A parent alert. A few months ago I received a troubling phone call from a parent on the South Shore. For a little more than a year, I worked with them and their son around the issue of addiction. His presenting drug of choice was alcohol, although he also had a serious cannabis dependency.
After a lot of work on everyone's part, KT went home in September. His parents could not believe the change in his behavior, his thinking and his overall person. In their eyes, KT's transformation was miraculous. I am not sure that it was miraculous, as much as it was the determination of human spirit.
In September, KT went back to his high school to finish his senior year. He was on track to graduate in June. He missed a year with his acting out. He started the fall term with great enthusiasm and commitment. His first report card bore that out. In all areas, his grades were in the mid 80's and 90's. However, more importantly for his parents were his teachers' comments. Every teacher remarked on the change they saw within him. It was so refreshing. KT genuinely seemed like a renewed man.
This past Thanksgiving was the first in recent memory that KT's family could remember such peace and happiness. The day itself was outstanding. The immediate family gathered along with a number of extended family members.
In the morning, all of the cousins gathered at the local high school for the annual "Turkey Bowl." It was the first one KT chose to attend in years, and he was one of the stars. They played football for hours.
In mid afternoon, they gathered for dinner. The spirit of joy and celebration continued throughout the day well into the evening. That night a number of KT's friends who were away at school stopped by to say hi. They shared dessert and lots of stories about college. They too were most enjoyable.
After dessert was finished and the dishes done, KT asked his Dad if he could meet up with some of his college friends at a local college hang out in town. Without hesitation, KT's Dad said sure. KT assured him he would not be too late because he had to work on Friday. He also asked his Dad if he would wake him at 7:30am so he would not be late for work.
His parents felt a little apprehensive when KT left, but that quickly dissipated as they thought about the last few months and how wonderful life had been. A year ago they thought they had lost their son forever. Since September, they felt he had been born again. He was the son they once knew!
Around 2:00am, KT came home. He checked in with his Dad. He woke him up, gave him a big hug, thanked him for Thanksgiving and went to bed. A few hours later his Dad went into KT's room to wake him up. He shook KT a few times, but there was no movement. Finally, he moved from his feet to his head. He pulled the covers down and was shocked at what he saw. KT was blue, his body was already cold. Apparently he died in his sleep in the middle of the night. His family was devastated.
An autopsy was performed before the funeral. Seemingly he had overdosed on heroin. He did not shoot up, he snorted it.
It was only weeks later that his parents were able to piece together what really happened that Thanksgiving night. Initially, no one was talking and the facts of that night were very murky.
Two weeks after KT was buried, one of his friends from grade school who was away at school, came home specifically to see KT's parents. He was at the pub the night KT overdosed.
Everyone was drinking and telling tales about college life. KT was enthralled, listening and throwing in his two cents when he could. He was not drinking. A group nearby was snorting some white powder. They were bragging that the high just from one time was better than anything he might have tried in the past.
All night this group was pressing KT to try. Finally as his circle agreed, he relented and decided to try it once. The rush was intense and he was out of it for the rest of the night. Some say he tried it again. Whatever the mix and the amount, he died and his three friends lived. They have to live with that for the rest of their lives. His childhood friend who did not partake, but witnessed what happened and said and did nothing until he reached out to KT's parents after KT's death will also have to live with that.
In fairness to the college student, he saw what was being snorted and thought it was coke. It was not until after KT's funeral that he became aware that it was heroin.
What do you do when your friend is acting recklessly? How obligated are you to tell someone with power and authority about your concern? It is clearly an ethical dilemma for many. From my perspective, it is simple, he is your friend. If he dies, you are not his friend. Reckless behavior un-addressed not only puts the user in jeopardy, but also puts innocent people in harm's way.
My reason for sharing this story now is that at the time I thought KT's death was an isolated incident where a group of college coeds made an isolated bad choice.
However, since KT's death I have spoken with hundreds of high school and college students. They have shared that snorting heroin is becoming more and more an "in" thing. Presently, it is pretty cheap and if you snort it, you obviously don't use needles.
Unfortunately, a growing number of students are getting duped into trying it because of the intense rush. As adults, we need to remember one intense rush could be lethal.
A growing number of parents have taken a very casual attitude about teenage drinking and drug use. Many feel it is a rite of American passage and there is not much they can do about it. With that attitude of indifference, they can't and they won't do anything about it.
We need to be more pro-active. As parents, we should be in charge. The system oftentimes sets us up for failure. We raised the alcohol drinking and purchase age to twenty-one, but as our kids will tell us, few enforce that rule. In many ways, this present generation is more educated on drinking and driving related issues than any other generation. Generally speaking, I think they act more responsibly.
With war looming, we say at eighteen you are old enough to bear arms, serve in the military, get married, vote and have a license to drive a car, but you are not old enough to decide if you can consume a glass of beer or wine. There is something inconsistent in our thinking.
Rather than just pretending the law doesn't exist and ignoring it, we should vote to change it if it has no value and purpose. As parents, we need to be more aware of what is happening around us. We need to talk to each other before we have to bury another teenager before his time.