It started with tobacco: At school, a tough talk on dangers of addiction
SALISBURY â€” Middle-school students at Salisbury Central School got a tough message about drugs and alcohol last Thursday, Oct. 28, from Ginger Katz, founder of the Courage to Speak Foundation.
Her 20-year-old son, Ian, died in 1996 of a lethal combination of heroin and Valium.
In the aftermath of his death, Katz spoke with Ianâ€™s friends, who volunteered information that his involvement with the subterranean world of illicit drugs was far more extensive than his mother had realized.
â€œThey shared Ianâ€™s secrets, as well as their own,â€ she said.
Katz has since then made it her mission to speak out about drug use among the young.
â€œWhat was happening to us was happening to other families. Ian was a good kid who made bad decisions. I wasnâ€™t going to lie about it.â€
Katz spoke at length to the students about enabling: behavior on the part of those close to the addict that can seem compassionate or measured, but which actually allows the addict to escape the consequences of his or her habits.
A Norwalk police officer who caught Ian (at the time a freshman in high school) smoking pot in a park let him off with a stern warning.
A dean at college allowed Ian to perform community service â€” 100 hours in the admissions office â€” after a fighting incident. And the admissions office cut him loose after only 36 of the 100 hours.
Katz had her own denial: accepting Ianâ€™s protestations and excuses over the years, even as she learned about the warning signs of drug use.
But the incidents kept piling up. Ian was given a Jeep his senior year in high school. Early one morning the car was firebombed. It turned out later that Ian was dealing marijuana, but at the time he said the incident was probably the work of a jealous boyfriend of a girl heâ€™d kissed.
The Katzes called Ianâ€™s bluff when, distrusting a urine sample the boy had provided, they insisted he give another sample at the doctorâ€™s office. The sample Ian first provided was squeaky clean, but the sample from the doctorâ€™s office was positive for marijuana.
Katz said that after Ianâ€™s death, a friend confided that the first sample had come from a friendâ€™s infant brother.
After Ian transferred to the University of Connecticut and was commuting to school from his parentâ€™s home, the showdown finally came. Katz searched Ianâ€™s room and found $300 and a sizeable quantity of marijuana.
She piled her sonâ€™s clothes by the front door and kicked him out of the house.
After a while, Ian agreed to see a family counselor, but balked at the recommended regimen: a 12-step meeting daily, counseling three times per week and a random urine analysis once a week. And no use of any mind-altering substances â€” including beer.
â€œHe said, â€˜Mom, Iâ€™m always going to have a beer with my friends.â€™â€
Ianâ€™s story takes on the dreary inevitability familiar to anyone who has ever been in recovery: detoxes, quick fixes, half-hearted attempts to stay clean. And relapses.
The night Ian died, he had agreed to go to a long-term rehab. But he decided to go get high one last time.
Even in death, the enabling continued, when the doctor advised Katz to tell people Ian had died of a heart attack.
The Salisbury Central students had read Katzâ€™ book, â€œSunnyâ€™s Storyâ€ â€” the tale of Ianâ€™s (and the familyâ€™s) struggles as told from the point of view of the family dog.
And they had pertinent questions, such as why the counselor told Ian to abstain from using all mind-altering substances.
â€œAlcohol is a drug too,â€ said Katz. Anything that works on the brainâ€™s pleasure center â€” including tobacco and caffeine â€” should be avoided, they said.
Katz then asked the students why someone would use drugs in the first place. The answers: â€œTo feel better. â€ â€œTo be cool.â€ â€œTo forget about real life. â€œ
A child asked what was the â€œworstâ€ drug Ian used.
â€œTobacco,â€ said Katz. â€œThatâ€™s where it started.â€
Katz then asked the kids, â€œWould a good friend ask you to use drugs?â€
â€œNoooo,â€ chorused the kids.
Katz contradicted them. â€œYes, they would.â€
As family snapshots flashed on the screen â€” a young teenaged Ian, with a huge grin, checking his tie in a mirror; a younger Ian in his baseball uniform; the older, troubled Ian, sacked out with a baseball cap covering his eyes â€” Katz told the students how it started.
â€œTobacco, a couple sips of beer, a little weed,â€ she said. â€œThatâ€™s why Iâ€™m here. I donâ€™t underestimate these drugs.â€
She urged the students to be open with their parents and other adults. â€œIf you get addicted, this is one spot your parents canâ€™t get you out of.
â€œGet three to five adults in your life you can say anything to. Get your secrets out. Have the courage to speak. And if you see someone in trouble, tell somebody.â€