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Mike Riehls

The black shadow of heroin addiction


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June 27, 2013
Dear Jeff and Debra:

We are having a major debate in our family, verging on all out warfare. My older brother is shooting heroin. He developed an addiction to Vicodin a number of years ago and soon began taking any kind of pain pill he could get his hands on. He was seeing multiple doctors, stealing pills from medicine cabinets and buying online. When our grandmother was dying of bone cancer, he visited her frequently, lifting pills whenever he could. But, eventually, the supply of pills couldn’t feed his addiction, and he began buying heroin.

I began noticing track marks about nine months ago and started a conversation with my brother about getting help. He always promised to do something to help himself, telling me not to worry. He had it under control, he’d say. Strangely, I believed him.

After three or four of these talks, I realized nothing was changing for the better. Things were getting worse. This is when I began talking to my family about intervention.

I really thought intervening was a no-brainer in terms of doing the right thing. My brother works for the family business and without that income, he’d be sunk. No job, no drugs. Plus, we’re a close-knit family. We spend a lot of time together and we love our parents. Who better to intervene than us?

I read your book, and then knowledgeably described the process to my parents and siblings. Much to everyone’s surprise, my father — the man who signs my brother’s paychecks — refused to cooperate.

My father’s reasoning is this: since he hasn’t personally witnessed track marks on my brother, my brother mustn’t be a heroin addict. “I work with him everyday,” my father says. “I’d know it if he had a big problem.”

Never mind we all know about the years of pills. Never mind my brother is known to nod out in the employee restroom after shooting up. Never mind he steals money from my father. Never mind he comes in late, leaves early and sometimes, doesn’t show up for work at all. Never mind his wife took the children and left.

This is ripping our family apart.

My mother hardly speaks to my father.

My siblings are infighting. The family problems are spilling into our business. And I can see the stress is going to kill my father.

I still think intervening is the right thing, but I worry pushing my agenda to help my brother is causing a breakdown in the family.

What’s right and what do I do now?

-Big Brother

Dear Big Brother:

It is not uncommon for a parent to deny the severity of a child’s addiction. There are many possible reasons, but the most common is the parent incorrectly believes he or she is somehow to blame. A parent often thinks it was a child-rearing mistake that caused the addiction and this belief persists even once educated about the genetic nature of addiction.

In situations such as yours, it is best to consult with a clinical interventionist who has a strong clinical background in the addiction field. By bringing in an addiction and intervention expert, you can create a plan to help Dad move through his objections and make a better decision that will motivate his son to choose treatment and recovery.

This is an urgent matter for your bother and your family. Each time someone shoots heroin, they are at high risk of overdose. But, in southeastern Michigan, a heroin called Black Shadow has dramatically increased the number of overdoses. According to the Detroit Free Press, the number of heroin related calls to the Poison Control Center doubled in May as compared to the same time period in 2012. This is not a wait-and-see issue. Take decisive action to help Dad get on board with the rest of the family and move forward.

Before intervening, plan out a long-term treatment plan for your brother. Success depends upon the right level of support. A quick detox and 10 days of treatment isn’t enough. Look for a good 90- or 120-day program. In Michigan, we recommend Dawn Farm as an affordable and effective program, but it isn’t fancy. There are also several good programs throughout the country. Work with an addiction professional who knows treatment options locally and nationally to help you make the best decision.

Jeff Jay and Debra Jay are the authors of “Love First: A New Approach to Intervention for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction,” and Debra Jay is the author of “No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action.” They Jays are professional interventionists who live in Grosse Pointe Farms. For more information, call (313) 882-6921 or visit lovefirst.net.

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