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One Southern Illinois mom wants parents throughout the region to learn from her family’s story.

Debbie’s son was talking about college before he even got to high school. He wanted to go to Yale University, a prestigious university in New Haven, Connecticut. Debbie and his father told him he would have to study and earn a “pretty good” scholarship to pay for it.

So, as he finished his freshman year in high school, she said he was making good grades and probably on track to get to Yale or a similar university. He started his sophomore year as class president and was very active in school activities. In addition, he was in plays at Rend Lake College and joined a community theater group.

At the end of his sophomore year, he had a 3.9 grade point average on a 4.0 scale. He began using drugs in his junior year of high school.

With the goal of Yale in mind, her son worried about doing well on an upcoming test. He decided to take a friend’s ADHD to help him concentrate and finish the test on time.

“It helped him. He liked the way it made him feel, so he started to take that on a regular basis,” Debbie said. “It led him to take other drugs. At first he was mostly into prescription medications. He moved on Vicodin, percocet, the opioids.

He liked those drugs a lot and would get them at school.

“That’s a big thing. Parents and grandparents need to be aware of what they’ve got in their med cabinets,” Debbie said.

She added that teens get medications mostly from their grandparent’s homes. They take it to school and sell it to their friends.

Her son’s grades dropped drastically.

“His father and I figured it out pretty quickly,” Debbie said.

Nine weeks into his senior year of high school, Debbie’s son was caught with drugs at school. He was suspended for five days and eventually arrested.

At first, Debbie did not tell anyone he was in trouble, not even her parents. Eventually she had to tell someone, and her mom began asking questions.

“Mom was the only person who knew,” Debbie said.

At trial, the judge sentenced her son to an inpatient drug treatment program at Gateway Foundation in Carbondale, where he spent the next 89 days.

“He was in there for Thanksgiving, his 18th birthday, Christmas, New Year’s and my birthday,” Debbie said. “It was a very difficult time for us as a family.”

He went back to school for a little while after treatment, and things were spiraling out of control. He finished his senior year at an alternative school, and graduated with his class.

His records were expunged when he graduated from high school.

He stayed clean for a while, then started smoking pot. In March of the following year, he was arrested again. He went into rehab again, this time at Centerpoint in St. Louis.

“He stayed clean for a little while when he got of there, then he started using again,” Debbie said.

He was arrested a third time, and this time, Debbie and her husband let their son sit in jail. The judge wasn’t talking rehab.

“I say that pretty easy, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Debbie said.

When he got out of jail that time, he had decided to get clean. Since then he has been going to Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery meetings. He has been clean three and half years.

Debbie and her husband also have gotten involved in a group called Nar-Anon, the equivalent of Al-Anon for families of people with substance use disorder. At first, they drove a considerable distance to attend meetings. Then, they started a group in Du Quoin. The group in Du Quoin spawned a Nar-Anon group in Christopher.

With school starting, Debbie, along with A’nna Jurich, executive director of Gateway Foundation in Carbondale, wants parents to know the signs that a teen may be addicted.

“I think the signs are kind of hidden. Adolescence is time when teens withdraw to their social groups. It can be normal,” Jurich said. “If a parent is feeling a concern, it’s probably because there’s a concern to be felt. “

Here are their tips:

Has your teen’s social group changed?

Have grades dropped?

Do they appear to be very secretive?

What are they doing on Social media and websites?

Are there online medication orders or instructions for making drugs?

Has there been a change in sleep habits, energy levels, appearance or appetite?

Are pupils dilated or pin-point?

Are the tools of drug use present? Those include: tiny pieces of aluminum foil or cotton balls/cigarette filters, spoons in odd places, straws cut to two or three inches, rolled up receipts, straightened paper clips with black resin on them, syringes or syringe caps, empty prescription bottles or lots of sniffling.

“I hate drugs more than anything,” Debbie said.

She hopes her family story will help someone else.

If someone you love is suffering from a substance abuse disorder, Debbie said Nar-Anon can help. Call 618-790-4667 (Du Quoin) or 618-218-4583 (Christopher) for more information.

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Reporter

Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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