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Addiction Effects More Than The Addict

Today my daughter and I attended a funeral today at Saddleback Church for another young man who died from drug addiction.  The room was filled with many handsome young men, doing their best to dress in black attire, even if included the ubiquitous large brimmed hat and flip flops.  They were there to pay celebrate his life and pay respects to his family.

I could not help looking around the room at these young faces and wondering which one of them is next.  It wasn’t such a far-fetched question as the conversation after the service with a group that was “clean and sober” indicated that another group was going to go off and celebrate their friend’s life by getting high.  It seems that a week doesn’t go by without another Facebook posting of another young life snuffed out by overdosing.

The service was simple but beautiful.   Everyone paid tribute to his big outgoing personality, sense of humor and love and dedication for his family, especially his young nieces.  A video montage with the music he loved showed his life from infancy to his early adulthood.  No one talked about his addiction to drugs, or the lifestyle that it drove him to,  or the emotional devastation his disease has caused his family and will for years to come.

While we can acknowledge the problem, no one really understands what a family must endure on a daily basis.    I wonder how hard is it to know that your child has a drug problem and watch them walk out the front door at night.  The terror of where they are, what are they doing, who are they with is paralyzing.   Going to bed for the evening, wondering if that phone is going to ring, and hoping it rings with the voice saying, “please come get me”, versus the alternative.

In addition to dealing with addiction, the life style of the addict is something that the parents and siblings have to endure on a daily basis.  The stealing, the DUI’s, the arrests, sentencing, convictions, bail, probation, court costs, rehabilitation costs – the pressure is unbelievable on families.  Addiction does not affect just the addict.  The entire family is pulled into this.  Some parents are relieved when their child is in jail because for the first time they know where he is and that he’s alive.

Many of these individuals have been in and out of rehab several times.  One young lady, from a very good home, went to rehab 13 times.  She eventually went to jail and is one of the very few that has turned her life around.  The young man whose funeral we attended today had been in and out of rehab many times.  Many will tell you that after they got high for the first time they want to feel that way for the rest of their lives.

I met a dad who had gone away overnight to see a friend.  In the morning he had an uneasy feeling and as he started on his trip home, his phone rang.  It was a voice that identified himself as an Orange County Sheriff.   The Sheriff said they were at his home, with his wife present, and they were doing CPR on his son.  His son passed away.  He was 19.

Another father watched as his daughter left for the evening.  She was six months clean as she walked out the door.  She went to a party and snorted what she thought was cocaine and it turned out to be opana – the strongest of painkillers.  She was put to bed, the party continued and after several hours, when the party was over, the house cleaned up – help was called.  She was already dead.  The dad said he spent the evening in a chair, calling every cell phone he had, and could not reach anyone.  The next call he got was from her friend saying, “say it isn’t so”.

Another family dealt with their son’s addiction and was being seen by a so-called dirty doctor.  He was with his friends (and the term friends is used loosely), getting high and he started to overdose.  They drove passed several hospitals, made a few attempts to call for help from a payphone for fear of being traced back to their cell phones.  In their panic, their self-induced stupor, they dumped his body on the side of the road on Camino Capistrano.   His body was found the next morning as the 911 calls flooded switchboard.

One mother received a call that her daughter was on life-support from overdosing at a rave.  She was 5 hours away from her daughter’s bedside.  I can’t fathom that long arduous drive to get to your child’s side and wonder if they will be alive by the time you get there.

Some parents have paid several hundred thousand dollars in rehab costs to save their child.  Some are bankrupt from the process.

Some parents have more than one child addicted.  Some parents have more than one child who has died.

This is more than anyone should have to endure.  This is one bad choice made by an individual that has caused a life of darkness, sadness, and despair and potentially death for himself and a life of horror for his family.

These families I speak of today are from South Orange County.  These are good people who raised good children and somewhere something went awfully wrong.   All the questions can be posed, fingers can be pointed and yet there is no clear answer.  The addict has to hit bottom, the addict needs to want help, the addict needs to stay in a program, and the addict needs to work on this every day of their lives.

There are many who have crawled out of the hole to live productive and fulfilling lives.  But those numbers pale in comparison to those that do not make it.

I still believe that educating parents and getting to the child at an early age is a good line of defense.  Not the only one –but a start.  The sweet spot for experimentation and addiction is age 12-15.  Just say “No” doesn’t work.

We need many things in this state.  One is a real-time prescription monitoring system that works and that physicians must use.   We need to track who is writing the prescription, what they are for, and where they are being dispensed.  We have real-time reporting on Facebook, why not for prescription monitoring.

We need a Good Samaritan bill whereby those overdosing can get help without fear of arrest and prosecution.  (AB472)  Prompt help by first responders can help reverse the overdose (opiate overdose only) by one simple injection of Naloxone.  Former Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill because he did not want to condone bad behavior.  This is about savings lives – getting help for those in trouble.

We need factual statistics so we can know for a fact how many people have died in Orange County from prescription/drug overdoses.  The Coroner’s office does not give out statistics because, for example, the cause of death may be recorded as “auto accident” but they were under the influence of a narcotic at the time.   The statistics on national deaths by prescription drugs are based on studies done in 2007-2009.  We need to know what is happening now – not four years ago.

We also need politicians to get their heads out of the clouds and hear the voices of the parents who are screaming for help and change in this state and across this country.  They need to understand that this is a very real problem and needs addressing immediately.

We need one cohesive group, like M.A.D.D.   Instead of chipping away at the problem on a grassroots level, we need to pull together and make large impact on a national basis.

Although this is devastating here in Orange County – it’s equally as devastating in every city, in every state, across this country.  This drug problem one of the biggest attacks on the American family and no one is exempt.  It does not discriminate.  It doesn’t matter if you live on Park Avenue or the park bench.  It has to be acknowledged, addressed and dealt with.   Period.