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As the Heroin Epidemic Spreads in Pennsylvania, One Recovered Hometown Addict Spells Out Sound Prevention Advice for Families Everywhere.

Heroin epidemic in Pennsylvania

There were 25 reported heroin overdoses in a two-day period last summer in Washington, PA.  Abuse of heroin in this rural area of the Pennsylvania had finally gotten so bad that the Washington Post took notice and featured this afflicted portion of the “Rust Belt” in Washington County in an article.  The article served to draw attention to how bad heroin abuse can get in one community.  For the rest of the Washington DC readership closer to the Beltway, the ever-escalating numbers of overdoses and deaths were harder to believe, but not for local Pennsylvania families who’ve experienced it firsthand.

One such recovered 23 year-old man, “J.L.” lived and abused drugs in Washington County for 10 years.  “This article really hit home for me.  There is such a high volume of heroin available in the greater Pittsburgh area now, that it is way too easy for anyone to get it.  In my hometown of Washington, PA, it’s not like you need to go to an open air market, particular club, gas station or certain person.  Every second person at the mall or grocery can point you to your next fix in our county. The only thing that can halt this tidal wave are more drug awareness programs.”

J.L. started like most opiate addicts do, using alcohol and a “little weed.”   As to how to help parents better understand what to look for and how to help kids avoid the trap of drug addiction?  This recovered addict replied.  Because of Washington, PA’s geographic location on the major interstates, there were plenty of people and parties to get anything I needed all through high school.  Looking back I think I hid my drug abuse pretty well, but I left a string of tell-tale signs, that my parents didn’t see  and just didn’t understand.

When it comes to helping kids stay drug-free, here are six guidelines families need to adopt.

  1. Ask lots of questions and stop being reasonable or too trusting of your kids.  Everyone wants to believe their child isn’t going to do stupid things and get addicted, but when you see things that don’t match up, ask about them and then ask again.  For instance, what about a teenager who is working a 40-hour week, but never seems to have enough money?  Or a 17 year-old who wants to suddenly stay out all night with “good” friends? All are indicators of changes that are most often associated with destructive behaviors.
  2. Know who they are hanging out with and don’t assume they are safe friends just because you know them.  Check in with the other parents.  Find out how they feel about underage drinking and social drinking practices.
  3. If you are suspicious about any activity, follow up on your hunches and find out the truth.  Confronting the situation in a non-confrontational way is key. You have to make it safe for your child to be honest with you.  Addicts and users lie. Once they’ve started that web of lies and you ask any question about their habits or whereabouts, you can expect an explosive reaction.  Those angry and snarling reactions usually indicate that they’ve already done something they don’t want you to know about. Now is the time to find out what it was. Waiting and letting these lies and misdeeds add up only create more distance in the relationship and further seal off the truth and willingness to let anyone help.
  4. Be willing to set rules on drugs and alcohol use and enforce them.  Parents hate to be unpopular, but setting the rules and enforcing them is part of being a parent.  While showing up unannounced in their teenage life, asking tough questions and even drug testing are not popular, they are often needed gradients in this day and age, if you want your children to stay off drugs.
  5. Be there for them.  They need to know you love them and will help them.  That means “having their back”, but having it to help them, not to continue destructive behaviors. Addicts isolate themselves from everyone except other users or people who let them use.  Your child needs to know that they can come to you, no matter what they’ve done or might do, and that you love them and will help them.  You will not enable their continued slide down the scale of actions that might endanger them, but you will help them.  The most confusing parenting advice out there is for parents to be their kids friends.  The truth is kids need parents to BE parents for them, and that isn’t always the “popular” friend type of person.  It’s not tough love, it’s parenting. Guiding, assisting, setting the rules and being a role model.

“When things got really bad,” said J.L., “I felt all alone.  I knew it wasn’t really true, but because of all the lies and harmful things I’d said and done I had to make my parents or anyone offering me help, into my enemy.  It’s one of the most twisted things about addiction. Addicts lash out the most against those who could help them.   Until I studied what was behind this behavior at Narconon, I had no idea why I acted that way. I couldn’t stop it.”  

“Like so many parents, mine were always “hounding me and harassing me about MY life like I wasn’t an adult.  In truth, I see they were doing what good parents should do.  I was just not able to accept their help because I was such a scumbag, lying addict at the time.  It took some real work on my part to get to the point where I could believe they would ever be able to forgive me or love me again.  But the truth is they never had stopped

  1. If you suspect or identify drug abuse, get your loved one to long term treatment immediately.  Overdoses are all too prevalent to wait to get help.  Clinically, studies have shown that long term treatment has the best success rates for permanent opiate cessation.  Finding a program that treats both the physical and mental aspects of addiction is key to stable recovery.  Permanent recovery requiresfinding a program that treats both the mental and physical aspects of addiction and the reason the person turned to drugs in the first place.

Getting me to a treatment program that worked, was the hardest thing my parents had to do.  I went to three of the best 28-day programs in the Pittsburgh, PA area.  While at those programs, I never learned anything about myself and why I used, but I went to a lot of meetings.  When I finally got to Narconon, the difference in personalized treatment was incredible.  Physically I recovered and then I got to look at my life and what problems I had tried to solve with drugs.  I clearly saw what I had done and then got to handle my life in such a way that I knew I’d never have to use drugs again, no matter where I lived.  It wasn’t about the area, it was about me. 

Seeing where I messed up trying to solve my problems with drugs was part of a new beginning for me. I also saw where others were making the same mistake and how we could help them.  I’ve gotten active in my community to help other families avoid the trap of heroin addiction and free themselves if they’ve already gone there.  There’s nothing better than helping someone else learn from my mistakes and build a sober and productive future for themselves and their family!



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