Local parents seek support for children's addiction issues


GREAT BARRINGTON -- Mom knew her teenage son well enough to know something was wrong, but the clues didn't add up.

Her son had always been industrious through high school, but in the summer before going off to college he was now sleeping in until noon. His responsible, caring demeanor had turned moody and at times argumentative.

In the months ahead, she'd enter his room to clean up after him and she'd see that he seemed to develop allergies overnight: He was going through boxes of Kleenex.

"When I say a lot, I am talking about baskets full," said the woman, who asked to not be identified to protect her family's privacy.

In the summer of 2012 and then through 2013, she saw the signs of an opiate addiction that progressed to heroin use.

"It was never something that hurt our family or something we took, so we never thought taking pills was something high school kids are into," she said.

Opiate abuse is on the rise in Berkshire County -- a problem that mirrors a national trend. Berkshire County public safety departments, local clinics and the District Attorney's office all have reported a recent rise in abuse.

Opiates being abused can includ prescription drugs that include Vicodin, Percodan and Oxycontin and addiction can eventually lead to heroin use because it's cheaper than buying individual pills.

The parent and Great Barrington psychotherapist Thomas Miller started a parent support group in the spring called, Strength in Numbers. The group brings together parents with children dealing with an opiate addiction.

Parents meet from 6:45 p.m. until 8 p.m. every Wednesday at Miller's office at 314 Main St. on Suite 2 in Great Barrington. There is a fee, but the hour-long sessions typically don't cost more than $20 with most forms of insurance, Miller said. The cost is negotiable, Miller said.

Prior to participating in the group, the mother was driving to Worcester to attend the parent support group Learn to Cope. In November, Learn to Cope has started another support group in Holyoke.

"It's a little bit of everything," Miller said. "They really bring themselves together and share openly about their trials and tribulations with the group. It's quite the weight to bear."

In Strength in Numbers, he works with the parents to ensure they're focused on solutions and aware of their childrens' progress. The parents also count on each other for resources and support.

When an opioid addiction takes hold of a family, the mother said, "You feel like you've lost someone."

"Going to Learn to Cope and Strength in Numbers allowed us to immediately make decisions for us and also for him," the mother said.

After a semester in college, her son dropped out, return home, and then the problems became more noticeable. He was listless and then failed to attend community college classes on time. He made excuses about being unable to land a job. Then she started noticing money was quickly being pulled from his bank account.

After confronting their son, he admitted a problem and they enrolled him into McGee Recovery Center at Berkshire Medical Center.

"Being naive to any opiate addiction, we thought that would be the end," the mother said.

It wasn't. The addiction had taken hold. He continued to use, and his mother would find bags of heroin in his room. He eventually choose to move to a structured rehabilitation center in Connecticut, and he's made progress since moving into an apartment in New York with sober friends.

"The biggest fear was that he might die under our roof," she said.

Miller works with people with substance abuse problems and often sees a "deer-in-the-headlight" effect for those who are watching addiction transform a loved one into a stranger.

Lying and manipulation are tools to mask an addiction. Addiction can transform familiar faces, requiring a tough hand when instincts want to coddle.

"It's a very daunting task and the commonality is isolation and a bit of shock and awe," Miller said. "We help educate parents and focus them in on what they can and cannot control."

While parents might feel powerless as addiction takes over lives, Miller says he's interested in supporting people to "take the power back and learn how to act as an effective tool."

Countywide prescriptions for narcotic painkillers have risen by more than 500 percent over the past 12 years, even while the county's population fell, according to the Berkshire District Attorney's office.

Miller said he encourages parents to lock up medicine cabinets, set expectations about drug use early, and communicate with their children often.

But he understands how difficult it can be to go against the parental instinct.

"The hardest part can be pushing someone away."

To reach John Sakata: jsakata@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6240. On Twitter: @jsakata


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