His son, a 2012 Ridgefield High School graduate, became addicted to oxycodone, a prescription painkiller sold under the name OxyContin.
When he said kids in Ridgefield are dying, he was speaking of deaths from addictions to and overdoses of drugs, including prescription medications and even heroin.
“Yes, in this town,” he said. “I know two that have died.”
He spoke to The Press in December out of concern that parents don’t grasp the pervasiveness of the problem — as he himself hadn’t.
He felt a lot of people think, Aw, they’re just kids, and added, “I have to admit I was probably that way once, too.”
“I didn’t know that he’d get into OxyContin, and heroin. They’re into heroin, some of these kids.
“When we were kids, we drank, we dabbled in marijuana, but we never went over that edge. These kids, they take these pills like they’re candy and they don’t realize what they’re doing to themselves.”
The father had participated in a group for families of drug abusers as part of the How to Cope program organized by the Midwestern Connecticut Council of Alcoholism (MCCA). The MCCA had put The Press in touch with him and he told his story with the understanding that names would not be used.
The How to Cope program had helped him deal with the situation. “Without the coping place, I was a zombie until I heard about it. They really helped me, to tell you the truth. And I’ve learned a lot — how bad the drugs are in this town.
“I don’t think people want to talk about it,” he said.
He’s learned that one problem is that “we all love our kids so we enable them, we look the other way on certain things. This shows me not to enable him. The only way he’s going to get better is if I don’t enable him.”
His son was clean and holding down a job at the time he spoke to The Press. But it hadn’t been that long and the father wasn’t confident he would be able to remain off drugs.
“It’s up to him, he’s got to make a decision. But the problem is he’s 18, and he hangs around with kids that all do it, that still do it,” the father said.
“He’s going to, I guess they call it ‘rehab.’ And he’s drug tested, so I know he stays clean. But he’s been with these kids all his life. He’s told me before: ‘I’m not going to give up on my friends.’ They’re all doing it.
“I don’t see how he’s going to survive if they’re all doing it. Eventually, he’s going to give in. So it’s pretty tough.”
In early February, the father remained a mix of concern and hope about his son’s situation.
“He is still having trouble, but he is finally trying,” he said.
The problem began during his years at Ridgefield High School.
“He said to me he started his senior year. This was the OxyContin. He dabbled in it when he was in ninth grade, and then he stayed away from it. Then, really from his junior and sophomore years he didn’t do that much. Then his senior year he did it strongly and it was a stressful year. And I didn’t see it.
“To tell you the truth, it took another son of mine to say, ‘He looks like he’s been taking drugs.’ I was blind. I thought maybe he’s had a drink or two, and I let that go. I shouldn’t have let that go. I enabled, that’s what I did.”
He finally got a grasp of the problem by checking old text messages on his son’s cell phone — a tactic he said other parents with suspicions might try.
“That’s how we confirmed how bad it was,” he said.
Since becoming aware of his son’s problem, the father has learned more about the drug scene among suburban youth.
“I’ve talked to a lot people, and it’s really bad in Connecticut. The kids do the alcohol, the marijuana, the 18- to 25-year-olds, the OxyContin, the heroin.”
Looking nationwide at commonly misused opioid or opium-based prescription drugs, the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2010 Monitoring the Future study found that 2.7% of eighth graders, 7.7% of 10th graders, and 8.0% of 12th graders had abused Vicodin, and 2.1% of eighth graders, 4.6% of 10th graders, and 5.1% of 12th graders had abused OxyContin for nonmedical purposes at least once in the year prior to being surveyed.
The Ridgefield father said that what begins as abuse of prescription drugs can lead to street drugs like heroin — which can be less costly.
“The OxyContin is a part of heroin. It’s cheaper to get, it’s easy to get. It’s definitely in the schools,” he said.
“The teachers, I think they know. I’ve heard that one time a father came in and said, ‘If you say anything I’ll sue you,’ so they’re afraid to say anything to the parents.
“They gave me hints, and I didn’t see it: ‘He looks sleepy in class.’”
He regrets his own inattention
“I opened my own business so I’m constantly busy and I think, I don’t know …
“It’s just scary. The police can’t stop it. How are they going to stop it? It’s so prevalent,” he said.
“It’s really easy for these kids to get. I hear that over and over again, from kids.
“What they don’t realize is, once they’re on it some of these kids are hooked for life.”
The abuse of prescription drugs is more widespread than many people think, he said. Since he began talking about his son’s problems, he’s heard other parents say their kids, too, had problems — and he’d never suspected.
The father went through one of MCCA’s seven-session How to Cope programs last October and November, meeting weekly with a small group of other people in the same position — family members, usually parents, of someone with an addiction. The meetings were very helpful.
“It’s an hour and a half and it always runs over. I think parents get to talk, let it out, let their problems out.
“We’re in the same boat as they are, in a way,” he said of addicts’ families. “We hit bottom just like they do, before we can come back up.”
Parents feel helpless.
“It’s a living hell,” he said. “I didn’t really know where to turn.”
The How to Cope program includes discussion of addiction, its effect on the family, enabling behaviors. It seeks to help families by teaching coping skills, and how to develop a recovery plan.
“It showed me how to survive this,” the father said. “I feel like I’m part of being an addict, because I have to deal with this every day. And it scares the hell out of me.”
He’s troubled that more Ridgefield parents don’t participate.
“It’s so helpful,” he said. “I’m told they get a lot of calls, but not a lot of people come in from Ridgefield. My group was made up of people from a lot of other towns,” he said.
The other couples with addicted children that he met were from Bethel, Norwalk, Redding, Westport, and New Canaan.
One of the problems is parents want to believe their children, and kids take advantage of that.
“Lie after lie after lie. They’ll lie to keep the parents away,” he said. “We love our kids and we try to believe.”
The ease with which kids can get addictive prescription drugs illegally was shocking to him.
“I don’t know if kids are stealing this stuff from their parents, but I know for a fact — things I found out from my own son, and I found out from another couple of kids, too: It’s really really prevalent and it’s so easy to get, and the kids don’t know what they’re taking …
“The girls are taking it, too,” he said. “They want to be with the boys. I know some girls who’ve been sent to rehab.”
He wondered if having too much free time was part of the problem for some kids in Ridgefield.
“It’s a pretty big sports-related town and a lot of kids play sports. But if they don’t, they have nothing to do. They have too much free time — that’s probably my fault, too. But, free time and kids are not good …
“I think people want to be their friends instead of being their parents. I think that’s the problem. And I’m just as to blame as they are. Of course you love your kids. You want the best for them. And sometimes you make the wrong steps.”
His son didn’t have much explanation for his involvement.
“They’re all doing it, so he would do it,” the father said. “I think it affected him stronger than the other kids. … I’m not positive. Some kids are more addictive than others. He had an addictive personality.
“I was told, he told me, that kids are shooting up. That really scared me.”
The father admits he missed things.
“I could always tell somebody drinking, or pot, I could always see that. I just didn’t see this,” he said. “It was a tough year for me, so maybe I just didn’t notice. I don’t have my son every day — I’m a divorced dad, and remarried, so I don’t get to see him every day, just a few days a week and every other weekend.”
He wishes “more parents would talk to each other. … It would help. Look out for each other, instead of keeping it secret. Come out with it, and help each other.”
Prescription drugs are so prevalent, he sees their abuse — and the addiction and abuse of other drugs, like heroin, that can follow from it — as too big a problem for the police to be expected to solve.
Prescription pain-killers and other medications leak out of the legitimate market and are easily available, illegally.
“I really don’t think it’s going to stop. It’s so easy to get,” the father said. “They call it blues and yellows. They’re out their on cell phones: ‘Do you have any blues? Do you have a reds?’ I don’t even know if they’re two different types of drugs. I know OxyContin is one of them.
“As a father you’re looking for who’s selling it,” he said. “You want to put a scare into some of the kids selling it. The problem is, there’s always another kid selling it.”
But supply side solutions won’t do the job. Addictions have to be solved user by user, addict by addict.
“I think they have to hit bottom, the kids. You just hope they don’t hit bottom arrested, or dead,” he said. “That’s the scary part: They could be dead.”