
Greg knew someone with a little more experience in the area, and a call got his son into a seven-day detox, followed by a post-detox program while they found a long-term rehab bed.
Greg said his only advice for people who might find themselves in the situation he did is to keep trying at detox. If they can get past that barrier and get a foot in the door of the treatment programs, the experts there know how to deal with the intricacies of the insurance system better than the people paying the premiums.
The younger son seems — so far — to be sober and committed to staying that way, Greg said.
“I think he kind of realized he doesn’t want to be caught up in what the pills ultimately lead to, which he’s seen a lot of in terms of friends of his who’ve gone over to heroin.”