Five years ago Beth Andrews’ life was on track. Her job was going well and her daughter and two sons were active in the church and community. She taught Sunday school and her kids participated in church activities and the annual Ahwatukee Foothills Easter Parade. One received an award for his initiative in starting a skateboard park at Mountain View Lutheran Church.
It was the typical Ahwatukee Foothills’ life.
Today, her daughter is attending the University of Arizona.
But of the two sons, 25-year-old Josh Jacobson is in jail on a probation violation and 23-year-old Jeremy Jacobson has two outstanding warrants for his arrest.
In five years drugs have taken over both of their lives.
“I don’t know how it happened, but it happened,” Andrews said.
And in the process of trying to prevent her two sons from slowly descending into drug addiction and petty crime, she has had to struggle to keep herself from sinking down with them.
Click here to read Beth Andrews' account of the warning signs of her sons' drug addictions and her responses to them
Not a unique story
“She’s not the only one,” said Sheila Coonen, the Mission development director at Mountain View Lutheran Church. “I’ve noticed that there are a lot of families in crisis.”
Counselors, church leaders, police and parents have dozens of stories about how good kids have gone bad, thanks to the easy availability of drugs in Ahwatukee Foothills and local schools.
“You would be amazed at how prevalent it is in high schools,” Andrews said.
But more and more, what was a taboo subject of kids with serious drug problems and parents spending their retirement money on rehabilitation is becoming more public.
In Andrews’ case, two months before graduating from Mountain Pointe High School Jeremy was busted by police at a party on Equestrian Trail where minor amounts of marijuana were found. At the time she didn’t think much about it.
But the following year, while he attended Mesa Community College, she noticed he began to act differently.
Soon she learned that he was snorting oxycontin, a powerful pain reliever that Rush Limbaugh was once addicted to and which was originally created to be a pain reliever for terminally ill cancer patients.
Typical advice didn’t help
Decades ago marijuana or alcohol were the drugs of choice, but today many say that it’s prescription drugs that are the root of the current drug addiction wave.
“Right now, the real demand is for illegal use of prescription drugs,” and oxycontin is at the top of the list, said Nancy Kalmick, a former high school counselor and a community counselor and mentor.
“Our kids think that because (oxycontin) comes from a prescription bottle there is less of a stigma if they try it,” Kalmick said. “But it’s the one that is killing our kids, turning them into addicts because it’s so addictive.”
Andrews sent Jeremy to a three-day detox program while he was still on her insurance and attending college.
“At the time, that was devastating to me,” Andrews said.
When that didn’t work, she followed the standard advice and sent Jeremy out of her home.
But when he went to live with his older brother, Josh, the two of them started to use ocycontin and soon Andrews’ problems doubled.
At $60 for an 80-milligram tablet, oxycontin was expensive, said Andrews, so her two boys began to beg, borrow and steal to maintain their habit, including pawning their sister’s iPod and laptop.
To protect her money at night, Andrews said she would sleep with her credit cards in a little pouch on a string around her neck – so her sons couldn’t steal them.
Oxycontin to heroin
“When the oxycontin got too expensive, they went to heroin,” Andrews said.
With just a simple phone call, and a password, her boys could order one or two $10 balloons of heroin and have it delivered to a street corner where they would be waiting with cash. Soon she couldn’t have a bowl of cereal for breakfast because her boys used all the spoons in the house to cook their heroin.
The stress of dealing with two drug-addicted sons started affecting her work. When they would come to her office to ask for money she would give them cash, even though she knew what they would do with it. She simply wanted to get them out of her office.
“Most families want to hide it. At the time I didn’t want anyone to know,” she said.
But as much as she tried to keep the family secret, Andrews soon found herself isolated.
“Her friends deserted her,” said Coonen, who knew the two boys since they were children.
Can happen to anyone
Dr. Bradley Barrett is the former superintendent of the Kyrene School District and a professional when it comes to children.
“Most of us say, ‘Not my kid, he goes to church on Sunday, he’s an Eagle Scout,’” Barrett said.
But in his case, even with years of experience in education and with children, it happened in his own family.
“If it can happen to my kid it can happen to anyone,” Barrett said.
Sgt. Tommy Thompson spent 16 years with the Phoenix Police Department’s Drug Enforcement Bureau and has heard the same story dozens of times.
“We have a misconception that it’s an evil-looking guy in a trench coat selling dope in the oleanders. But time after time we see it’s the friends and peers influencing kids to use drugs,” he said. “It’s sometimes difficult for kids to say no.”
Thompson said that every year the police get called by parents who want their children arrested so they will go to jail and get clean.
Unfortunately, he said, it doesn’t work that way.
“Until a person is ready to change, they won’t. Many times they have to hit rock bottom. Unfortunately, sometimes before they hit rock bottom, they die,” Thompson said.
Today, in Andrews’ situation, her boys may, or may not, be at the bottom and ready to help themselves.
Andrews helps herself
After attending a five-day session on co-dependency, Andrews now has a better understanding of what she can – and can’t – control.
“I really did feel responsible for (their addiction),” she said.
Now Andrews understands that they have to find their own path. And while she loves them, believes they are great kids and has hopes for their recovery, she no longer will enable them to continue using drugs.
Andrews said she won’t get sucked in to their jailhouse apologies and promises to do better, only to find them overdosed and back on drugs when they get out.
Three weeks ago Josh, the older of the two, was arrested for a parole violation and is in the Lower Buckeye Jail, where he may remain for the next six months. His mother hopes he will take advantage of the drug treatment programs in jail, but knows that it is up to him to change.
Jeremy, the youngest, is dealing with outstanding warrants and has moved out of state to live with a relative. He told Andrews that he had to get away and try for a clean start.
“I’m hoping they’ve turned a corner,” Andrews said.
How to prevent
Experts have differing opinions on how to prevent drug abuse in children. After her experience, however, Andrews is hesitant to give advice.
“I honestly don’t know how to stop it. It’s above my pay grade. I couldn’t even stop it in my own house,” she said.
If there was one thing she would do differently, it would be to take the early signs more seriously. When Jeremy was first linked to marijuana, Andrews said she wanted to be supportive of him and just assumed it was a phase.
“Take the first signs very, very seriously,” Andrews said.
Kalmick hopes that instead of shunning families with drug problems, the community will help them deal with the issues by staying involved and communicating with other parents.
“We need to be there for each other’s children,” Kalmick said.
Not My Child is a national organization, headed by Barrett, that works to help parents and children dealing with drug addiction.
And while there is no magic bullet to protect a family, there are some things that can be done, including:
• Watching the home medicine cabinet, where much of the addictive drugs used by children come from.
• Know where kids are and restrict their school night social activities because studies show 50 percent of children who come home after 10 p.m. on a school night report drugs or alcohol present at social gatherings, compared with 29 percent who have a curfew before 10 p.m.
• Stay in touch with a child’s friends as they expand their circle of acquaintances and pick up new interests. Don’t be afraid to ask for phone numbers and names and call parents.
• Staying in the social networking loop is also critical. Parents should have access to Facebook and MySpace pages maintained by children and pass codes to Web sites, cell phones and other communication devices, so that they can see what children are posting and sending to each other.
And don’t expect change, for better or worse, to occur overnight.
“No one really understands how slowly this happens and how much the manipulation gets to you,” Andrews said. “You don’t really even realize it’s going on until it’s a mess.”