Teens and Drugs: One Mother's Story

COMMENT

April 23, 1995|By BRIAN SULLAM

When Kathy Reed sees how this county is dealing with teen-age drug and alcohol abuse, she despairs.

The mother of three grown children, she knows that locking up drug users isn't the solution. If jail time ended drug abuse, Robert, her 26-year-old son, would be drug-free and a model citizen.

Instead, he is awaiting trial at the Carroll County Detention Center on theft charges.

Mrs. Reed said that she knows that her son will return to drugs as soon as he is released from prison.

"He prefers drugs over everything else in life -- family, girlfriend or job," Mrs. Reed said. "It is a terrible waste. He has allowed drugs to control him."

We are sitting at a back table of the Smokehouse, a cozy little restaurant in Greenmount. Mrs. Reed is a regular. Before she goes to work in Hampstead as a legal secretary, she drops by to drink coffee, smoke a few cigarettes and visit with the waitresses and other customers.

"I am afraid that people in this county are 20 years behind the times. They are going through a great deal of denial -- just like I did," Mrs. Reed said.

A fiftyish woman with neatly coiffed blond hair, Mrs. Reed would melt into a crowd of middle-aged county residents. She grew up in Carroll County, got married and raised three children: two daughters and her son. She works hard, loves her six grandchildren and worries about the teen-agers she sees hanging out in parking lots.

Fourteen years ago, Mrs. Reed said, she deliberately ignored signs of trouble developing in her own house. Her son was skipping school, hanging out with older boys, leaving the house at the middle of the night and exhibiting behaviors she hadn't seen in her daughters.

Her son started using every drug he came in contact with -- heroin, cocaine, PCP, marijuana, downers and uppers. To finance his habit, he took money out his father's wallet, forged checks and stole household items.

He would run away from home and live off the streets. He and others broke into homes and churches around Manchester. He got a juvenile record and spent time in the Hickey School. But that stint in juvenile detention didn't reform him.

He dropped out of school at the age of 16. Mrs. Reed and her husband sent him to a drug rehabilitation program at Taylor Manor. As soon as he was out, he began to associate with the same drug crowd that introduced him to the life several years earlier.

His drug use began taking an emotional toll on the other members of the household. There was constant tension. Feeling powerless to deal with situation, Mrs. Reed lashed out at her husband. He did the same to her.

"One day, I decided I wasn't going to be miserable any longer. I have a wonderful husband. I wanted to live and enjoy life. I realized that I didn't have to live like this," she said.

She issued an ultimatum to her son: Get off drugs or get out of the house.

He chose drugs.

She threw him out of the house.

"If you have a drug addict in the house, the person is sick. He makes everyone else in the house sick as well," Mrs. Reed said.

Attending meetings and talking with counselors and parents of drug users helped give her the perspective to do what she did, she said.

"Parents have rights. I told him that if he wanted to live with drugs, I didn't want him in my life," she said. "I still have a lot of love in my heart for him, but my trust is totally gone. I am tired of hearing his lies. I don't believe his promises to quit drugs. I would love to see it, but I don't think it will happen in my lifetime."

She talks wistfully about her son's wasted artistic talent. When he was in grade school, he would draw her gorgeous Christmas and birthday cards decorated with owls, her favorite bird. He loved to sketch buildings. His ambition was to become an architect, but she knows that dream will never be fulfilled.

Mrs. Reed has become an informal counselor to others trying to cope with drug abuse. She tries to support parents who are dealing with children who are using drugs. She also makes her home and time available to children who feel that they can't talk openly with their parents about the situation.

"I am willing to listen. I want parents to know that they are not alone, but I am not going to be sympathetic. I am very frank. If these kids have a drug problem, I tell them to do something about it," she said.

Talking with troubled children and their parents helps Mrs. Reed deal with her own feelings about her son. "It has made me a stronger and better person."

If this county is to overcome teen drug and alcohol abuse, Mrs. Reed believes, parents must become more aggressive, even confrontational with their children.

"There is a lot of peer pressure to use drugs. But peer pressure shouldn't be an excuse that allows parents to cop out. Parents have to be strong and confront their children," she said. "They can't leave it to others."

Mrs. Reed thinks too many parents, especially in the countryside, refuse to acknowledge that their children are using drugs. She sees kids on the streets of Hampstead and Manchester who are headed toward the same fate as her son.

"I just want people to wake up," Mrs. Reed said. "If what I have said scares them, I will have accomplished something."

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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