If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know of our struggles with our son who is an addict. If you're in the midst of this battle or know someone who is, I want you to know there is hope for your addicted loved one. You are not alone in your struggles.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 72,000 people died of an overdose in 2017. The most substantial increase in overdoses came from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, with an estimated 30,000 deaths. These synthetic opioids are a game changer. Addicts are in more danger of overdose than ever because of these synthetics.
According to the study, the 2017 death rate is a two-fold increase over a decade. It's a severe problem that requires serious solutions. That's a topic for another day and another article.
In November 2018, I wrote a post to encourage parents dealing with an addicted son or daughter. The post was about how hope can come out of addiction. In it, I offered a summary of our long journey dealing with our son, Jason's, addiction.
Jason got out of the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center (jail) in December 2018. I want to offer an update on how he's doing to encourage any parent dealing with an addicted son, daughter or other family members.
I'm reprinting parts my previous post to provide additional background pertinent to today's update.
I've spoken before about the disease of addiction and recommend this video series to anyone interested in learning more about it. We can't jail our way out of addiction. It doesn't and hasn't worked.
I am a strong supporter of Drug Courts. Drug courts divert addicts from the criminal court system whose primary form of punishment is putting them in prison. The drug court structure provides a program of long-term treatment for the addict. These alternatives to jail are slowly gaining acceptance and getting into the state and county justice systems. They offer long-term treatment as an alternative to prison. Fairfax County. VA recently instituted drug courts.
During his time in jail, our son met his new probation officer. She spent the better part of a Friday afternoon with Jason. At the end of their time together, she told him he'd be a perfect candidate for the treatment program. It's a fourteen-month program. Participants live on their own, are subject to strict work requirements, go to counseling, attend regular twelve-step meetings, and get regularly tested for drug use.
The probation officer saw then what we see now in our son – a man ready to change his life free from drugs. The probation officer met with the prosecutor, who agreed with the recommendation. The drug court judge signed off as well. Because he had a parole violation and new charges, two criminal court judges had to approve him for the program. It didn't go as smoothly as expected, but both Circuit Court judges approved the plan.
Numerous people applied for the drug court program. Jason and two other guys were the first accepted. He started his plan after his release from jail.
During his recent time in jail, Jason faced numerous challenges. After getting approved for the drug court program, another inmate tried to get him in trouble by blaming him for things this inmate did. He tried reasoning with another inmate messing with him. He had prison personnel harass him and got some terrible legal advice. In the past, he would likely have confronted the inmate and the prison personnel. That probably would have jeopardized his drug court program. This time, he kept his cool.
Through it all, he's never once blamed anyone. He's never made excuses. That was a welcome change in behavior.
Jason got out of jail on December 16, 2018. We spent our first Christmas together in over eight years. He had a job lined up when released working at a local restaurant where his girlfriend is a waitress.
Jason is a better version of himself before he became addicted to heroin. One questions we often get is, “how do you know he isn't still lying and manipulating?” It's simple. His actions have changed. Jason hasn't asked for anything. He takes full responsibility for his past behavior. We are talking freely and openly about his journey through drug use.
He had an interview scheduled when he got out of jail with an Oxford House. Oxford Houses are self-managed halfway houses for recovering addicts. He was in and out of them several times during his years of addiction. Those that are run properly have strict rules. Staying sober is at the top of the list. He got thrown out of several over the years due to his drug use. The house where he interviewed wanted him to move in two nights after he got out. We could tell he was nervous about moving so soon.
We were a strong family prior to his descent into addiction. He told us one of the factors leading to him changing was the desire to have his family back. Neither he nor we thought that would ever happen. We wanted to spend some time with him before he moved. We offered to have him stay with us to have that time together. He didn't ask. We offered. In the past, there would have been an all-out effort to guilt us into letting him stay. This time, he would have moved that night if we said he couldn't stay.
He was with us about a month. He's now moved into another Oxford House that is a much better fit for him. It's centrally located to his job, the courts, his probation officer, and the Community Service Board (CSB)
Drug court requirements
The drug court treatment program is a rigorous program. The Circuit Court of our county set aside a judge from the criminal court to oversee the drug court program. Jason was the first to get accepted. As of this writing, there are six participants. More on that shortly.
Every Thursday at 9:00 am, Jason goes to the drug court to appear before the prosecutor, judge, probation officer, and people from the CSB. His probation officer came to our house to meet with us. I had this vision of what I thought a probation officer would be. She was the polar opposite of what I expected. She's a very sweet, caring person dedicated to her client's sobriety. It was a refreshing surprise to have my stereotype shattered.
She told us how the program worked. Several times, she reminded us that relapse is part of the recovery process. That's a huge difference from the criminal system. There, relapse often means the addict serves out any time suspended during sentencing. At the very least, they serve additional time.
Cathy and I attended the first drug court appearance with Jason. The probation officer encourages that. The judge asks three things of her participants. First, show up every week. Second, work the program and do what we tell you to do. Third, don't lie to me. Lying is an integral part of a using addict's behavior. It's how they cover up and hide their addiction. She was clear she wants no part of it. If you relapse, tell me. Don't lie.
Drug court participants must take random drug tests twice a week. They have until the end of the day to go to the probation office for a urine test. Tests are part of the Thursday court visits. In addition, participants must meet with a group called the CSB to get an evaluation for the type of ongoing treatment they will receive. In Jason's case, he will go to a three night a week relapse prevention program for four months. They are required to regularly attend AA or other twelve-step recovery programs. He goes to meetings almost every day. In the beginning, he had to have a written record of his attendance to present to the court. The judge decided Jason didn't need to bring the documentation going forward.
There are now six participants in the drug court program. Sadly, only two have had clean urine since entering the program. One man is likely going back to prison for four years. He's unable to do what the judge is asking him to do. He's now had back to back dirty urine tests and lied to the judge. If he were in the criminal court system, he would already be back in jail and on his way for a longer prison sentence. The judge here is giving him every opportunity to help himself. We're hoping and praying he does.
Because of his long battle with addiction, many of the jail personnel knew Jason. Many of the probation officers, guards, and counselors know him well. All said they could see a big change in him. One of the jail counselors referred him to Catholic Charities. She told him she only refers people there who she believes are serious about recovery. After his initial call with Catholic Charities, they offered to pay for his first two weeks and the deposit for his Oxford House rent. He got a metro (public transportation) card, grocery gift cards, and various other things to help him get started.
They introduced him to a mentor to help him along the way. That mentor became Jason's sponsor. Over the years, sponsors have come and gone. These two hit it off. It's been a great relationship. They talk multiple times a day, attend meetings together, and are working through the twelve-step program together.
The change and turnaround are nothing short of remarkable. We also know he has a very long way to go. He's had significant challenges since getting out. His former drug contacts have reached out to him. They saw him on Facebook. He's purposely avoided situations that put him at risk. He's one of only two people who has not had dirty urine since entering the program, He knows he's one slip away from relapse and is doing everything he possibly can to avoid it.
We are as hopeful as we've ever been that he now has a good chance of staying in recovery.
NEVER GIVE UP HOPE!
If you're a parent of an addict, protect yourself along the way. Set good boundaries. The addict gets better when they're ready. Their “bottom” (I hate that term) is lower than you or I could ever imagine. We found out about the drug use in 2000, the addiction in 2007. It took that long for him to decide he wanted to get better.
Keep praying for your son or daughter. Keep loving them. Even when you think there is no hope (which happens a lot), know there is always hope. Let the story of our son be an example you remember when you're in the depths of despair.
We know he has a long way to go. He hasn't been able to handle life outside of drugs for a very long time. This time, however, he has the right program at the right time for him. The most important thing is, he seems ready for it.
If you know someone dealing with addiction and think this post will help them, please pass it along. If that person is you, please – NEVER GIVE UP HOPE!
May God hold you up in this difficult journey.
The PAL Group – PAL (parents of addicted loved ones) provides hope, education, and support for parents of addicted loved ones. We started a PAL group in September 2018. It's been a help and a blessing to us and many other parents.
Money Magazin Article – The December issue of Money magazine featured three parent's stories of dealing with an addicted loved one. Cathy and I were one of those sets of parents.
Beautiful Boy – A movie based on the true story of David Sheff and his son Nick, who was addicted to methamphetamine. It's based on David's book, Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction. It's a very real and powerful story of what it's like for families dealing with addiction.
Now it's your turn. Share your stories of addiction. It seems everyone has one or know someone who does. I welcome your thoughts and comments.
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