April 19, 2019
by Kari Kilroy
I thought our family had hit rock-bottom in late 2015 when our 16-year-old son attempted suicide by overdosing. He was hospitalized for 3 days in a locked psychiatric facility (per Colorado law). We were able to visit him once a day, in the evenings. We emptied our pockets and surrendered our cells phones, then lined up with the other parents to sit against a wall in a gym for an hour while our son begged and berated us to get him out.
Our older daughter moved out of our house to live with my mother so she could concentrate on finishing her senior year of high school. That broke my heart almost more than anything else that had happened so far. That I couldn’t provide a safe, calm home for my child was almost too much to bear.
Our son attempted again on Christmas Eve 2016. We didn’t hospitalize him that time. But we did learn that in addition to high-potency cannabis, he was also using Xanax, Dilaudid, Oxy, and smoking heroin and meth. Basically, he used anything he could get his hands on.
In January 2017, he got into a physical altercation with another boy and the police got involved, with the city pressing charges. It was around that time that I learned about an outpatient drug treatment program for kids ages 11-24. Substance Abuse Treatment Education & Prevention (STEP) is located at Denver Health. We set up monthly appointments with psychiatrist Dr. Chris Thurstone and weekly visits with an addictions counselor. It was a 4-hour round trip from our home (including the visit), and I work full-time, but it was the only thing I could find for an addict under age 18. Luckily, my job was very understanding and I was able to schedule early-morning or late-afternoon appointments so I would have time to get back to work or start at work and then leave mid-day. Those were exhausting days.
A few months after starting with the STEP program, we learned that our son’s girlfriend, who is also an addict, was pregnant; she chose to have an abortion and that situation steepened our son’s downhill decline. He attempted suicide again (by hanging) and was discovered unresponsive by my mother and sister-in-law. This time he was hospitalized in a facility three hours from our home (so visiting him was a 7-hour round trip). He was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Opioid Use Disorder Severe, and Polysubstance Abuse.
After the 3-day mandatory stay, he was released to us despite recommendations from the facility physician and Dr. Thurstone that he go into an inpatient drug rehab facility (a door-to-door transfer). But there were no facilities with available beds in a 300-mile radius taking underage kids (including the facility where he was hospitalized) so we had no choice but to take him home.
With help from my mother, I searched for local outpatient counseling options and found only a handful in our area, and the ones that accepted my insurance only take patients 18 or older. So I continued driving him to Denver. My mother drove him for some of the weekly appointments, but long drives hurt her knees. My husband was too angry to be alone in the car with our son for that extended period of time; I was sincerely fearful of what might happen.
On June 5, 2017, the day of his 18th birthday, our son completely destroyed his bedroom including the furniture and walls. We discovered the completely trashed room when we came home from work and that was the final straw for me. He wasn’t there so I messaged him that because of what he had done, he could not live at home anymore. He couch-surfed and lived on the streets for most of that summer until both he and his girlfriend moved in with her mother (in a different town). That lasted until the girlfriend’s mother started using meth (again). Then they moved in with her father in Pueblo, CO (also known as the Napa Valley of pot).
Our son’s girlfriend turned 18 in December 2017 and gained access to some government money so they moved out of her father’s house and came back to our town where they stayed in a motel until my mother took pity on them and, against my advice, let them live with her. Less than a month later, she discovered them in her guest room passed out with a needle – they were both injecting heroin.
Between all of this were court dates for the January 2017 fighting incident. The judge was lenient with our son as long as he was trying to get better (in counseling or rehab). And even though our son was now a legal adult, since the incident happened before he turned 18, the judge required that my husband and I attend all court hearings (which meant more time away from work). Once our son moved in with my mother, he also required her to attend court.
February 5, 2018 our son was admitted to West Pines Behavioral Health in Westminster (Denver). He lasted until February 12 when he was kicked out for sharing his medication with another patient. Now that he was 18, I was pretty quickly able to find another rehab facility that would take him (NorthStar in Boulder, CO) but he refused to go. He and his girlfriend lived with her sister until she kicked them out for stealing from her.
My husband and I went away during Spring Break that March. A trip we used to help repair our marriage, which had gotten so shaky that both of us were thinking of moving out. Since 2012 we had been battling the addiction that had taken over our son, our home, and our family. We blamed each other – I was too soft, he was too hard. We were lonely and miserable. We visited my sister in Madison, Wisconsin (but stayed in a hotel) and we had a lovely time. We were cautiously making our way back to each other.
But when we returned, we found that our son and his girlfriend had broken into our home and stolen several items, including a crystal bowl that had been a wedding gift and a ring that had been my grandmother’s. They also took and forged checks totaling $800 (the checks were made out to and cashed by the girlfriend). We are still to this day discovering things they took. Every time my husband goes to do a home project he finds that a tool he needs is gone, further fueling his anger.
By this time the prosecutor decided that our son had had enough chances and the judge set a trial date for May 15, 2018. When the date came, our son didn’t show up and it subsequently was discovered that the county had a felony warrant out for his arrest. It seems my son and his girlfriend, besides breaking into our house, had robbed a 7-11 at gunpoint. My son claims the gun wasn’t loaded, and I really hope that is true, but it probably doesn’t matter much to the clerk who had a gun in his face.
Our son served 5 months in the county jail. We refused to bail him out. I knew that doing so would mean his death, or worse, someone else would get very hurt. He was eventually sentenced to 7 years in ComCor, which is an organization the state of Colorado contracts with to provide housing, rehab, and other treatment services for convicted felons. It’s used as an alternative to prison and/or as a halfway placement between prison and full release. My beautiful boy has been given a last chance before doing hard time. As I write this, he is finishing the 2nd month of a 90-day intensive residential treatment program.
From a promising start of testing in the 99th percentile and at least 3 grade levels above, we are now just happy that our son is still alive and off the streets. If he finishes the IRT program, he’ll be transferred to a work-release unit to complete his 7-year sentence. If he messes up by using drugs or running, he’ll spend those years in a Colorado State prison. This June 2019, he’ll celebrate his 20th birthday locked up with other felons.
Our son has seen three different psychiatrists, two addictions counselors, and two “regular” counselors. He’s been hospitalized twice and in an inpatient rehab program once. We’ve tried countless medications including Ritalin, Lexapro, Concerta, Trazadone, Wellbutrin, Atarax, Buspar, and Suboxone. He’s now a ward of the state. And all of this began with marijuana legalization in Colorado so that “responsible adults could use responsibly”.
My son said to me that he probably wouldn’t be here (in jail, addicted to heroin and meth) if he hadn’t started using marijuana.