Sunday, March 16, 2003

Soul snatcher


Their child was abducted - by drug addiction

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A father walks into his son's room. He looks around at the stuff teen-age boys collect - tickets to a Reds game, posters of cars and rock stars, abandoned toys, little plastic sports trophies. The dad breaks down in tears.

"I would walk into my son's room and see the pictures on the wall and I would just sit down and cry," he says months later, still choking up over scrambled eggs at a Big Boy. "I felt like my son had died and I was in mourning."

It was close. His son was leading a secret life as a good student in the marching band, "a joy to have in class," the teachers said.

But while his parents slept in their upper middle class suburban home, he would sneak out and drive his father's SUV to the inner city to score drugs. "He didn't even have a driver's license," his father said. "He told me later he had guns and knives pulled on him more than a few times."

One day the kid took a gun to school, intending to shoot himself in the head because he was so lost in the lightless pit of ink-black despair.

This is a horror story. But it's also a story of hope.

The dad still has a hard time talking about it. But now his tears are tears of joy that he has his son back. "If you could see the kids who are in treatment, you would never guess they were on drugs," he said.

He never guessed, either, until a friend of their son called to tell him where to find his hidden stash.

Other kids are not so lucky.

The soul-snatcher witch heroin is making a comeback. On Wednesday, the Enquirer carried a story about three dead teens in Northern Kentucky. "Suspected heroin deaths push fear into the suburbs," the headline said.

Anyone who walks the streets where drug pushers do their bold business can spot the white kids in mom's SUV, buying dope. But most families never believe it can happen on their street, in their neighborhood, in their daughter's classroom, in their son's bedroom.

The father I met knows better. He is certain his son might be dead today if they had not found Kids Helping Kids, a well-kept secret in Milford that is one of the nation's top drug treatment centers for patients ages 13-21 (513-575-7300).

Most treatment plans take a month at most. KHK requires nine months or more. "Research always shows a correlation between treatment time and success," says executive director Penny Walker. Makes sense.

KHK costs about as much as a new Toyota. But scholarships, insurance and Medicaid can help, Walker said.

Parents must attend a meeting every Friday - even if they come from New York or Texas. And they do.

Students don't go home during Phase I. They stay at the treatment center 10 hours a day, then go home with the family of a patient who is more advanced.

According to outcome research, 81 percent of KHK graduates are sober two years later; 86 percent have no more trouble with the law; 82 percent return to school and graduate.

Maybe that's because KHK, like AA, changes lives by relying on a higher power.

The boy told his dad, "I couldn't go another day without God's grace and strength."

Soon, they hope, he will be back in his room.

After I heard the story, I went into my son's room and looked around at the old fuzzy animals and the stuff boys collect like a magnet for clutter. I tried to imagine. And that made me think about God's grace, too.

There but for the grace of God....

E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.




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