Finding a Fix: Son's life saved by treatment � and
I wait in my car, sipping a fresh cup of Dunkin Donuts
coffee. The young man I transport each day is my son. He is inside the
methadone clinic getting his daily dose, undergoing a weekly urine test
and receiving counseling services. This is a regular routine for him and
for countless others like him who come here for help in managing their
opiate addictions. I try not to stare at the others, but as often as I
have seen them, I am always compassionately curious. I study their faces
and try to understand, often feeling that I have stepped into their
diaries to read a sad chapter in their lives.
They are drug addicts, like my son, and for that, my
heart is very heavy. Was it a street drug or did a physician prescribe
pain medication that lasted too long. Did they experiment just a few
times or was it a long series of bad decisions. Whatever the case, each
of them ultimately became a drug addict, and each of them attends the
clinic in desperate need of intervention to break the cycle of
out-of-control illegal drug use.
The people attending this clinic are of different
ages, and, clearly from very different circumstance. Some appear to be
career professionals, impeccably well groomed, while others are unkempt
and in ragged clothes. Some are just kids with baseball caps and droopy
jeans. Some have families. Some are totally alone. As different as they
are, they share the common condition of addiction.
An automobile pulls up beside my car. An attractive
young woman looks in her mirror and brushes her long hair into a clip.
She steps out of her car, clutching a small locked box in her hands ' a
symbol of having earned the privilege of take-home doses. Her anxious
dachshund whines as she disappears inside. Clearly, they are constant
companions. She returns 10 minutes later with several days, worth of
doses in the box. Her treatment does not make her high; it keeps her
stable. She is safe for another day.
A taxi driver waits off to the side of the building.
He naps in a reclined seat.
A "volunteer driver" sign is taped in the window of a
shiny new silver van in front of me where an equally silver-haired man
waits. He sifts through paperwork, probably arranging the pick-up of
others he has volunteered to transport that day. He greets his rider
when he returns to the vehicle. The rider looks barely 20, with wavy
hair and a broad, friendly smile. He looks like a typical college kid.
They leave, talking like old friends and I feel great
appreciation for the driver's willingness to help.
The car next to me is an older Cadillac with a ticking
engine. The middle-aged man who steps out of it must be a salesman,
wearing a bright white shirt and blue tie. He flings his sports jacket
over his shoulder. I am not sure about his reason for being there until
I spot the lockbox under his arm.
In other cars, mothers and fathers wait, some
unwilling to make eye contact. Some just smile knowingly. We are all
there for those we fear we are losing, fighting for their lives, keeping
them off the streets so they can regain some degree of normalcy. I am
sure that our prayers are much alike.
One after another, they come and go. Men and women
dressed for the workday with tool belts, hard hats, insulated jackets,
uniforms and dress suits. There are women with babies and women who are
pregnant. One young father arrives on his bicycle with his toddler
bundled in a snowsuit and wearing a bright purple bike helmet. Another
family comes together in a new truck, their child safely restrained in a
car seat. They take the little girl with them into the clinic, and when
they prepare to leave just moments later, I respect how carefully they
tighten the safety belts around her. Some arrive, still half-asleep, in
outfits that look like old pajamas, their hair in disarray. They have
nowhere to go this day, I presume, except for here.
It is so easy for people to look on this sad state of
affairs with condemnation. After all, aren't addicts low-class or from
really bad families. In truth, most addicts in today's world, and many
of the clients seeking help at the methadone clinic, are neither. They
are someone's son or daughter, a brother, a mom, a neighbor, the captain
of the basketball team, the paperboy or, but for chance or the grace of
God, any one of us. They are people who made terrible mistakes and who
are paying a very dear price. Getting addicted is not difficult, but
once hooked, recovery is not so easy.
Of course, the ultimate solution to drug treatment is
always prevention. Methadone is simply a tool that some addicts use to
get clean. But like anything, it is only as effective as the user's
intentions, diligence and commitment. It is not easy to get to the
clinic every single day, bumming rides, hitchhiking, sometimes walking
for miles, fitting it in around work and day-care schedules. An
occasional day of take-home privilege can provide such relief.
In spite of much that is lacking in methadone
programs, I am convinced that this treatment has saved many lives,
including my son's. Battling his addiction with a decreasing daily dose,
he is no longer using illegal drugs. He is alive, and has regained the
40 pounds he lost. He receives counseling regularly and is committed to
eventually being free of methadone, too.
Every community in our state faces a drug crisis of
some kind, especially among its youth. A big surprise to many is that
the preferred drug is no longer marijuana. It is now heroin, crack
cocaine or something else, a whole menu of drugs that most of us cannot
even spell, and getting high is cheaper than buying a six-pack of beer.
The sad reality, whether we want to hear it or not, is that while a
large number of Maine kids are smoking weed and drinking alcohol, many
are also using hard drugs daily.
This is not everyone else's problem and these are not
everyone else's children. They are our kids, all of ours, they are at
terrible risk, and we need to care about each of them.
Our involvement, constant encouragement and watchful
support are vital to keeping kids off drugs, and to keeping addicts in
recovery. Their progress often requires moving ahead a day at a time,
and looking back only to remember that they don't want to go back to
where they came from. It is a tough road to travel, and I cannot imagine
any young person successfully walking it alone.
There are so many people out there who want to free
themselves from drug addiction, but do not know where to start, or how
to restart their lives after they quit using. They desperately need
supporters who say "good job" when they deserve it, who provide
direction when they lose their way, and who simply offer a ride to get
the help they so desperately need. A strong and caring adult can make a
life-altering difference for a young person.
We can win this battle, but it is going to take all of
us together. In the absence of a dedicated and concerted effort, we will
lose it , and this is not a battle we can afford to lose.
Bonnie Titcomb Lewis
7 December 2006
Bonnie Titcomb Lewis is the mother of
two sons and a daughter, a former secondary school teacher and a
former state legislator who currently works to provide college
scholarships for Maine students. She wrote this essay two years ago;
her son has since weaned himself off methadone and has resumed normal