Parents who lost son to drugs share insight with others Cockeysville couple turns tragedy into a crusade

September 30, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

In the years that he battled drug addiction -- before dying of an overdose at age 28 -- William Kimball Blake II turned his parents' Cockeysville apartment into a nightmare of disrupted lives.

He was so deeply addicted that he once called Baltimore County police to complain that his mother had confiscated some of his drugs. To support his habit, he pawned some of his parents' wedding presents, and stole money from them.

"I slept with my pocketbook strap wrapped around my ankle," recalls his mother, Renee Blake.

But she and her husband, Bill, have turned their tragedy into a crusade against a national scourge. At county libraries and in Towson's County Courts building, they have spoken to hundreds of children and parents about the dangers of drugs.

In some ways, they are the perfect ambassadors.

"We're not drug experts. We're just simple people," said Mr. Blake, 64.

The Blakes, after 36 years of marriage, want to help stanch the tide of illegal drugs in Maryland. As stories circulate about the recent overdose death of novelist Danielle Steel's teen-age son, and cheap heroin floods the state, the Blakes strive onward.

They hope to reach just one child, alert one parent -- and save one person from their and their son's sad fate. It makes them feel a little better, they say.

One night last week, at the Cockeysville library, they stood in a bare meeting room next to a poster-sized picture of their handsome, dark-haired son. Speaking to about two dozen parents and children, they detailed the pain they have suffered.

The Blakes, who have lived in the same Cockeysville apartment for 17 years, say they sought out the nice neighborhood and good schools. They didn't realize their son started smoking marijuana while in Cockeysville Middle School, and did little about it even after the habit grew at Dulaney High to include prescription drugs, cocaine and heroin.

But they had noticed signs of drug use: personality changes, irritability, skipping school.

"We were two dummies -- we're a part of all this," Mrs. Blake 58, told the group.

They didn't want neighbors and friends to know their son had a drug problem. "I lived in denial for a long time," Mr. Blake said. "I refused to believe it."

Their son's life became a jumble of stealing, profanity, all-night noise, lost jobs, wrecked cars and ruined potential.

It ended at 3 a.m. April 14, 1995, when Mr. Blake checked his son's room and found him dead.

Their son's death was one of 527 from drug overdoses in Maryland that year, according to Dr. John E. Smialek, chief state medical examiner. Last year, 519 people died from overdoses.

Michael M. Gimbel, director of the Baltimore County Bureau of Substance Abuse, said the Blakes are courageous for telling their story publicly, and applauds their membership in the county's Substance Abuse Advisory Council.

But if parents suspect that their child is experimenting with drugs, Gimbel advises a different approach than the Blakes took.

"They need to take action. Never accuse but confront the child with the evidence," such as lower grades, changed friends or a poor attitude, said Gimbel. "Make your values and expectations very clear to them," and get outside help right away if a problem exists.

The Blakes' son got no real treatment until he was 20, Mr. Blake said. He got clean for periods, but always relapsed.

That was the toughest thing for the Blakes to endure -- hopes dashed time and again.

Still, they couldn't bring themselves to put him out, even after their younger, drug-free son begged them to. Mrs. Blake said they loved William, and feared he would die in an alley, alone.

The Blakes' message is simple: It could happen to you, no matter how much love and attention you give your child.

Growing children, though, must take responsibility for the choices they make, the Blakes say. Parents aren't responsible for their children's choices and the secrets they keep. Parents don't deserve the blame.

At the end of the library session, one woman tells how she lost a son to an overdose. Another asks whether the Blakes' late son was anything like his drug-free brother when they were youngsters.

Neighbors Diane Wood and her daughter, Angie, 12, praise the Blakes' caring.

"They're wonderful people," said Wood. "They do for everybody."

Adds her daughter: "I talk to [Mrs. Blake] a lot." Angie is wearing a button-down shirt that Mrs. Blake gave her -- a shirt William Kimball Blake II once owned.

But, Angie adds, she knows someone at Cockeysville Middle who experiments with drugs -- someone who just won't listen to what Renee Blake has to say.

Pub Date: 9/30/97

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