Every parent's nightmare is to wake up one morning and find his or her son dead in his sleep. That nightmare is further intensified if your son is barely seventeen and died of a heroin overdose because there was "no room in the inn."
A local family recently had to embrace that nightmare. Their son had been battling addiction for a better part of his young life. It became more progressive when he entered high school. He found more ways to hide and beat the system.
Like many who have gone before TK, he started smoking cigarettes and drinking beers in middle school. In seventh grade, he got caught drinking beer on the football field with his buddies. He was suspended and given a referral to a local clinic.
Needless to say, TK went kicking and screaming. He said he didn't have a problem. From his perspective, a little teenage drinking was part of the American way. He went for the evaluation and was assessed to be at risk for developing an addiction problem. He dismissed these findings and just became a better sneak when it came to drinking.
TK continued to drink during middle school but without incident. He beat the system. He never got caught at school and never came home drunk. He would drink early in the evening and sober up or pre-arrange to stay over a friend's house.
By the time high school began, TK had graduated from beer parties on the weekends to smoking pot during the week. Still, his illegal substances were not interfering with school or the rest of his life. The only area of conflict was his dynamic with his parents. He became more estranged and distant from them, but still managed to keep things together.
In the middle of junior year, everything fell apart. TK was arrested for dealing pot. He was arrested on Wednesday as he left his high school campus. It was at dismissal time and half the known world witnessed the event. His parents got a call from the local precinct informing them that TK was under arrest. They were told to get a lawyer and be prepared to post bail if they wanted to pick TK up the next day.
His parents contacted a criminal attorney. Since TK had no priors, he was released without bail to his parents' custody. He was under house arrest. The whole ordeal the night before caused him to be very contrite and cooperative.
The District Attorney was open to a plea bargain which would keep TK out of jail, but some of the non-negotiable terms along with community service were counseling, outpatient treatment and random drug testing. TK was more than happy to agree if it would keep him out of jail.
For the next few months, he was angelic. It was like their old son was back. He was present to the family. He went to counseling willingly and never failed a drug screening. Eight months later, he was terminated from counseling because he was a model citizen.
A few more months passed and TK started to exhibit old behaviors. He was now a senior in high school. He was growing distant from the family and breaking curfew. On a number of occasions it smelled like he'd been drinking and/or smoking when he came home. He admitted to the drinking but denied the smoking (of pot).
However, his behavior became more and more irrational. It was now starting to interfere with school and his social life. He was not meeting his curfew. On the weekends, he was staying out all night.
His parents started to panic because they heard rumors from other high school kids that TK had graduated from pot and was now trying more potent street and prescription drugs. His parents confronted him. He vehemently denied everything except drinking. He shut down.
In the middle of February, he passed out at a party. An anonymous stranger called and told TK's parents that he was out cold at a kid's house. The caller said there was no supervision and that TK was doing heroin. The caller gave the address and hung up.
TK's parents found the house. They found their son unconscious. They called an ambulance and he was rushed to the hospital. That teenage caller saved TK's life. Had she not called, there was a strong chance that TK might have died that evening.
Once he recovered, his parents were determined to get TK into a residential program. Then their real nightmare began. Their first discovery was that there are few to no residential treatment programs for teenagers. Their second problem was that their insurance would not pay for residential treatment until he failed (again) at outpatient treatment. The third problem was that the few programs they found that were open to taking their son had waiting lists. These parents were overwhelmed. They did not know where to turn. Everywhere they did turn, they ran into a stonewall. The stonewall was further strengthened by TK's resistance to treatment.
As soon as he felt strong enough, he left home. Legally, there was nothing they could do to stop him. In our state, at seventeen you are allowed to leave home without consequence. He entered the teenage underground. None of his friends and acquaintances would give his parents any information. Their code of silence was deafening. However, they knew he was still getting high because he was now stealing to survive. His new drug of choice was heroin.
After two months of living on the edge with their out of control son, TK's parents convinced him to come home while he waited for a bed in a long term non-traditional treatment program.
He was still actively using, but not as much. In mid April, on a Monday morning, TK's Mom came into his room to wake him. She shook him and he did not respond. She pulled his cover down and saw that he was blue. He had overdosed during the night. They found the remnants of the drug in his bed. He was seventeen. He might have had a chance if the resources existed in our larger community to help him!