On the night of September 10, 1996, I lost my 20-year-old son Ian to a heroin overdose just hours before he was going to enter a rehabilitation program and I cannot begin to tell you how much we miss him. Since then, our lives have changed forever
Ian used marijuana, tobacco and other drugs in high school. At one point it had gotten so bad he was picked up by a local police officer who asked us to come down to the station where he had taken Ian. Ian was scolded and told to go home, however I immediately insisted that he go into counseling. I had such high hopes for him; I thought we had caught the addiction early and I thought it would all go away – that was until I received a phone call from Ian’s biological father stating that Ian was snorting heroin in college.
When I heard this I felt like my breath was being taken from me. At first, I was ashamed of his problem. I didn’t want to tell anyone about it when he came home from college and neither did he. He was going to a day treatment program and we thought his problem was being fixed.
But the problem wasn’t fixed. I found Ian the next morning just before going to meet my friend for our morning run. Ian had died in his sleep.
I have learned that addiction does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter what race you are, how financially sound you are, if your homeless or if you have a loving family — it can happen to anyone. It destroys the person who is using and destroys the family. My son Ian was a good, kind person who suffered from a terrible disease and we miss him every day of our lives.
Children who learn about drugs from well-informed parents have a much better chance at resisting drugs, therefore we need to start talking to our children about the dangers of drug use as soon as we begin teaching them not to talk to strangers. One of the worst situations is an unsuspecting child and a naive parent who doesn’t think drug addiction can happen to their child.
Also, children don’t know always know that it is okay to ask for help. They don’t want to disappoint their parents so they keep their problems inside. If we want our children to come to us with their problems, we have to make sure they know that it is alright to ask for help. We must let them know they can trust us with their secrets and that we will love them even if we do not approve of their behavior.
To accomplish this we have to:
* Learn to listen to our children and not judge them.
* Take responsibility for learning about drug addiction and prevention so we can give our children the information and support they need. You are not the only person whose child is at risk. If other children have the right information and parents who support their ability to resist drugs, your child will be safer.
* Find out: who, what, where when and how. It gets harder to keep track of our children as they get older, but we have to hang in there, even if they try to push us away. Give them clear guidelines so they know that absolutely no alcohol or any other drug use is allowed.
* Don’t panic if your child says they tried something. Just listen and tell them that you are proud of them because they opened up to you but that you do not condone drug use at any age.
The night before Ian’s funeral, I made a vow to do everything I could to prevent other families from losing their children to drugs. In 1997, I founded a nonprofit organization called The Courage to Speak Foundation, Inc. committed to helping in the fight against drugs and violence in our schools, our workplaces and our communities. The Courage to Speak provides prevention presentations to raise drug awareness, school-based prevention curriculum programs, and support for families who have lost a loved one to substance abuse. The organization also serves as a referral source for families affected by substance abuse.