Crack Cocaine, Addictive After One Use, Causes Death of Teenager

Andrea Lopez
PO Box 1124
Frisco, CO 80443
970) 668 0490

The Chad Kesler Story

By Andrea D. Lopez

Chad Kesler had just graduated from Eagle Valley High School in Eagle, Colorado-a community with a small-town feel about a half hour west of Vail. He was athletic--playing hockey, racing motorbikes, and snowboarding--and he was also artistic. It was the summer of 2004, and at the age of 19, Chad had an entire lifetime of opportunity ahead of him.

"He had just gotten accepted to a technical college so he was excited," said his mother, Jan Johnson. "His dream was to design cars, work on high performance cars, and to design and build choppers. He was on top of the world."

However, in one moment in time, all of that opportunity would be swept away forever. Chad was laid up at home, recovering from surgery on his wrist. A classmate came to visit and offered him crack-a highly-addictive form of cocaine that is typically smoked. Chad had always said that he was against drugs in high school, and had not tried this drug before. He was on Percocet at the time for pain. His mother strongly feels that may have influenced his judgment-poor judgment. He tried the crack. That one taste would send him into a downward spiral that would eventually cost him his life.

"It was right in my house, under my nose," said Johnson, who remembers seeing a different side of her son that day. She now knows that the odd personality she saw was a manifestation of the drug. "He looked like he was going to drill a hole through me with his eyes," she said.

Chad's first taste of crack led to four months of addiction. Chad would eventually feel so much shame and so much hopelessness over his addiction that he felt the only way out was to take his own life. On November 10, 2004, instead of turning left off the Gypsum exit that led to his home, he turned right and drove up a dirt road into desolate hill-country. He hung himself. His body was found the following year on June 8 by hikers.

"I think, in his own way, he took care of it the best way that he could," said Johnson. He had called their house that day from his cell phone and left her one last phone message. She still has it. "He just said how much he loved me and how sorry he was."

Johnson wishes she knew then what she knows now-that crack is powerfully addictive, and that there was likely no way her son could have found the strength to quit on his own. She said she later learned, after talking to experts in the field of drug rehabilitation, that the recovery rate for addicts (with professional help) was 10 to 18%. Those aren't very good odds.

"Someone, with first-hand experience with this drug, came to me and said you have to kidnap him or do whatever it takes to get him off that drug," she said, "whether it's planting something on him and getting him in jail or something else."

But Johnson thought that her son could stop without the support or supervision of rehabilitation program. She knew that he was addicted to something, but didn't know, at the time, it was crack. The two of them even talked about his drug problem.

"We talked about it in the middle of the night, we talked about it a lot," she said. "We cried. We were very close. He wanted to stop on his own."

One the morning he drove away for the last time, Chad promised his mother that if he couldn't gain control of his own addiction within a month, he would check himself into a rehabilitation clinic. At one point, he was registered at one, but it never transpired. Not knowing how powerful this drug could be, Johnson trusted her son and believed he'd be able to quit. Chad was going to live with his father. She thought with his supervision, Chad would be able to get everything under control.

What made that easier to believe was the fact that Chad was very upbeat, cheerful, and seemingly normal while he was on crack. Johnson said he had Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD. She said, without really knowing that he was doing it, Chad was using the drug to self-medicate. It had a strange way of balancing him out and making him appear more focused and in control. Unfortunately, the damage it was causing to the delicate balance of his brain chemistry and his body was swift and deadly. It would eventually upset his emotional balance.

ADD is a disorder that exhibits a range of problems including impulsiveness, poor attention span, and restlessness. According to physicians Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey in their book Answers to Distraction, ADD contributes to lack of judgment, and this high stimulus-seeking behavior, coupled with a dysregulated neurochemical system, means there's a predisposition for addiction. Johnson believes that it was the ADD that made her son more impulsive and vulnerable to the drug to begin with.

There were other signs, however, that Johnson saw at the time. Unfortunately, she said she didn't understand them fully until now.

"His sleeping habits changed," she said. "I noticed he was milling around the house a lot at night, very quietly as to not disturb me."

Johnson also said he started to eat less frequently, but when he did eat, he consumed more than usual. After two months of these shifts in behavior, she figured out he was addicted to something. One night when he didn't come home, call, or answer the phone the next day, she sent a mutual friend to the house while she was at work. He found several kids gathered at the house and they told him that something bad was going on. Chad admitted that they were using cocaine. But Johnson didn't know they were turning it into a highly-addictive form of crack. She wasn't familiar with the potency of this mutated form. Since her son had promised to get his drug problem under control, the deadly warning signs escaped her. Now, she can see them clearly.

"I noticed that all of my spoons were missing, but I thought that he was taking him to work," she said. "You know, it was little things like I was going to bake and the baking soda was gone, but I never put it all together."

Johnson also noticed that all of her pens were missing. Pen barrels are often used as a way to inhale the drug while it's being cooked on a spoon.

"What they do is mix it [cocaine] with baking soda or baking powder and water," said local Drug Task Force leader Mike McWilliam with the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. "They heat that and it changes it into a freebase cocaine, which can then be inhaled into the sinuses. You get a faster rush."

In the past year, McWilliam said that cocaine has become the county's number one drug problem. He says a lot of gangs down in Juarez and El Paso near the border of Mexico are selling large amounts, and that the drug is coming into Eagle County predominately through Mexican and Honduran drug dealers.

"We're seeing it sell for as low as $50 a gram here," he said. But what really concerns him, is that high school kids are starting to use it. "I think it's a serious problem and we need to do something about this. The parents, the clergy, the schools-they all need to be involved, it can't just be done by law enforcement."

Cocaine is the number one drug problem in Eagle County right now, according to McWilliam. But the threat isn't just in Colorado's high country. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, all of the Drug Enforcement Administration or DEA Field Divisions report that powder cocaine and crack are readily and widely available. Most say cocaine is the greatest drug threat in their area. It's not uncommon for kids in 8th grade to have been introduced to the drug.

One important stereotype that Johnson said she feels she needs to dispel is that just because a kid is using crack and cocaine, it doesn't mean that he or she is a "loser." She says that's a common stereotype. It's not just a "ghetto drug," as some people call it, but it's quickly becoming a popular urban drug. That popularity is spreading into rural areas and mountain communities. She said any seemingly-normal teenager can fall prey to this monster.

"Chad had always been against drugs so I would have never suspected it," she said. ""Everything seemed to be perfect in his life. These kids using it aren't losers. They're kids that made a bad choice one day."

Toward the end, Johnson said her son started selling things to get drug money. He sold his motorcycle for half of its value in a state of desperation. She said he let the drug dealers use his truck and cell phone, offering this as some form of payment while he scrambled for money. Later, she would notice that his leather jacket was missing.

"The drug dealers were threatening him and he was paranoid that they were going to come mess with me," she said. Chad soon ran out of options in his own mind. "In a minute, he decided he would take care of it his own way. Deep down inside, particularly after re-reading a letter that he had written me where he said 'my motto has always been death before dishonor to my family name,' I really believe that Chad just had too much integrity to resort to dealing drugs as addicts oftentimes do as a last resort to support their habit."

Eagle County Sheriff's detectives ruled Chad's death a suicide. Johnson wants to do what she can to help other parents who may be experiencing the same thing she was. Perhaps they, too, don't know what they should be looking for or what they should do.

"Be really aware," she said. "Sometimes it's right under your nose and they become expert liars. I would have done anything to get him into rehabilitation. This would have given him time to make a rational decision about his future. If you see the signs, act fast. You don't want to wait until tomorrow. You have just got to do it; you don't want to end up like this. Trust me, it's a horrible thing."

Months after her son's body was found, Johnson discovered an old duffle bag in his closet. She was shocked by what was inside. It contained spoons. Some were charred on the bottom and others still had the remnants of a white, pasty mixture on them. There was a box of baking soda, lighters, pen barrels, and plastic baggies with little green playboy bunnies on them. A thin film of white powder remained inside of them. Johnson knows now what it was for. Some things-- like a mess of thin, copper wire, and brass-colored pieces of metal that look like parts to a pipe-she still wonders about.

Johnson hopes for better awareness about crack. It wasn't until after her son's death that she talked to several recovered addicts about what crack can do to a person.

"Crack is one of those dugs where, especially if you have an impulsive and addictive personality, you take it once and it will own you," she said. "I fee like Chad never had a chance. I so regret that something couldn't have stopped him that day, that someone couldn't have said something that would have made a difference. I wish it could have been me."

When Chad disappeared on November 10, no one knew that he had taken his own life. For seven agonizing months, his mother talked to countless friends (including other users) about where he might be. She sent a contact down to New Mexico several times, following a lead that someone had seen him. Johnson talked to hospitals, private detectives, and even homeless shelters. But she ran into red tape with the privacy laws and couldn't get any conclusive information one way or another. When his body was discovered by hikers, she was finally able to get answers about what had happened to him. But the answers as to why he felt there was no other choice but to take his own life, Johnson may never have.

"I just hope that no other parent has to go through this," she said. "The loss is one thing, but the guilt is something else. You try to protect your children and living with the guilt is really difficult and very painful."

Johnson has created a website that she hopes may help others ( There are pictures of Chad, links to Johnson's research on ADD and addiction, and her son's story. She tells it as best as she can, even though he's no longer around to answer so many of the questions she still has.

"Of course, everyone says that I couldn't have done anything differently," said Johnson, "but parents don't look at it like that. He was my baby."

Chad was cremated. It took months before Johnson could bring herself to pick up his ashes. Chad loved Jamaica. He only visited the island once but he loved the setting, the culture, and the people. His brother made it a point to travel there on a cruise to that he could spread part of his ashes in its waters.

"Right before I opened the urn, I could feel really strong goose bumps that started at my head and ran all the way down my back," said Brandon Kesler. "I had a brief chill and shook it out. It was beautiful that day, cloudy but the sun was just peeking through the clouds. As I opened the urn, a brief but strong breeze brushed my face, and another set of goose bumps ran through my body. I could feel energy impacting me. It was so strong and powerful that I could hardly breathe. I was shaking and almost dropped the urn overboard. But I held myself together and spread the ashes while silently honoring thoughts about Chad.

"As the ship moved further away from the island, I could see the exact spot where his ashes were spread. The patterns of water, in most areas, were pretty rough, but in the exact area where I spread them, it was actually calmer and the water was glassy. At that moment, sunrays that had just peeked through the clouds, directly spotlighted that precise spot on the sea. I could feel that Chad really appreciated my consideration and thanked me for visiting his ideal place. I shed some tears, and told myself that he's happier out there. I know his spirit will always be with us."

Crack Cocaine Addiction Back to Attention Deficit Disorder Leads to Addiction