08 Oct The Heroin Epidemic in One Mother’s Ohio Town
The heroin epidemic in Dublin, Ohio is out of control. One mother describes how the drug has taken hold of youth and what is being done to stop the spread.
Dublin, OH is one of the wealthier suburbs of Columbus, located NW of the city. However, the entire state of Ohio is experiencing a heroin epidemic; in the rural areas, urban areas, and perhaps different than past instances of heroin use in the state, especially in the suburbs – particularly in the wealthy suburbs. Like most people who decide to live in the suburbs when their children are young, besides having the common reasons – high performing academic and athletic programs, we shared the widely held assumption that crime and drug use is substantially lower in suburbs than more urban areas.
As our children entered middle school, what we found, in fact, was that alcohol “experimentation” was rampant, with smoking marijuana a close second, and probably eclipsing alcohol use by the time our second son completed middle school – as it’s much more readily available and more affordable for that age group.
As our boys entered high school, I became increasingly disturbed by numerous stories I was hearing from moms who had older children than ours, about drug abuse of all types rampant at the high school level – numerous kids daily coming to school drunk or high, cocaine being snorted in the bathrooms, pill popping parties on the weekend, etc. What was most disturbing was that many of the users were athletes, which smacked in the face of another widely held suburban parental assumption – that having your kids in a lot of extra curricular activities, particularly high level athletic teams, will keep your kids “too busy” to get into trouble. VERY WRONG assumption, but yet I still hear it continually voiced by friends and neighbors who have younger children yet to enter middle and high school. Both of our boys were athletes on high achieving sports teams in high school in two different sports, and they were both drug users, as were many of their friends on the teams.
As our youngest made his way through high school and the opiate pain pill epidemic and then later, the heroin epidemic, made its way to our suburb, basically all of my preconceived notions about life in suburbia had been shattered. Not only was there now rampant drug and alcohol use – particularly among the “too busy” athletes (not just the “stoner/loser” group – who you previously thought were the only ones in suburbia engaging in this), but there was also now crime – car and home break ins to support addictions, and most tragically, heroin overdose deaths of teens and early 20 year olds (as well as several deadly DUI car crashes) some of whom you had personal connections to. Heroin dealers learned quickly that there was a large amount of money to be made in the wealthy suburbs where kids had easy access to lots of spending money and there was a steady demand for their product.
The main lesson learned is that addiction, ESPECIALLY heroin addiction, because it is so powerful, does not discriminate, based on race, income level, activity level or achievement level. In our suburb, there was a continual stream of white, high income, highly active, high achieving kids entering rehab, and the same was true in all the “white, high income, highly active, high achieving kids” suburbs surrounding us. Now, I knew that addicts weren’t just kids from the inner city who come from horribly dysfunctional families. They were “good” kids from the suburbs who come from two loving parent households with high incomes and high achievement levels.
Fortunately, our governor and attorney general have publicly recognized that we have a serious epidemic raging here and are actively working to combat it with additional funding for law enforcement and treatment programs, several public information campaigns, and new legislation to try to get high-level dealers behind bars for longer sentences. While we were in Vermont last month, a large-scale bust of high levels dealers in the Columbus area (working thru a network of Mexican grocery stores), resulted in the arrest of 30 dealers. There have been several other large-scale busts in the last 3 months in other parts of the state as well.
One of the primary ramifications of the epidemic in the suburbs is a tremendous increase in car, home, and business burglaries. Areas that were once considered essentially crime-free, are now routinely and repeatedly receiving notices from their local police departments to be on the lookout for car and home burglaries. We have definitely seen this in Dublin, as have several other adjoining wealthy suburbs.
Tragically, I have personal knowledge of only a tiny number of rehab success stories because there are only very short length rehab programs here and many parents are unwilling to send their kids far from home. Our educational consultant is absolutely swamped with work, trying to help desperate parents find better alternatives to what is available here.
The only “good” thing about the heroin epidemic being so rampant in our area, is that the whole issue of drug use and abuse is finally coming out of the shadows, and suburban parents are recognizing that the shelter of the suburbs and what that supposedly encompasses, will not necessarily protect their children from becoming drug users or addicts. Parents here are having more frank and open discussions with their children about drug use and are becoming more aware of signs to look for that their child may be using. I only wish, as I said at Saturday group, that I could clone all the managers, so that we could bring the miracle of the NEW LIFE HOUSE concept and program to our area for all the desperate parents here who can’t (or won’t) send their addicted kids to Los Angeles.
As to my personal experience of knowing people affected by the epidemic…….
Here is a list of people we personally know who have experienced the tragedy of heroin use:
- A boy my son went to preschool with in Dublin, died of an overdose early in 2014.
- My husband’s roommate in college lost his son in his 20’s to death by overdose, shortly after returning from rehab. He was from Pickerington, a southern suburb of Columbus that has been particularly hard hit. He and his wife started a grass roots opiates education program called Tyler’s Light. While our son was in his first intensive outpatient rehab program run through OSU hospital, there was a Pickerington schools administrator who spoke at one of the parent meetings. She claimed they were experiencing 1 death per week at that time. Whether that was accurate or hyperbole, I can’t say.
- My doctor’s best friend lost her 18-year-old son to a heroin overdose. He was from Worthington, a suburb adjacent to Dublin that also has seen a high number of overdose deaths.
- One of the moms in our Families Anonymous group has a daughter in her 20’s who is an addict. She has been through rehab five times. She has had several short-term incarcerations, but is currently in prison for 7 years, primarily for stealing and forgery – large sums of money from her mother and grandmother. She also contracted hepatitis C at some point while using. She also was brutally beaten and raped shortly before her latest arrest.
- A dad in our Families Anonymous group has a son who lost the best friend he made while in a local rehab to an overdose shortly after their short-term program was completed. The dad’s son was doing fine for a while, but recently, appears to be using again.
- My hairdresser, who lives in New Albany – the wealthiest suburb of Columbus, had one of her neighbors call me because her son in his 20’s was using heroin again, after 3 previous stays in local rehabs. She was at the end of her rope and my hairdresser wanted me to encourage her to get much needed support and strength by inviting her to attend Families Anonymous with us. I had 2 heart wrenching, hour-long conversations with her. She never found the strength to come to a meeting. Two months after our conversations, her son died of an overdose.
- My hairdresser currently has 2 clients from New Albany whose high school age sons are in local rehab for heroin addiction.
- My best friend’s son became addicted to pain pills while a senior at one of the Dublin high schools. He went to the same OSU Hospital IOP rehab program as my son, one year before he did. She was an invaluable source of support and strength to me while we were going through our experience. Her son has remained clean since his rehab, although my best friend attributes this to her son finding a serious girlfriend around that time, not to the rehab. At the end of the 6-week IOP, his group went out to get high without him. His girlfriend grew up with a mom who was/is an addict, and she won’t tolerate even a hint of it from my friend’s son.
- Just yesterday, this same best friend told me that her 26-year-old daughter recently learned that someone she graduated with from Dublin High School just began serving an 8-year prison term for robbery. He is a heroin addict who came to California for rehab, but moved back to Ohio afterwards, where he started using again.
I think one of the most poignant things I can say to you with all of the above in mind, is that I often experience feelings of “survivor’s guilt.” Why we were so amazingly blessed to have found out about New Life House from our educational consultant, and then have our son select it from a list of 3 choices we gave him, is beyond our knowing or understanding. We certainly are no more deserving than any of the parents listed above. All we can do is to be eternally grateful to have found such an amazing place that does rehab the way all places should – intense, long-term, AA based, with extreme peer accountability, and then the awesome long term support of fellow graduates and the extensive young people’s AA network in the L.A. / O.C. area. According to our educational consultant (Andy Erkis – Erkis Consulting), there is nothing that comes remotely close to having all those aspects in the state of Ohio; thus my “survivor’s guilt.”
Some ways we try to express our gratefulness are to attend Families Anonymous and encourage and share the burdens of fellow members, as well as spreading the news about Families Anonymous and New Life House and AA whenever and wherever the occasion arises! Your blog is a tremendous resource to send people to!