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Our Silence Fuels the Epidemic

Every parent s nightmare is to bury a child. In the past month, four young people from our larger community died senselessly due to drug related circumstances. One young man hung himself, the other three ...

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Every parent s nightmare is to bury a child. In the past month, four young people from our larger community died senselessly due to drug related circumstances. One young man hung himself, the other three died from drug overdoses. All four came from reasonable families and were reasonable young men. They ranged in age from 19 to 32. Each young man was bright and engaging. On the surface, they seemed to have everything going for them. They were good students, good athletes and had a wonderful circle of friends around them. But obviously, they were in so much pain that their choice to deal with their pain was medicating themselves abusively with illegal drugs.

What is disturbing is their profile and family history. None of the four who lost their lives this month fit the traditional stereotype for a drug abuser. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be the case. Each young man was reasonably connected to his family. They were either students or working full time in career jobs.

As high school students, they were involved in campus life, either in extracurricular activity or athletics. They did drink and smoke pot in high school. However, those social behaviors were always manifested under the radar. They never got in trouble for drinking or using drugs. Their friends have said that this kind of social behavior was part of their culture.

Three out of four families knew that their children were using pot and alcohol recreationally. Those parents admitted to tolerating that behavior because at the time those behaviors were not interfering in a dramatic way with their children s lives. One family was concerned, and were told repeatedly that they were overreacting and that this kind of behavior was just a phase their son was going through.

This particular family vehemently opposed that kind of thinking and challenged their son s social behavior. That challenge and lack of support caused real emotional distance between them until he came of age to drink. He managed to get away with this behavior because he did well in school and on the ball field and had a charming disposition.

What is alarming about these four deaths is the level of denial that seems to be so infectious in our community. As I talk to countless parents of high school and college students, it amazes me how many parents are out of touch with the seriousness of our drug epidemic. So many parents did not realize that middle school students were abusing over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs. They were equally shocked to hear how many seventh and eighth graders admitted to drinking excessively on the weekend on a regular basis.

When I asked some local parents about heroin use in our community, they felt it was not an issue. They conceded it was happening in other communities, but not here. Needless to say, they were shocked and appalled when I pointed out local circumstances where young people have overdosed on heroin. They had a hard time believing that heroin is very accessible right here on the Gold Coast and that it is easily accessible in most of our high schools.

It was also troubling to learn, how many parents know little or nothing about heroin and how lethal it can be, even by using it once. Last year I worked with a young man who had an alcohol and marijuana problem. He committed himself to a year of treatment and worked hard on entering recovery. He missed graduating with his class from high school and a year s worth of family events.

After that painful year looking at his poor choices and compulsive behavior, he made some major life changes and entered recovery. In July of last year, he returned home. He was a totally different person. His parents couldn t believe it. For the first time in years, they had their son back, and they were so grateful.

In September, he went back to high school as a senior and was doing extraordinarily well. He was abstinent from pot and alcohol, going to counseling and excelling in school. He also worked part time after school.

Thanksgiving weekend, when all of his friends came home from college for the first holiday, he asked if he could meet up with them locally at his town s gathering place, where all college kids meet during vacation time. His dad was so proud of his hard work, without missing a beat said to his son, sure! His son assured him that he wouldn t be too late because he had to work the next day.

He met his friends the night after Thanksgiving downtown. He got home about 2 a.m., checked in with his parents, kissed them good night and reminded his dad to wake him up for work the next day. The next morning, the dad came in to wake his son up. He shook him a couple times, and he didn t respond. Finally, he pulled his blanket down was horrified, he was blue. He died sometime during the night. What that dad didn t know at the time is that his son had died of a heroin overdose.

He didn t drink or smoke weed that night, but his friends from college had found a new drug to turn him on to. They all snorted heroin that night; he died, and they lived. A few days later, I presided at his funeral. The church was packed with standing room only, filled with hundreds of college coeds. In the first row sitting next to the deceased boy s parents were the two young men who were his best friends, who turned him on to heroin the night he died. Three destroyed families, never to be the same and two young men, who will have to live with their friend s death on their consciences for the rest of their days. All because of their reckless decision making to get high that night.

Every weekend our area hospitals are being inundated with young people who are overdosing on various dangerous drugs. This epidemic is no longer restricted to the fringe young people in our community. Every group has become infected with this lethal disease.

As parents and as adults, we must become more vigilant. We can no longer take the position that reckless drug and alcohol use is merely a phase of growing up. Unfortunately, it has become contagious and it is putting a growing number of our young people at-risk.

How many young people have to die senselessly for us to realize that the violence of our silence is fueling this senseless epidemic?