How does a “good kid,” with “good parents,” who “has it all,” become a 17-year old heroin addict, shooting up in between classes and before soccer games?
Makes no sense, right?
In my quest to understand why this is happening, I went straight to the source, a former homecoming queen, turned heroin-addicted teen. Her story is just like many others, it started with a prescription for pain pills.
She played soccer year-round, was the captain of her school team, she played on highly competitive travel and club leagues and her summers were filled with competitive soccer camps.
Then in her senior year, she tore her ACL.
Her new game then was to get back on the field in record time. The stakes were high - both her and her parents were banking on a scholarship to Penn State.
After pushing through physical therapy, she fooled her doctors and her coach into thinking she was ready to get back on the field. Even though she still had pain, she pretended she was fine. She told herself she’d rest after the season.
Her first game back, within minutes, she felt shooting pain. But all she had on her mind was the scholarship. So she pushed through.
That evening, she remembered that she still had prescription pain pills from her surgery. The ones that, “she didn’t need.” The pain was so unbearable that she took two that night. For the first time in 6 weeks, she was completely pain free. Not only was the pain gone, so was the pressure.
Then the downward spiral started and it went like this: Game then pill. Pre-game pill then post-game pill. Pills in the morning, afternoon and evening. Pills on the weekend - even when there was no game. It was the only way she wasn’t in excruciating pain.
Within two weeks, she ran out of pills. She raided her parent’s medicine cabinet and took any kind of pill she could find: her mother’s migraine pills, her brother’s pain pills from having his wisdom teeth removed and her dad’s pills for his back spasms.
After she cleaned her parent’s medicine cabinet, it was on to her friends’ medicine cabinets. She told me one time she convinced her parents to stop at a local Open House, in which they did, and she pretended to need the restroom and stole every pill out of the homeowners’ medicine cabinet.
She was hooked.
She approached a popular high school student, who was known to sell prescription drugs to other high school students to fuel their weekend prescription pill popping parties. She now had unlimited access to everything from pain pills to Ritalin and everything in between.
Each pill costs $30-40. The money ran out. She felt lucky when the drug dealer had a $6 alternative solution, heroin.
Like most heroin addicts, she lied to herself, saying snorting heroin isn’t the same as shooting it, she would NEVER shoot heroin. Within a month, she was shooting heroin in-between classes and before her soccer games.
No one knew, not her friends, not her parents, not her teachers, not her coach or teammates, until she overdosed in her bedroom and her brother found her.
She survived. Some might say she’s lucky, as we know, most overdoses end in death. She however, most days, doesn’t feel very lucky. Everyday is a struggle.
Statistics show that 90% of opiate addicts will relapse within the first year after completing a traditional treatment program. They are in and out of rehab or relapse sometimes within a month - sometimes it could take 15 years, but as the statics show, heroin recovery is rare. (Source: Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services).
Although this is the story of one girl, it’s alarmingly becoming a common one - it started with a pill prescribed to them.
So what do we do about it?
I acknowledge the schools and the community for their efforts, it takes a village. The truth is, statistics don't stop teens. I bet the 300+ people arrested in last weeks “Heroin Initiative Sweep,” including the four Ridgewood/Glen Rock people in their 20’s, all sat through D.A.R.E and other programs.
Have your teen volunteer at Spring House for Women, Bergen County’s halfway house for women recovering from alcohol and drug abuse or DayTop New Jersey. Allow your teens to hear it straight from other teens.
Teens connect with people who are on their level. Sharing is what breaks through to the teen mind. It gives the recovering addict a purpose and allows your teen insight to what, “it’s just weed,” or “but the doctor gave it to me,” can easily turn into.
Don’t be your kid's drug dealer - at home lock up ANY unused prescription drugs until you can turn them in at an American Medicine Chest Challenge Disposal site or at your local police department.
“Not my kid,” is killing our kids. Do something. Don’t let your teen become a statistic.
~Julie Brower, Certified Teen Life Coach, Health Coach & Teen Yoga Teacher, has helped hundreds of teen girls gain knowledge, tools, confidence and courage to make decisions from a place of self-knowledge, self-respect and strength. Through one-on-one coaching, group workshops, events, parties and movement, Julie connects with girls on their level and gets results.