Sandi Daoust Interview Excerpts
Sandi Daoust was born in San Diego, California, in 1953, the oldest of 4 children. Their family later moved up the coast to Alameda, California, where she graduated from high school in 1971 and married her high school sweetheart shortly after.
In 1981, Sandi and her family moved to Utah to be near her sister, Karen, and raise their family in a safer and cleaner environment. Her youngest child, Robby Nunes, was born in Springville, Utah that year. Her older children are Shannon Nunes Penrod and Jeremy Nunes.
Following a painful divorce and after spending some time as a single mother, Sandi married her best friend, Don Daoust in July, 1991. This union brought two more children to their family, Erich and Mary Daoust. Family has always been the number one priority to her.
On April 16, 2001, Sandi's youngest son, Robby, died of an overdose of heroin and cocaine after a three-year struggle with addiction. In an effort to overcome her grief and make something good come from this tragedy, she began working as an advocate for substance abuse education, affordable treatment and harm reduction.
Sandi's free time is spent with her precious grandchildren, Hunter and Ethan Penrod as well as family and close friends. She is employed as a Customer Service and Warranty Manager for a builder, Trophy Homes, based in Orem, Utah.
Interviewer: Let’s start with your son Robby got into drugs in junior high. Tell me a little bit about his history of substance abuse and when he started using heroin. You said it was a peer pressure thing. He didn’t want to be a wimp.
Sandi: Robby started smoking pot in seventh grade, eighth grade cigarettes, beer, just the things that kids, probably most of what they could take from their parents. They did have a friend whose mother smoked a lot of pot and also had cocaine and I know a lot of the kids used to go to her house and steal from them. Of course I didn’t find this out until later, but he did tell me that. I think that’s where most kids get their beer or most kids get the alcohol from their parents. In eight grade, ninth grade they would take their parent’s pain pills. They would either empty the capsules or chop them up with a razor, use a straw, snort it like you would cocaine. That was just a recreational thing when they were bored and nothing else to do. Robby did say that there wasn’t many days in eighth grade and ninth grade that they weren’t high before they went to school, which is right about when Rob’s grades plummeted. He always had A’s and B’s until eighth grade. I had a lot of teacher meetings, I made him go to summer school, started really working close with his homework. He changed. He also got really, really popular that year. I remember thinking that was kind of odd. His brother had always been so extremely popular, and all of a sudden Robby became very popular and all new friends, not his usual little friends. He got all new friends. In ninth and tenth grade it was the same thing. Robby sluffing school, him getting in trouble, me putting him back in summer school, trying to catch things up. Robby was the kind of kid that had a lot of anxiety, worried about things, worried about being popular, worried about if he looked okay, if he was going to fit in. I believe he was 15 when he was introduced to heroin and he was told by some older kids that if they snorted it, it wasn’t the same. It was just like the pain pills. It was all opiates. They wouldn’t get addicted. It wasn’t a big deal. Rob told me that he didn’t want to do it. He had this little war going on in his head. Part of him was saying, “I am really scared. I don’t want to be trying this.” But the bigger voice in his head was, “I need to be cool. I need these guys to think I’m cool. They are going to think I’m a wuss.” So he did thinking he would just do it a few times for the boys. They would see how cool he was, and then he wouldn’t do it anymore. But it doesn’t work that way. He was hooked almost immediately. Robby came to me when he was sixteen, a junior in high school. We were just getting ready to go to bed. I was watching the evening news and he came up and, I don’t know about other teenage boys, but my boys didn’t open up and do big emotional talks with their mother at that age. So when they want to talk I always listened, and he came up and he looked agitated and said, “Mom, I need to talk to you about something.” I said, “Sure.” He was just pacing the floor and just holding his head and he started to cry. He said, “Mom I have to tell you I’m using drugs and I can’t stop.” I just felt like someone had kicked me in the gut with a boot, but I wasn’t really comprehending still how serious this was. I said, “Okay, what are we talking about drugs?” He said, “Heroin.” Rob had, had so many stomach aches and so many pouts of the flu for the last two years. I just said, “I get it. These drugs are making you sick.” He started crying really hard and he said, “Mom you don’t get it. I’m sick when I am not using the drugs. That is how sick I am. I have to have them, and I don’t know what to do and I just want to be a regular kid again. I don’t want to lie anymore. I don’t want to deceive you. I don’t want deceive the rest of the family and I just want to be a kid. I don’t want to be like this and I don’t know what to do.” I just told him that I hadn’t absolutely no idea how to help him but I would figure it out. I just held him and he sobbed and I held him for a really long time and got him to go to bed. I stayed up the whole rest of the night until my husband woke up and then told him. I just remember thinking my son is going to die from this. That was my very first thought. I knew heroin was really serious and that was my thought. He is going to die and I don’t know what to do. It was the next morning I started making phone calls. I called a family doctor who said. I mean they didn’t even make a big deal. My family doctor over the phone said, “Detox him at home. I’m not going to give him anything. It’s his first time. He’s very young.” I don’t think he understood how long Robby had been doing this. He said, “He needs to feel this pain of detox and then he won’t do it again.” I thought, “Well okay.” I took it under advisement but I also made some phone calls. My call was to the Day Spring Program. I got hold of them and made some arrangements to meet with Dr. Potts at the Day Spring Program, and got him in to do an evaluation. I did detox him at home. I did take time off work. If you’ve never detoxed someone, I could see why you would have to go get it. He was so sick I wanted to go buy it for him to make him stop. I’ve never seen anybody that sick. The diarrhea the throwing up, the sweating, the fevers, the shakes, headaches, not being able to sleep. It was just terrifying. Dr. Potts got us through the Day Spring Program and that was the first treatment that Rob had. That was, I believe, a six-week course where Robby went twice a week and then his stepfather and I went with Rob once a week as a family to learn more. He did really good for about six months, but then we had another relapse. I found out about the relapse because I found some pawn tickets in his room. Pawn tickets means he’s either pawning our stuff, his stuff, his friends stuff, maybe his father’s stuff. After confronting him, you know, that is how we found out that time. We got him back in to the Day Spring, just back on the treatment.
When he relapsed, what were some of the circumstances of your awareness?
Usually it was pawn tickets and his things being gone. There is no reason for a kid to be pawning items. You know they are going to get money for drugs. You don’t get that much money for it. He pawned his beloved guitars, his favorite things in the world, his amp, his TV, his VCR, his guttle blaster, I suspect some of my husband’s tools, I think some of his father’s tools. We also had another instance of forged checks. I had a check come back to me that I didn’t write at a gas station and he had, why they let him cash that, a kid, you know, a local gas station in Springville, just forged for like 20 bucks. I had a couple of mine, a couple of his dad’s. This time when I confronted him, he knew his father was furious, his stepfather was furious, and I was a little bit more worried because I knew it meant another relapse. He called me at work one day and I said, “We know about the checks.” He just said, “Everyone is real mad, huh?” I said, “Yea.” He just disappeared and we didn’t see him for about two weeks. When I found him it was because his father called me. His father and I are divorced, and his father called and said, “Rob is here on my couch. What do we do?” Luckily Rob was still on my insurance and I called the insurance. I made arrangements to get him in to Highland Ridge Hospital, which is real expensive, but we did an intervention with Robby’s father and I and thought well maybe if we together make a united front. We woke him up. He was sleeping on the couch and we said, “We can call the police and have you arrested for forgery or you can go with us to Highland Ridge Hospital right now.” So that was an easy choice. Of course he cried and you know, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry” We took him to Highland Ridge where they immediately had to have a check to cover the balance of the 50 percent that wasn’t paid by insurance, and they also recommended a longer time than we were able to afford. I think he did three weeks. He came home and did really, really well but they kept saying, you know, he needs more time. This isn’t enough. What you are seeing now isn’t the last. But we didn’t have the money for that. They were recommending six months in a halfway house, and how do people afford that? We had other children. That was a tough one. But he did seem to do really well. He did go back to the Day Spring. They have a really good after care and he did pretty good with that, but still it was only another six months before he relapsed again. This time, you know I was still paying off other bills. I suggested he go through the state. We tried to get him on through the state. But this time he was nineteen and he wasn’t working. We meet with the state people. We filled out all the forms, made all the phone calls, and he was told he would be put at the top of the list because he was an IV drug user. He waited six and a half weeks. They never called and we kept calling them. They did not have a bed. They did not have room. Well by that time, once Robby had detoxed again at home with me. By that time he thought he was fine, that all he needed to do was get a job, get his life back together, start going to church regularly, and he would be fine. He did. He did all those things. He got a good job. He got a girlfriend, got a car, joined a gym, and he was just doing awesome. So we really thought that we had made it this time. It was in fact that Easter Sunday was our last day with him. As a family we went to church. We all met for brunch, and my daughter just kept saying, “I’ve got my brother back. It’s so nice to have Robby back in the family.” To see my boys together and driving together and listening to all these big stereo speakers in his car. My boys had kind of had some conflicts over Robby’s drug abuse and his brother was pretty mad at him. So to see our family together I was just so happy. Rob went golfing that afternoon because it was a beautiful sunny day, and that was behavior we supported. Healthy activities, that’s awesome, you know. He went gulfing. When he came home, he got home kind of late. He told me that he had been watching basketball with friends on TV and that is why he came home late, but he also said he had a really bad headache. I suggested he take some Advil. I didn’t think much of the headache. I get headaches. He got headaches. I thought maybe he was just coming down with something. He took the phone up to his bedroom to talk to his girlfriend like he did every night. At ten o’clock I stuck my head and said, “Honey you might feel better if you got off the phone and got some sleep.” He’s like, “Okay mom. Love ya.” I went to bed. I did hear him about two in the morning throwing up really bad. After about the third time I got up with him and just said, “Honey are you okay? You sound awfully sick.” He just said, “This is the worst headache I’ve had in my life.” He never said anything else and I tried not to bring up suspicions without some kind of foundation because he was doing so well and I was working on building the trust and his self-esteem. You know, it did cross my mind. You know what if he used yesterday and today he is sick because it wore off. But I didn’t say anything and he didn’t. He just said, “I think I’m getting something.” I just said, “Don’t take any more Advil. Just go lay down and be quiet, be still. Can I get you anything you need.” Just felt bad he woke me up. “You know mom, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You’ve got to work tomorrow. Just go to bed. I’ll be fine.” Which is what I did. The next morning there was a note by coffee pot because he knows that is the first place I go, straight from bed to the coffee pot. You know, saying not to wake him up to 8:45 because he had an appointment. So I tiptoed around thinking well that is good, he is sleeping and that is what you should be doing for a headache. So just before I went to work I stuck my head in there and he didn’t look right. He was sleeping in an odd position, his eyes were rolled back in his head, and I screamed his name. There wasn’t any answer so I went over and grabbed his chest and shook him and yelled his name. He didn’t answer and he felt cool to me. I felt his pulse. I couldn’t feel a pulse and I couldn’t feel a pulse in his arm. So I pulled the pillow out and tilted his head and tried doing CPR. You know part of me I think knew and part of me didn’t. I remember screaming at him, “Don’t you do this to me. You’re well now. Don’t you do this to me.” I kept breathing and trying to decide if I should go call 911, do I keep breathing. I was home alone and I didn’t have a cordless at the time. I ran in the other room. I called 911, told them what happened, and the lady said stay on the line. I remember saying, “I can’t.” I threw it down and went back to doing CPR until the ambulance got there. I ran down, opened the door and let them in. You know you just think crazy things. I remember thinking if they go up there and find him with lipstick on his face, he is going to be mad at me. I ran up there really fast and I wiped the lipstick off his face. I thought, I not suppose to be thinking, but I thought he was going to be okay. You know and told I them. I said he is a recovering addict but I don’t think that is it. They went up and had me leave the room. I sat with the police and just prayed. They took him away in an ambulance. They didn’t let me go. They also, now thinking back, they didn’t turn the siren on. Still, no connection. I just thought he would be fine. A friend was driving by and stopped in to see what happened, a fellow that I worked with. He took me to the hospital and I was met with the social worker and put me in a little room to wait with the social worker and this friend. Still I’m thinking, “He’ll be okay. They will revive him. He’ll be okay.” I was by then starting to suspect he’d probably used drugs and I did tell them that. I used my cell phone to call my daughter and said, “You need to call your step dad and your father and tell we’re at the hospital. Here’s what happened.” The doctor came in and told me when I was still alone that Rob was gone. The hardest thing in the world was to one by one have to tell people as they came to the room. I had to tell his father. He barged in the door and just said, “What happened? What happened?” And I just said, “He’s gone. Robby is gone.” His dad is kind of an emotional person anyway and of course this is his baby. You know, he punched a wall and they had to take him outside to calm him down. A friend back there, I asked him to call my Priest. The wonderful Mormon Bishop in our ward came. This isn’t my church they are my neighbors and are wonderful and this Bishop sat with me and asked if I wanted to pray. I prayed with him until we could locate my Priest. My husband came and they advised me not to see my son. They said he didn’t look good. I know I had to see him one more time. I had to. But I wanted to wait for our Priest to come. He came and I went in with his father and the Priest and my husband. My Priest, bless his heart, was Father Fleggy in Orem. He just said, “Oh no. Not Robby.” He said, “I’m always so happy to see our young people in church and Robby was there every Sunday. Not Robby.” He gave him a blessing and I just held him and kissed him and told him goodbye. I had this vision that maybe Rob was watching me and I’d gotten mad at Robby so many times, you know, just screamed at him. You know this is going to kill you. Don’t you do this. And I just was worried he would be mad at me for being mad at him. I just held his face and kissed him and said, Goodbye Rob. You need to know mom is not mad. You are okay now. Mom is not mad.” And I just asked him to save me a good place in Heaven. That was the last of Robby, you know.
When you found out, you called his friend’s parents had said, “This is probably happening.” And then you said, “Oh not my son. You’re full of baloney.”
Almost everyone of them. When Rob first came to us about his addiction and it was confirmed and I called almost every single parent and said, “I’m not accusing your son, but Robby is an admitted heroin addict. Your son is with my son all the time. I would start checking his things out. Almost every single one of them said no, not my son. He is in the priesthood, he goes to church regularly. My son went to church regularly. My son came from a good family. We had talked to our children about drugs. I have to say I didn’t really know I had to specifically bring up heroin. You know, I didn’t think about that. But ya, most of them, that is what they thought. They thought it couldn’t happen here. Not to my family. Not in Springville.
What is it about Springville?
I know it was introduced into the high school about 1996, and there was a couple of boys that got into it from some older kids they knew. The only way you can support your habit is to begin selling so you usually sell to the younger kids. So it was right about that time that it started. That’s how the Allo Education with the moms began. They had their first meeting in 1997. At that time I was so involved with my son’s addiction the last thing I needed was to go try to save a bunch of other kids. I was trying to save mine. But there was Mary Ann Stevens. Her son and she was one of the first people, you know, got some education groups together with I don’t remember all the names, Colleen Miner, some of the other people that were in the PTA. They wanted to have a drug awareness night to tie into October the drug awareness week that we do, the Red Ribbon Week. They started doing a yearly education program because we are not allowed to do these things through the school district during school hours. So they started doing something after hours.
Let’s pick up why the school district said you couldn’t teach in the school room?
I was told by the ladies that I work with that they couldn’t do it after hours because what we would do have some recovering addict speak to the kids. And talk about how hard it was, what they went through, and how hard it was to get through recovery. They are afraid that the children might get the idea that it was easy. That they could go out and try these things and then they would just be one of these recovering addicts, not fully understanding what that means to have that battle with addiction every single day. That is their thinking so we can’t do it doing school hours.
What were some of the signs you say. You talked about … What you know now, if you might have known what you know now things might be different.
My gosh, things that I might have confronted him, certainly drug tested him much, much sooner. Yea the missing spoons. I mean we are just a couple of blocks from the high school so we always had lots of kids over. All the time. And I remember my husband and I just for several weeks saying, “Didn’t we use to have more spoons than this? I know we had more spoons.” We would go to get a spoon for something else, like okay, “Where are the spoons?” We’d ask the kids. “I don’t know. We don’t know.” We got down to where we did not have one spoon in our house. My husband and I were getting kind of ticked. Like this is the stupidest thing. Why would we have no spoons? What are these kids doing with spoons? Of course nobody would own up to the spoons. But it wasn’t until after going through this with Robby, that he finally fessed up. You know they cook it in the spoon and they hold a match under it and they melt the powder and they put it in the syringe. So they were throwing away the burned up spoons and taking spoons to parties with them, throwing them in their pockets. So that was the spoons. That and a lot of time in the bathroom. My husband and I wondered why are these kids were always in the bathroom? Well one of the reasons is that is usually the only room a kid has with a lock. My kids don’t have locks on their bedroom doors. And if they are not using and they are starting to detox they are sick. They have diarrhea, they are throwing up, they are in your bathroom. We just couldn’t figure out why all of these kids were in the bathroom all the time. Just things you know you don’t suspect. You know looking back. And the bouts of sickness, throwing up, and then a few weeks he would be fine and then another week he would be sick and now I know those are the weeks he was trying to get well. Those were the weeks he wasn’t using drugs, trying to do it on his own without anybody knowing. There is so much sluffing school. The grades going down. You know those are the times I should have drug tested him way back then. It didn’t occur to me that I had to. And I think that is what happens in Springville. You know I am not originally from Springville. I am from the San Francisco Bay area and I was around a lot of that and I wasn’t getting it. It is one of the reasons I moved here was to get away from that. So I think a lot of the parents in the smaller towns, these types of things have never happened here before. It doesn’t happen here. Nobody wants to let go of that image that it doesn’t happen here. But it happens everywhere. Sadly, it happens everywhere. Our kids are being exposed. They have choices to make at such an immature age when they are not ready to handle it. They want to be popular. They want to be cool. A lot of the kids have underlying anxiety or they have problems at home. They have self medicating for depression. There is so many things. If it is in their family it’s harder. My family has a lot of addiction on both sides. Our doctor had Robby do a family tree. We saw all the addictions, and I think maybe knowing those things earlier, maybe we would talk to our children earlier at a much younger age. It has to happen in sixth, seventh, eighth grade. And I know around here a lot of people horse ride and think that is too early. A twelve year old is not going to do drugs, but they do. They do. It’s not, in my opinion, it’s not the alcohol that is the gateway drug, the cigarettes. I don’t know any addicts that haven’t started with cigarettes. Go to an AA meeting, and NA meeting. They take cigarette breaks. That is the gateway drug. Our kids can buy them. My son bought them. I took him to get cigarettes. He was 18. He said, “I can buy them here.” I said, “I don’t believe you. They are going to ask for you ID.” He said, “Yep. Watch this.” And I was letting him smoke because at that time thinking that is the lesser of the addictions, I’ll let him smoke. He is hanging on by his fingernails. I watched and set in the car and he went up with cameras behind him. They did ask for his ID and he got it out. He showed it this way, put it back in his pocket, showing he was 18, and they sold him cigarettes. This was a Springville gas station.
What kind of stigma and there is not enough treatment.
There’s absolutely not enough treatment. Especially if you have never dealt with addiction, how do you know who to even call? There is hospitals that won’t keep an addict. They don’t detox them there. They will send him to another hospital. They will keep them long enough to get them stabilized but they don’t keep them for any kind of treatment. And even if they have treatment, you still, you have to pay for it. You still have to be evaluated. Again it comes back to money. Where do you take somebody when they ask for help? Some of these kids that can’t get in treatment or maybe, especially long-time users, can only get clean on methadone. We have two methadone clinics in the whole state of Utah. They have waiting lists. If that is the only way you can get clean, what do you do? Why is there a stigma attached for these people to a life-saving medicine? Why do they have to sign up and wait in line and be at a certain time in the morning to go get methadone treatment for their illness? Any other illness you go to your doctor. You get your prescription. Any other illness you are treated at the hospital. But for an addict you don’t just go to the hospital and say, “I want help.” It’s not that simple and it’s not that easy. Even if you go to some of the hospitals, Circ Lodge and, I know Highland Ridge, sometimes they are full. I called one time. I was thinking about getting Robby through there, and they were full. They have a waiting list. These are paying customers. So what do people do that don’t have money. Most young adult addicts have gone through their money. They don’t have money. They don’t have jobs. So what do we just leave them on the streets? You know, what do we do for them? Nothing. We do nothing. So there is a stigma attached and I do hear people saying, “Well it was a choice. They made a bad choice.” My answer is how many kids don’t make bad choices. Some of us made really poor choices as kids. They didn’t kill us. We moved on. We grew up and we learned from those choices but sometimes kids, if you have that addiction gene, you make the choice to use the drug and you can’t move on. So, we should punish them forever and not take care of them? It just makes no sense to me.
Throughout our interviews that we’ve had with people, we keep hearing hope. There is always hope. And just like you said there was always hope that he would be revived, that he would get over the addiction, that he wouldn’t relapse. Can you say something about hope?
Always. Isn’t that we all do for all our kids. They are going to grow up, they are going to be okay, this is a stage. And every time I would watch him get clean and I would see my son again, that kid that I knew that I raised, that sweet boy, and he was. He was a sweet, loving, caring kid and he was a different person when he was using. But when I would get glimpses of my son again, then that hope comes back. Yea, he’s going to make it this time. He’s going to make it. And I never lost hope and I didn’t up until I lost him. I don’t think that you should. A lot of kids can make it. A lot of them don’t. Every single one of Robby’s friends, he didn’t have one clean friend. You can’t get well unless you change your friends. You can not hang around with anybody you ever used with. It causes triggers for you and it causes cravings. But every time they stay well for awhile, and I watch some of his friends stay well for a while, and I had hope. But what I am learning is hope isn’t enough. It is treatment. They need treatment. They need medication or they need counseling. What works for one addict isn’t going to work for another. Some of them are very successful with NA programs. Some of them that is not enough. They need much more. Most of them have underlying problems. They need medical counseling through people that understands psychological problems and addiction. And like you said so most of them need methadone treatment. They are not going to make it any other way without this treatment. This is a life-saving medication that is putting something back into their brain that is missing. Some of them are on it forever. I know methadone users who have been on it for years. I know some that use it short-term to get their heads together, to get back on their feet, they can taper off of that. But there is not enough. It all boils down to money. If you don’t have money, you don’t get treatment. We can’t all go to Betty Ford.
Looking back, when Robby was using and he seemed like a different person, did you just pass it off as adolescent or teenage attitude?
I think early on, which is one of the reasons it is so hard to know your children are using, and it’s not the first thing you would think of, especially if you don’t know anything about it, because teenagers are moody. Teenagers go through a lot. They break up with girlfriends, they have these little traumas and dramas in their life and they do get defiant. They find their voice. So I think I did think a lot of that was just teenage. I saw more of it though during detox that would give me the flashbacks of what I saw earlier. During detox they feel so awful and they are very irritable and they are short tempered and they are not sleeping enough. I would look back and think that I’ve seen that behavior. But I didn’t connect the dots and I don’t think most parents would. We need to educate the children earlier so maybe there are not so tempted. If they fully understand what these substances are, what they do, and certainly the parents. The parents in our community need to know what to watch for. They need to know what to look for. They need to know it’s okay to search their childrens rooms if they suspect these things. Because you are not going to find out enough any other way. I think we need to make it safe for children to tell on other children. There is that code that you don’t tell on your friends and a certain stigma attached to schools. Nobody wants to be known as the school mark. You know that is going to be horrible. They need a safe place to go to tell, and I think that is getting better in Springville. I think the police department is working much closer with the kids, and I think they are listening more than they were a few years ago. A few parents are listening, not all of them unfortunately the ones that need to be listening probably aren’t because it is not going to apply to them. But we need to educate parents of young children so the children grow up hearing that this is bad. Like we do now, most of us, with smoking. Talking about our very young children. Smoke is what my grandchildren will say smoking is bad. We need to bring them up educated. It needs to be part of our curriculum. It needs to be talked about in our churches, in our communities, so that we all understand what these at risk behaviors are and to recognize them and where to go to get help. It doesn’t do us any good to recognize it if we don’t have a clue where to go for help.
Excellent. Oh thank you so much.