Mother Pleads Beware of Teen Addiction
A Monster Lurks In Our Valley

(An article by Jan Johnson, placed in the Vail Newspapers, 2005)

Imagine standing on your front porch, watching helplessly, as your child is carried away by a monster. The monster is so huge and frightening that you have no idea how to stop it. You fire your best shots, and the monster only sneers and tightens its grip, as your child struggles fiercely to break free.

No, I never thought this would happen to us, either! That monster carried our son, Chad, to his death. I will never hold him in my arms again. I will never see his beautiful smile or hear his laughter. That monster’s name is CRACK!

Not knowing how to fight the monster and the bottomless depression it inflicted, Chad ended his life on November 10th, 2004. Minutes before he died, he left a tearful and heartfelt message for me on my home phone. For seven months, I searched for Chad thinking he was only missing. It was during those months that I learned the truth about crack. I also became aware of its wide spread use in this valley. I have come to realize that most parents are as naïve and unaware as I was. During the time Chad was missing, I came to rely on Deputy Jeff Huff of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. I know that he wanted nothing more than to drive up to my house, one day, with my son in his car. On June 8th, 2005, Deputy Huff dealt me the final blow. My worst nightmare had come true!

In many ways, Chad was like any other kid. He had just achieved one of his most treasured goals by graduating from High School, the happiest day of his life. He had a summer job that he was passionate about. He had dreams of becoming a Master Mechanic, owning his own business and building choppers as a hobby. He hoped to be married and have children some day. As Chad’s best friend, Tyler, quoted, “that was Chad at his best on his way to the top of the world”. Tyler also shared that Chad was adamantly against hard drugs and couldn’t understand why anyone would do “that” to their body. After a classmate had attempted suicide, Chad told him that he thought committing suicide was stupid. Perspectives change after you’ve crossed that line and parents can’t afford to let their guard down.

In June, 2004, about a month after graduation, Chad fell from a roof and fractured his wrist. He was prescribed Percocet for pain control during the week he waited for surgery. During that week, when Chad was in pain and on medication, an acquaintance from his school needed a place to stay. He was a nice kid (upper classman) who used to be a jock. Unbeknownst to me, he introduced Chad to Crack in my own home, right under my nose.

One evening I noticed a drastic change in Chad’s behavior. He came into the kitchen and looked so intense that I stopped everything I was doing. I asked, “Chad, what is going on? You look so intense! How many Percocet did you take?” Over the next couple of weeks I began to notice little things, unusual things, before and after Chad’s surgery. My spoons, baking soda and pens starting disappearing, and I kept finding pen barrels lying around. His old friends didn’t seem to be around and I didn’t know his new ones. He began wandering around the house at night. When he finally slept, he was impossible to wake up. He periodically lost his appetite. I attributed his unusual behavior to the pain medication and the possibility that he was sleeping all day. I didn’t begin to put it all together for about a month. I knew Percocet generally makes you drowsy, not intense. Now I know the intensity was Crack. Spoons were used to heat a mixture of cocaine, baking soda and water to create the strongest of all drugs when its fumes are inhaled. Everyone concurred that Crack was a very bad drug BUT no one told me it was a Death Warrant! One use can cause addiction. One use and the drug OWNS you!

Chad may have been particularly susceptible to the stimulation of Crack. He had Attention Deficit Disorder. ADD kids have a difficult time focusing without the stimulation of a “hands on” learning environment. They often get lost in our traditional “auditory style” classrooms. Since they cannot compete on an academic level, they often find other ways to excel. Chad was creative, artistic, and extremely competitive in athletic sports. He was also compassionate toward others with problems: the underdog, the underachievers, and those less fortunate. He was patient and compassionate toward younger children and animals. On his annual elk hunting trips, a time he treasured with his father, he would say a prayer for the elk that sacrificed its life for him. In a way, these wonderful traits create a susceptibility to alternative places where ADD and ADHD kids try to “fit in”. Drug users and dealers often haunt these places.

Our public schools are ill prepared to find the time, expertise and resources to work with these kids. While teachers may be able to spot the hyperactivity component of ADHD, they often miss the subtle clues of the ADD type. By the time Chad was diagnosed, at twelve years of age, he had gaping holes in his education and his self image had been irrevocably compromised. An ADD person oftentimes assimilates a stimulating drug differently. The effect of the drug, acting as the Neurotransmitter Dopamine, is that it makes their brain feel more normal, more focused. Ritalin, the pharmaceutical drug used to treat ADD and ADHD, for example, is a form of Speed. This stimulant is said to be more potent than Cocaine. Crack compared to Cocaine is like an Indy Car compared to a tricycle according to the October 2005 issue of Men’s Health.

From the moment I recognized that Chad was in the grip of the monster, I tried everything imaginable to stop the insanity that would become our lives. I pleaded, cried, yelled and lectured. Chad responded by listening, crying, pouring his heart out to me, and expressing his shame and guilt. As the monster dragged him away, our close relationship deteriorated. He could no longer face the pain and disappointment. He tried desperately to quit on his own. The day he drove away for the last time, he said, “if I’m not able to quit on my own, I’ll check myself in (rehab).”

I would never have suspected Chad was on drugs after all the discussions we had over the years. It happened in a month. It began while he was in pain and on a gateway drug. Bad choices and accidents happen in a minute. It can be a weak moment, an unusual situation, due to peer pressure or in Chad’s case, all of these. Have you ever thought of a time that you could have easily died by the choice you made one night? Do you wonder how you ever survived your youth? I know that most of us, at some point in our lives, have made bad choices. Maybe it was risk taking behavior while under the influence of alcohol or another drug. The ‘other’ drugs today are much more potent than they were when we were growing up. Sometimes there are no second chances. If you think alcohol, marijuana and even prescription drugs are harmless, think again!

For your sake, for our children’s sake, for our community’s sake, take action, even if it’s small. Don’t let my nightmare become your nightmare! Pay attention. Help these kids and never give up on them. Educate yourself about the problems you see. Find out what you can do, and do it! Help defeat the monster. And, as Chad’s best friend, Travis said so eloquently, “remember Chad for who he was, not for what he could not overcome.”

I’d like to add a heartfelt thank you to the hikers that found Chad’s body: “my heart goes out to you and I’ll always be eternally grateful! You have put an end to what would have been an agonizing life long search for my son.”

Video for Channel 4 News in Denver-Chad's Story

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