It Takes A Village, Part 4: Every Mother's Nightmare
In 2011, five young people died of heroin overdoses in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to stats from the SCV Sheriff's Station. But heroin isn't the community's only challenge when it comes to illegal or illicit drugs. KHTS News reporter Stephen K. Peeples is on special assignment, going behind the scenes, talking to SCV kids, parents and the front-line professionals, to investigate what’s really going on, why it’s happening, and what we as a community are doing about it. This is the fourth story in a series. Click here for HometownStation.com's "It Takes a Village" portal page and links to all the stories.
As community leaders told us in Part 1 of "It Takes a Village," heroin isn’t the only thing killing young people in the Santa Clarita Valley. They cited an explosion of prescription drug abuse as the fastest-growing and most widespread problem our village faces right now.
In Part 2, subtitled "Why Do Kids Turn to Drugs?," we heard from experts who work with young people about the reasons they see why kids get into drugs, ranging from peer pressure to bad family environment to experimentation, and the role played by self-esteem, or lack of it.
In Part 3, subtitled "The Kids Aren't All Right...But They're Working on It," we heard from three recovering addicts ranging in age from 17 to 27 who recounted their harrowing experiences and perspectives as users, abusers and abstainers.
In this story, "Every Mother's Nightmare," we'll hear from two local mothers whose children are at various points on the road to addiction or recovery, and find out what the moms are going through.
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Mary B. of Santa Clarita (not her real name; she shared her family's story on condition of anonymity), is married and has three kids from preteen to post-college-age. She finds the biggest challenge in keeping her kids sober is other parents, the ones who are too permissive or absent altogether. She is scared for her own children, and was moved to share her thoughts with us and other parents after reading Part 3 of this series.
And Kim G. of Canyon Country is the single mother of Tyler G., the 17-year-old we heard from in Part 3, and who relapsed in his recovery in the days after his March 3 interview at the KHTS-AM 1220 studios. Tyler is back in residential rehab. His older brother is also a recovering heroin addict. Kim G.'s story is every parent's nightmare.
Mary B.'s Story
"What's happening in my family... I am coming to find out that some parents are contributing to the drug and alcohol abuse (in) these kids, providing alcohol at their house, letting them party at their house," Mary B. said. "And here I am, thinking (my kids) are going to somebody's house to play video games, hang out — when it's not that happening. They're partying with the parents and the friends."
Notwithstanding it's unlawful for an adult to furnish alcohol to people younger than 21, or to provide a place where minors can drink, or a place where anyone can use illegal drugs, there are parents who do just that, Mary said.
"We have to make sure we get the point across to these parents that no, it's not okay for you to give these kids drugs or let them smoke or drink. It's not correct," she said.
Mary said she went to the SCV Sheriff's Station to report her suspicions, that certain parents were providing alcohol to minors. Her experience at the front desk with at least one deputy or volunteer left her frustrated.
"I asked them, 'How can I report a parent giving kids alcohol, whether it's his kid, their kid, my kid or any kid?'" Mary said. "He told me, 'Well, there's really nothing we can do.' And I said, 'What? Really?' He said, 'Yes, it's not our problem.' They can't do anything about what a parent's doing with their kid, he said. Well, maybe I didn't word it right, but you'd think that would have raised a red flag (enough) for them to sit down with me and ask me, 'Now, what do you really mean?'"
The man behind the counter just gave her a piece of paper with the intials "ABC" written on it, and told her to call it. But she had no idea he was referring to the state's Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. There was no phone number on the paper. So she asked what the ABC is, and for a phone number.
"There was an officer next to him that was listening who wrote all the information for me, and slipped it to the officer and said, 'Here, give it to her.' And I got it and thanked them," Mary said.
"They say, 'community,' right? And if you see graffiti, you call. If something happens, you call," she said. "But when you go in there and you want to report something, it's like... Maybe that day I wasn't dressed properly. Did I not look a certain way for them to pay attention to me? I'm thinking, 'Wait a second, these are police officers that should be helping us as a "community," like they say, with any little thing.' So, I felt really frustrated."
She called the ABC and found it mainly deals with enforcing laws against businesses selling alcohol to minors. She said she registered an anonymous tip about a parent providing alcohol to minors, but hasn't yet heard back from anyone or followed up herself.
"That's my next step," she said. "This is all new to me, so this is how (I) go. You don't know exactly what to do until you are (presented) with that problem." She's also looking into other local resources for help with her children, such as Action Family Counseling.
Mary said she's had conversations with her kids since they were young about staying away from alcohol and drugs, but now she's getting the kind of response that seems hard-wired into the maturation process, from generation to generation. And again, she points out that it's not just peer behavior that's out of line; sometimes it's the peers' parents' behavior.
"Well, Johnny's mom lets him smoke pot," Mary said one of her kids told her.
"And I said, 'Well, that's Johnny's parents, not your parents. They are not able to make decisions for other parents like that.'
"I said, 'That parent must not love their kid enough to say, "No, you are not doing this." I don't care if the other parents are letting them (smoke pot) — we are not.' And it gets frustrating when you tell them (this)."
The kid persisted, countering that Johnny's parents let him smoke pot because he's doing well in school.
"I said, 'I don't care. You're supposed to do well in school anyway,'" Mary said. "They say, 'These kids are doing it, and those kids are doing it. It's like a pattern — that works for that other kid, so this one's going to try it. It's like, 'No, we're not having it. That's something you make a decision when you're old enough, and (until then) that's illegal, no matter what, across the board.' And I said, 'When you're in my house, there's no way you're doing any of those things.' Then they get mad."
Mary understands the importance of communicating with kids about drugs sooner than later, but feels like she's competing with forces beyond her control, and losing.
"(Experts) tell you you're supposed to have your dinner with your kids at least five times a week and talk, right? Do family things...I have done that," she said. "But when you have somebody else out there (giving kids alcohol or drugs), it's so frustrating. You're thinking, 'Whatever purpose I have, they're defeating it.' I'm trying to help my kids, but it's also the parents. So, no matter how much I punish my kid or (go to) counseling, or whatever, I feel hopeless."
"I've seen the change in the Santa Clarita Valley, big time. It's not like a little bit, it's a lot," she said. "And the drugs that are going on in all these schools — it's unbelievable. Like marijuana now — everybody has it. It's becoming like alcohol. Everybody has it, everybody smokes it here and there."
Mary said it's important to know who your children are hanging out with, and what adult supervision is in place. "When your kids become the age when you let them go off and spend time at their friends' houses, you need to go in and check up on your kid. See why they really want to go to the house. Is it because they sit down and play video games? What is it? (In the) the teenage years, you really got to be more concerned, because that's when you find out such-and-such's parents have been letting them drink at the house, letting them do drugs at the house, and it's a house to go to.
"If they're at Johnny's house with Johnny's mom, yeah, they may be your friends or people you know from a club or any organization. We figure, as parents, our kids are with somebody you trust, and they're OK. You don't think they'd be doing those things. But also as a parent you can't assume your friend has the best interests of your kids (in mind). You've got to really go see what your kid's doing at that house. Do a little check."
Paraphrasing diplomatic policy, parents should trust, yet verify, their kids — and each other.
Comparing notes with other parents is a good idea, too, Mary said. At the same time, she understands many parents aren't willing to talk with each other about their kids' problems with booze or dope, or other issues like self-mutilation or eating disorders. They're not things that can be bragged about, like trophies, scholarships and graduations. They're embarrassing. There's stigma attached. Reputations, even livelihoods may be at stake.
"We don't like to let people know what's going on, and then once the problem gets worse, it's so bad, there's no control anymore," she said. "If you don't come out and say something, you make it worse instead of better. Talk to one another, and don't be ashamed, and don't be afraid to come out and say, 'We're having a problem. My kid hangs around with your kid. Is your kid doing the same thing?' If you know your Johnny or Joanna are doing things, most likely their close friends are doing the same things. If you see that one of your friends' kids is starting to do something, say something. Don't be quiet, 'cause you know what? Somewhere down the line, it's going to affect you.
"When I read your stories, it does take a village," Mary said. "It's not just me. It's the community that has to stay together — whether it's a friend that helps you out and tells you, 'I did see the difference in Johnny, but I thought it was just me,'" she said. "So parents need to talk to other parents, to compare notes with one another."
Mary says that by knowing more, and sooner, about a problem, parents can more easily help a child before things get out of control. "Instead of keeping it in, I think we help our kids by letting them know, 'Hey, we know what's going on. We know what you're doing, and you're doing it with so-and-so, and it's stopping now,'" she said.
Mary emphasized that even if a child's alcohol or drug use or abuse got worse, a parent should never figure it's a lost cause.
"I've seen that a lot of people have given up on their kids," she said. "That's why you see the rise here, I think, in Santa Clarita with the drug use, alcohol, whatever it is — because parents are getting fed up. Kids are making it difficult for (parents) to handle them so (the parents) say, 'Go. Leave me alone, I've had it, I'm giving up, do whatever you want,' so they know they have a free rein to (say), 'I can do drugs now. I can live without my parents bitching, without them grounding me' or whatever. But don't give up, 'cause that's what (kids) really want (their parents) to do."
Mary struggles to follow her own advice daily. And she has at least six years to go until her youngest is 18.
"It's hard [raising children] no matter what — being on top of them, trying to keep them clean," she said. "But they're worth it! In the long run, they're going to thank you. Right now, they hate you. They don't want anything to do with you. But like I said, you don't give up on your kid. That's my thing. Fight for your kid no matter what, and keep fighting, 'cause once they're of age, there's nothing you can do, and they know that."
Kim G.'s Story
Kim G. of Canyon Country has two sons, Tyler and Austin, ages 17 and 20, respectively, who are recovering heroin addicts. Both were arrested and then went into rehab last fall; Tyler stayed sober for 104 days, then relapsed in early March and is back in a residential rehab facility. Austin has stayed sober, as far as she can tell. Both young men are on probation now after their court cases.
Kim's story is every mother's nightmare.
She and her husband divorced when Tyler was 4 and Austin was 7, and the parents shared custody at first. The kids' father then got into methamphetamine and became an addict; the boys saw this and vowed they wouldn't grow up to be addicts like their dad. Kim fought for and eventually won sole custody to get her boys out of that environment.
Kim had started talking with her sons about the dangers of drugs when they were still in elementary school. "I was very open — we had a very open and honest household," she said. "Being a single mom, I'm also the father, so we have a different kind of relationship. We're not just kids and mom, it's mom, dad — I'm everything. So, they tell me a lot of things. Austin told me years ago that he had a couple of friends who were doing heroin, and that's something he didn't want to be around and he would never do. So it was a big shocker to find out later he was. They're honest about who's doing what, but they weren't honest about themselves."
Kim had no idea her sons were into drugs until Tyler was arrested more than a year ago for heroin possession, when he was 16. "I was devastated. I never thought my kid would get into that," she said. "As a single mom, I work all day, and they pretty much had free reign when I wasn't home. I couldn't keep an eye on them 24/7."
Looking back, there were clues her kids were in trouble, but Kim didn't know how to read them early on. "I used to come home every night and make dinner, so we'd have a family dinner even after I got off work," she said. "But once their addiction (took over), they weren't hungry. That probably should have been a sign. "I'm not hungry, don't cook," they'd say. I'd just say, 'Wow, really?'"
After Tyler's first bust, Kim confronted Austin, who adamantly denied using dope.
"(Austin) was going to school, had a job working about 50 hours a week, so I'm like, 'Well, maybe he's not, because he's doing everything he's supposed to be doing,' not realizing that he'd been a (heroin) addict for two years," she said. "He lived away from home a little bit when he was in college. He was out of my sight most of the time, living on his own. He just moved back home last year, but I didn't have any idea he was doing it, too."
Kim moved quickly on Tyler's behalf. "I called his insurance at the time to find out what we could do, and we got him one-on-one drug therapy, because that's what I was told he needed, and thought that was working because he was passing all of our drug tests with him," she said. "Then last fall, they both got arrested together and we found out that's not working. So, I called Action and got them both put in rehab. Both were in about 30 days, and went into intense outpatient (treatment) after that."
When Tyler visited the KHTS studios to talk with us on Saturday, March 3, he said he'd been sober for 104 days by his count, except for a hit of marijuana a few days earlier. The same day, Kim said, because officials at Tyler's school, Bowman High, thought he was using heroin again, she had him drug-tested, and it came back clean.
"The Monday after that, he tested positive," she said. "And he wants to relate it to the stress of school being on his back and my grandmother dying, but that's an excuse. That's what drug addicts do. They numb themselves with an excuse to not have to deal with what's going on. So he's back in Action and rehab."
How's Austin doing? "Supposedly good. He seems to be doing what he's supposed to," Kim said. "He's got over 100 days (sober)...he's doing his 12 Steps right now."
Both Kim's sons are on probation as a result of their arrests. "Tyler goes back in June for a check-up to see how he's doing and (the court will) decide whether they're going to dismiss (the charges) or not. My older son goes back in July and they're going to decide whether he's improved or not, and whether they're going to drop (his charges) down to a misdemeanor.
"Hopefully they both stay on track, 'cause (if not), the door is going to hit them hard," she said, refusing to play the role of enabler.
Kim said the tough-love approach wasn't where she started, but it's where she is now: Her sons must clean up, and stay clean, or get out of the house.
"My first round was, 'Oh, no, I can't let anything happen to them. I need to protect them,'" she said. "But somebody told me to go to Al-Anon meetings, and I learned that this is their recovery, not mine. I can't keep them sober; they have to keep themselves sober. All I can do is support them through their sobriety. And if they choose not to do so right under my roof, they don't have a roof to stay under anymore. Tyler knows when he turns 18, I no longer have to keep him under my roof. They both understand that and agree to those terms."
Kim has also resumed family dinnertimes. "If not, we got out to dinner, we'll sit and talk. So, I do make, definitely, a lot of time for them. Even on weekends, I give them 100 percent of my weekend...if they choose to spend it with me." (laughs)
Like Mary B., Kim hears from her sons about friends' parents who provide alcohol or drugs to their minor children and their friends and a safe haven to party at home.
"And the parents party with them, which I think is absolutely depressing," she said. "Even when my kid turns 21, I would not sit down and have a drink with them. I don't think that's appropriate. Other parents say, 'Yay, it's great, I can party with my kid,' but I don't believe in that. At all."
Kim's encounters with local law enforcement and the county court system and public health agencies have also been less than satisfactory, she said.
"I think they like to think they're being helpful, and they talk a big talk when they tell you everything they're going to do to help you, 'cause they don't want to see your kid go down this road, but then they're not there," she said. "We don't have enough programs out here for people who don't have insurance, don't have the money to pay for it. If you don't have insurance or the money to pay for rehab, you have to get onto a county waiting list, which can take three to six months. In the meantime, your kids could be dead."
The cost of dealing with an addict or addicts in the family is huge, emotionally, physically, financially.
"Emotionally and physically, it just drains you," Kim said. "You don't think your kid's going to do this, and then you just find out. It's devastating, disappointing. The tears are nonstop. You're wondering how you're going to help your kids get through this, and you realize you can't. It's horrible.
"The money, the loss of work because you have to go back and forth to court... 'cause when they're minors, you have no choice, you have to be there for them," she said. "And I've lost many days of pay having to go to court with Tyler. I've known people that had to (sell) their house to put their kids to rehab, because they don't have insurance, they can't afford it. And I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to lose what I've earned for them. I love them, but like they say at Action, you can love them to death. And that's what we do, by enabling them."
Kim spends between $15,000 and $30,000 a month on rehab costs, depending on the services needed. Her medical insurance covers none of it; her mental health insurance covers a little. "And my family helps with the rest," she said.
The boys' grandparents are on the tough-love page, too. "At this point, they believe nothing (the kids) say," Kim said. "They discussed this. They don't want to do anything to help anymore if (the kids) are not pushed down the right path. They don't know what to do anymore. So they have backed off a little bit."
What advice does Kim have for other parents in our village who get an inkling their kids might be getting into alcohol or drugs?
"Go buy a drug test to test them," she said. "Don't let them know you're going to test them, just test them. Because if you have that inkling, you're probably right; go with your instincts. What's the worst that can happen? They hate you for a few days, and the test is negative — great. That's the worst that happens out of that.
"If the test is positive, then you have a heads-up," she said. "Call your doctor, call your insurance company, rehab, call Action — talk to somebody, find out what your next step should be. Get them any help you can, without going bankrupt. They're your children and you love them, you want to help, but only if they want it. If they're not going to say they're an addict and they're not going to want your help, it's not going to work."
Next in Part 5 of "It Takes a Village": We'll survey what our village is doing to deal with its drug problem, and help young people steer clear of, or get out of, trouble. (See links to all previous stories on the "It Takes a Village" portal page).