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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | COUNTY REPORT / Treatment Gap
for Teen Addicts

Struggle for Parents Is Often Painful

May 28, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Tim Brown became a police officer, he never thought he would have to arrest his own son.

But nearly a year ago, that is what happened.

After a night of using crack, coke, pot and acid, Brown's son, Chris, overdosed and nearly died. His arms flailed wildly. He yelled. Kicked. Hallucinated.

"I've been a cop for 26 years and I've never seen a kid so bad," said Brown, who now works as a school resource officer in Simi Valley. "If we didn't get him help, he would have been dead."

Chris, now 18, spent a few hours in the emergency room, and the next morning landed at Anacapa by the Sea, a psychiatric hospital in Port Hueneme.

Tim Brown and his wife Edna, who live in Simi Valley, are among thousands of Ventura County parents struggling to help their children overcome substance abuse problems.

Month after month, parents attend support-group meetings and therapy sessions and spend thousands of dollars on rehab programs. They search for more intensive treatment, and often send their kids away to other states for help.

Night after night, they fall asleep crying, wondering how their kids turned from soccer players or ballet dancers into drug addicts. Meanwhile, their teenage children are out late shooting heroin and popping ecstasy. Getting high. Getting arrested. Getting hurt.

"This is a family problem," said Edna Brown, who served as a PTA president while Chris was young. "A lot of parents aren't willing to admit that. They think it's a kids' problem."

Chris' spiral toward addiction started when he was 13, after he dislocated his shoulder and had to quit playing sports. The energetic middle school student became more sullen, his grades dropped, and he began spending afternoons in his room.

Much of the time he smoked pot behind his bedroom door. Then he sniffed air freshener fumes from an aerosol can.

The Browns just thought he was depressed. It's a tough transition, they said.

But when Tim Brown found a wet towel soaked with air freshener, he became suspicious and confronted his son. Chris told him he was trying to get his room to smell better.

"Gullible as I was, I believed it," Tim Brown said. "We as parents are very stupid.'

Chris, a hefty teen with a deep laugh, soon moved onto speed. He lost weight. Black circles formed under his eyes. Paranoia overtook him. He heard voices and shaved his head to hide his identity.

When Chris turned 15, he asked for help. So his parents scrounged up $4,000 to send him to Anacapa by the Sea, where he spent 10 days. They still denied Chris' addiction, saying that he was just experimenting. It's just a phase, they said. He will outgrow it.

He didn't.

Chris relapsed after just a few months. So two more weeks at Anacapa. Six months sober. Then another relapse. He got high as often as he could, and wherever he could--at home, at work, at friends' houses, in his car.

On average, he spent $300 a week. He burned through his allowance and the money he earned at work. And he stole from his parents.

Edna said her son was like a firecracker when he was on speed. Anything could set him off, and he would become violent--toward her, toward his father, toward himself.

The Browns spent every day scared that their son would end up dead. When Chris was 17, he cut his wrist so deeply that it wouldn't stop bleeding. One more week at Anacapa, this time for attempted suicide. Three days sober.

Then came the overdose that made Chris go clean and sober--for good. That was the night last year when he flipped out at a friend's house and had to be restrained by his father and another police officer.

"That was the scariest night of my life," Tim Brown said.

Every day for the next three months Chris went to rehab sessions--90 meetings in 90 days. His parents went along to many of them. At first they were ashamed and embarrassed. After all, she was a teacher's aide and he was a former DARE officer. They were known in the community.

Counselors say family involvement is critical, and that teens rarely reach sobriety without the help of their parents.

Now, Chris has been sober for more than 10 months. He graduated from high school, is working full time and taking a class in psychology at Moorpark College.

He recently received his nine-month sobriety chip at an ACTION meeting in Simi Valley, but his father still occasionally gives him a urine test, and worries that Chris will relapse again."I am so scared that one thing is going to set him off," Tim Brown said. "Hopefully, he'll hang in there."

Where to Get Help

Teenage drug users in Ventura County can turn to a variety of county-funded and private drug treatment programs for help. In addition, there are several self-help groups.

*Ventura County Alcohol and Drug Programs:

*Simi Valley Center 584-4878

*Oxnard Center 385-1885

*Ventura Center 652-7823

*ACTION (A Parent & Teen Support Program) 1-800-FOR-TEENS

*Palmer Drug Abuse Program 482-1265

*Kids in Sobriety 988-1627

*Rainbow Recovery Youth Center 933-9064

*Visions For Recovery 446-4244 Alcoholics Anonymous 389-1444

*Narcotics Anonymous 240-7811

Warning Signs

Parents who believe their child may be using drugs or alcohol should look for these behavioral signs.

1. Drop in grades

2. Switching friends

3. Emotional highs and lows

4. Defiance to rules and regulations

5. Becoming more secretive

6. Isolating and staying in room

7. Change in physical hygiene

8. Staying out late and making excuses

9. Suspicion of money missing

10. Alcohol and prescription drugs missing

Source: ACTION (A Parent & Teen Support Program)

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