Tracy Melville Interview Excerpts
Interviewer: About the situation you had with your son. He became addicted to pain killers and my question is, if you had known what you know today, how would you have looked at the situation differently?
Tracy: My son began using prescription pain killers. He had a friend that gave them to him. He was actually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and he came to us at one point in time and said; we actually were working with him to try and get him evened out on prescription pain meds from a physician. It was Bipolar Disorder is very difficult. He had some friends that offered him in school, offered him pain killers. They were very easily obtained, not easily seen or smelled. There is no paraphernalia. So the use of prescription pain killers was pretty easy and pretty easy to hide. We did not know anything about it, didn’t know that there was any kind of a problem at all. I think it is really as a parent to see drug abuse or drug use in another person’s child, but it is really hard to see in your own home. I completely, even though there were several things that were going on with him, symptoms that I looked at now and I can not believe I missed it. I even had a pamphlet at one point where they were giving things to look for, ideas of things to look for in someone who is abusing drugs. Post finding out about it. I went through that pamphlet and probably added 50 symptoms. There were only three or four that I did not circle, but I never put them all together. It was just little things, one at a time that I wasn’t noticing behavior that was different that was odd. I think in terms of finding out about it. I don’t know that it’s going to be any easier to find out about it. I think the only way in many cases you need to have incredibly open communication with your kids all the way growing up. The way we found out about it was that a friend of his was brave enough, concerned enough, to tell her mother. Then the mother risked the friendship and came and told me. So that is pretty generally what I hear is the way most people find out about it.
Lets talk about moral. Is substance abuse a moral problem or a medical problem? I think …
I would say that it ends up being both. I think for most people the thought is that it is a moral problem. That by doing this you are somehow faulty, broken, wicked, and those kinds of things. There is a huge stigma attached and a lot of fear. People react with a lot of fear. You suddenly kind of become, the abuser, the substance abuser becomes a non-person. The family, you give a lot of sudden, suddenly you are kind of not in the circles anymore, not allowed in the circles anymore. I found that very interesting. But in working with the situation itself, I found that a good amount of kids, and the presentations that I do we hear that probably at least 50 percent of substance abusers are also dual-diagnosis with an emotional or brain disorder. A lot of it, I hear constantly people say that substance, any kind of substance abuse whether it be alcoholism or prescription pain meds, or illegal drugs, that it is peer pressure that causes kids to do that. I don’t believe that to be true. I honestly believe that a good portion of it is self-medicating. I think that they are trying to escape from really severe feelings, problems, stress, pressure, anxiety, just the percentages of young people that are suffering now a days. And even adults that I talk to that have problems with prescription pain meds, especially in this community. It has more to do with numbing out. They don’t want to feel anymore. They don’t want to hurt anymore. In fact, at one point in time, and this was after a very severe overdose with my son. He was laying in a hospital bed after being charcoaled, which is a story in and of itself. But he looked at me and I was asking him why. He said to me, “Mom, it was a choice between not feeling and not living and I knew I couldn’t take my life because it would hurt you so I choose not to feel instead.” And by so doing that is how he began his journey with the prescription meds.
I would venture to say it is a pretty serious problem. I would say that on a scale of 1 to 10. That may not be the best way to judge it, because as far as a problem and the devastation it can do to a life, it is a 10. If that one child that is affected is your child, it is a 10. As far as maybe percentages of students, in the research that I have done for my work that I do with the youth, I am finding that kids in junior high, youth and junior high are being approached between one to three times a day. In other words, between one to three times a day on an average. You might say that is probably 75 percent of the kids have some contact with either someone offering, asking, they are seeing a transaction, they are hearing of someone else doing it and invited to go. In the high schools it is more like three to five times a day that they will have contact. That is over a broad range of kids. That isn’t just kids that you would assume are substance abusers. This is kids from every different social compartment you can imagine, from the intellectuals and the athletes and all that, clear down to the kids who are struggling with a formal school and classroom situation. So, my guess would be probably 70 to 75 percent of our kids are very aware of what is going on in the schools.
I’m kind of all over the place. Let’s go with, since you were talking about your son and after he was charcoaled, you said something about a mother’s worse nightmare. This whole situation could not have devastated you, your family. It hit you so, hindsight. He’s got a non-use message. You didn’t do anything wrong.
In raising our family, I have five children, and in raising them from the time they were little we talked about not putting things into your body that was harmful. Not putting things into that you did not know what they are and what they do. They were raised with this. I, as a parent, I have children ranging right now in age from 24 down to seven. I thought, honestly, I had all my ducks lined up. I had everything in order, they have chores, we have responsibilities. You know as far as parenting, certainly not perfect but certainly thought that I was on top of it and had very open and good communication with my kids, have a home that they like to come with their friends. To go from that to suddenly have this lightning strike. In fact, interesting enough we found out, the call I got was on the anniversary, the one year anniversary of 9-11. So in our family we talk about the devastation of America and the devastation of our family. It was immediate and swift and absolutely wiped us out. In confronting this particular son, this teenager, with the information, we found out that he had not only a substance abuse problem put that he had shared that problem with a sibling. So now I had two children that were involved, not just one. As far as his drug use it was in connection with this wanting to amount with the brain disorder that he has. So to try and get him, we were not only working with medication to get him balanced, but then we had the medications he was throwing in and it was bouncing him just off the charts. Actually he took, we actually had two or three separate incidences of suicide, attempted suicide. He didn’t actually do anything. He just was to a point where he didn’t want to live and he would have done anything. That puts you in a 24-7 hospital watch. It wasn’t at those points that we had the drug overdose. It happened to be at a time when he was feeling really good. I think a lot of people think that a drug overdose is something that they do only when they are at a low point. But we found out that substance abusers will also do it when they are at a high or happy point. They are actually doing really well. His came after about two months of, it came about two months after he had been sober, he had decided to be sober. He was doing very well. We had cleared the house of any substances that we thought would be harmful. I had left the house for 15 minutes to run another child somewhere and in the time I was gone, in 15 minutes, he and a friend went through to our house and scoured through anything they could find, and I mean anything. They made a nice little colorful cotail of pills and downed the whole thing. The two of them was actually with a youth group and they went and found another kid who offered more substances and he ended up downing just chugging a bottle of cough medicine with codeine on top of it. You know what, I think you are going to want to stop for a minute. I’m sorry about that but I’m not going to go in to that series when you’ve got the kids come home from the bus. Being a blond-haired little mom, it’s amazing how quick you have to become educated about substance abuse and about the kinds of things that happen. I got extremely good at being able to detect behavior and also to search rooms, backpacks, lockers, cars. I found that kids are very clever but very lazy about where and what they hide. We tease about it now, about it called being substance impaired thinking, we call it. Where they take their stuff or their stash and the ways in which they hide it and the ways in which you can find it. As far as their use and abuse, it is really interesting because kids will use it anywhere they can, which includes in your own home. That goes both for prescription medications, obviously which can be used at school and it goes for illegal drugs as well. If you are a parent looking for some kind of a stash or if there are tell-tell signs, as far as where they would hide it and how they would hide it. The best and easiest thing to do is to go in to your kids room, flop down on the bed, and anything within arms reach. Anything around the bed, around the sides, underneath the bed, under the bed, or anything within arms reach is where you start searching first. Now they will get really cleaver about it. For instance, one tell-tell sign is cannister, film cannister with little lids. Look for those. They will hide and stash stuff in that. They will have film canisters in all kinds of crazy places. Don’t assume that just because you find a little container and it looks like something that is familiar to you, that there isn’t something in it. Another thing you want to look for are little tiny plastic bags, the kind that you might find jewelry in. Those are also, they can get those, boy they know how to distribute and market like you can’t believe. If you are looking and you are finding these little plastic bags empty or not around, those are also a tell-tell sign. They are not going to hide it in a place that is easily visible from the beginning. For instance, if you are looking in a backpack, you are not going to find it in the front pocket or in the main pocket, but you are going to find it inside the binder in one of those little film canisters that is stuck down in the ring of the binder. Or you are going to find it in the top of a permanent marker. They have those little knobs on top and they are just the right size to stick one or two pills in there. Kids will often times hide it on themselves, on their person. They don’t carry, usually carry a lot with them, even the dealers don’t. They carry small amounts because they can move small amounts and especially with prescription medications, they can claim that two pills on their body is an eight-hour dose, and that is legal for them to have on their person. So they will hide it in places. The shoe manufacturers, the kids skate shoes that they like to wear skateboarding shoes. They are big, thick, and puffy and the kids will either cut out a little hole in their shoe on the inside, flip up the covering, cut the hole, and put something in their to hold it and then put the covering back down. Or there are actually skate shoes that have zippers in the tongues or little snap pockets in the tongues that they can hide them in there. Kids will take pills and slip them down the inside of the zipper of their pants. They will hide them just anywhere. If you are searching in a car, I’d be looking for the same types of little containers, but look in places again that are within arms reach of the driver’s seat. There will be places that are cut out or pulled out like the interior fabric of the roof, you can pop that out. In the gear shift of a car there is that kind of flexible boot that goes over it. You can pop that right up. They stick a lot of things down in there. Another thing to be careful about, or to be on watch for are smelly things. If they are using a lot of candles, incense, cologne, dryer sheets. Look for dryer sheets. They will stick dryer sheets in different places or they will have them in their car or in their room so they can just rub it on them so that they don’t smell. That is particularly if you are using illegal substances.
I would say probably, as I said before, our family was devastated when we found out about this. It was to us personally as devastating as 9-11 was to the country. Not obviously not the same scale, but in terms of our little world. We thought that was the end. And it is very much not the end. It is the beginning of a different pathway. That was one of the things that we tried really hard to show our children is that everybody has to get from A to B to C in life, but we are all going to find our own pathway to it. We don’t have to walk in exactly the same footsteps as everybody else, and if our pathway veers a little bit around it, we’re still going to get to B and C. I think for us the hope, and as I talk to young people as well, the hope for them is going to be in the programs that already out there. There are all kinds of programs to help. I will say that even though they are there, it is difficult to find them. You really have to scour for yourself and be your own advocate for you and your child. The programs are out there. What I would say is I find a lot of them finally get their solution in finding a higher power and realizing that they are still a valuable, contributing, worthwhile individual. And there is always that hope. The battle and the journey are going to be there, especially for those that become addicted. It will be a battle and a journey for the rest of their lives, something that they have to learn to master. The key for us, the hope for us came in realizing that it wasn’t that we had ruined everything, or that everything was now ruined, or the ship was sunk. It was that we would continue on wiser than we were before. And that life can still be incredibly worthwhile and beautiful and rewarding, but in different ways.