It happened again. My evening routine, filled with “important” tasks was shattered by a text. It’s my friend Meg. Her 18-year-old son just learned that his buddy had overdosed and had died. “Now what,” she asked. “What do I say to him? He’s just sitting in the basement alone right now, and I don’t know what to say.”
A concerned Mother; anguished, but knowing really, she’s the lucky one. Her son is in the basement, sad and confused. Her son is alive tonight. Imagining the other Mom, the one who lost her 18-year-old son, is when the pain really sets in.
I quick go online to find some resources for Meg, and I am reminded once again how extensive the drug overdose problem really is. According to today’s (2/23/17) Chicago Tribune,
Overall, overdose deaths rose 11 percent last year, to 52,404. By comparison, the number of people who died in car crashes was 37,757, an increase of 12 percent. Gun deaths, including homicides and suicides, totaled 36,252, up 7 percent.1
I found a wonderful resource called GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing). I read heartbreaking tributes to good-looking, young men and women posted by their grieving families who described them as joyful, caring, generous and suffering sons, daughters, husbands, sisters, brothers, uncles and so on.
More tributes are posted each day.
We marvel at the courage and the pain of these families, and we pray, PRAY, that our children never, EVER, end up using drugs. Hmmm……They may drink, I know. They may try a little pot, who doesn’t? But we hope they never, EVER, do “drugs.”
I sat in York High School last fall with hundreds of other parents, teachers, and students and listened (you could hear a pin drop) as Chris Herren spoke about drug use. Mr. Herren was a basketball player for the Boston Celtics, he got mixed up with alcohol and drugs, including heroin and had lived to tell it. And tell it he does.
He pointed out that our tendency when we talk about addiction is to look at the addict’s worst day. He encouraged us instead, to look at the first day.
As parents, we should be alarmed the first time our kids drink alcohol. Why?
People who have their first drink at age 14 are six times more likely to develop alcohol problems than those who don’t try alcohol until the legal drinking age.2
Plus, we all know…..alcohol is a drug. And partying puts kids in the position of trying more drugs. Now I know that this is not the only pathway to overdose, but it is one. Very often, painkillers, fentanyl, oxycodone and other opioids reach teens and adults alike under a doctor’s care. Nevertheless, these drugs are highly addictive and readily available. When painkillers become more difficult to get, there is always cheap and highly effective heroin. It’s in the high schools, at the football games, and in our basements.
Chris Herren was tough on the parents in the gym that night. He told us what we didn’t want to hear. He told us that it could happen to anyone, (not just the “bad” kids.) And he told us that often times we simply are not doing our jobs as parents.
He called us out on our tendency to show up at EVERY sporting event for our kids, year in, and year out and yet, we often drop the ball as parents on Friday and Saturday nights. We bury our heads in the sand when our teens really need us to be parents. We rationalize, minimize and deny that it is a problem.
His message was clear, and his message was hard to hear.
But whenever my routine is shattered, and I’m reminded of the crazy numbers of overdose, and I’m forced to see the face of those kids, I appreciate again how brave Mr. Herren is for calling it as he sees it.
If you are the parent of a teen, it’s one message worth hearing, and I encourage you to check out Mr. Herren’s work at The Herren Project. Otherwise, talk to your kids, talk to other parents and find out which road blocks you can put up to stall or delay your teenager’s alcohol/drug use and ultimately work to prevent another teen overdose.