CN BC: When Heroin Hits Home

Media Awareness ProjectPubdate: Fri, 16 Jun 2000. Vancouver Sun (CN BC)CN BC: When Heroin Hits HomeAuthor: Rebecca Wigod

WHEN HEROIN HITS HOMETwo couples have responded to their sons’ addictions by championing the expansion of prevention, treatment and recovery facilities in B.C. If personal grief brought them to their cause, they brought to it professional abilities and connections.Rob and Susie Ruttan and Ray and Nichola Hall long ago set aside feelings of shame and failure over their sons’ addiction to heroin. Hammering their grief into action, the two Kerrisdale couples have emerged as crusaders for more treatment programs for drug- addicted youth.B.C.’s failure to provide long-term residential treatment for young people is a disgrace, they say.

The Ruttan’s son, now 18, languished for months on a waiting list in B.C.

Rob, A Crown prosecutor, and Susie, a former teacher, watched in horror as the boy – the grandson of a B.C. Supreme Court judge – sank from smoking heroin to shooting it to injecting heroin and cocaine twice a day.

While waiting for treatment that never materialized, he also contracted hepatitis C.

“When I heard [he had hepatitis C], I was just overcome with grief and rage against my government for not giving my son this essential health service,” Rob said.

There are only three residential treatment centres for drug-addicted youth in B.C., and one – the only one exclusively for adolescent girls – is closing because its funding has been cut.

The Ruttans finally got their son to Ontario and a treatment program called Portage, where he received 24-hour professional care for seven months.

“It saved his life,” said Rob.

But when their son came back to B.C., he couldn’t get much in the way of after-care.

“After two months or so, he had a relapse,” Rob said. “We managed to get him back to Portage for a cleanup week, and since then he’s had a series of relapses and clean stretches as he struggles.”

Rob believes it’s scandalous that in B.C. – which has the worst drug problem in the country – addicted young people have to go out of province for care.

He, Susie and the Halls also say it is time drug addiction was recognized as a health problem that can hit people in every socio-economic group – even the children of loving, attentive parents.

The Halls’ sons had easy access to marijuana at the elementary school they attended in a leafy neighbourhood where, as Susie puts it, every family has a golden retriever and drives a Dodge Caravan.

Twelve is the average age at which B.C. kids first try marijuana, according to the Kaiser Youth Foundation. In the last five years, marijuana use has doubled among B.C.’s 13-year-olds, according to the McCreary Centre Society’s 1998-99 adolescent health survey.

Marijuana doesn’t always lead to heroin, but it did for the Halls’ two sons, now 19 and 23.

Growing up, they were risk-takers by nature. They smoked marijuana as young teenagers and were persuaded by friends to try heroin.

Somehow, they crossed the boundary between what is safe and what is dangerous. They haven’t yet been able to get back.

Nichola, who works at the University of B.C., said her older son is in a methadone program for the second time.

“Relapse is part of recovery ,” she said. “This is something our treatment centres have yet to learn. They kick people out the minute they show any signs [of relapsing].”

Ray, a filmmaker and University of B.C. emeritus professor of theatre, film and creative writing, excused himself from his family’s kitchen table to take a phone call from his older son, who was at work and couldn’t pick up his methadone.

Ray spoke to him with concern ending their conversation with the words, “I love you.”

The Halls have reached an understanding of addiction. Because they know it is a kind of sickness, they are understanding and supportive of their sons in situations where others might just get mad.

For example, they have learned to lock their money and valuables in their bedroom. Even so, their sons have broken the door down when desperate for money to feed their addictions.

Leveraging their position as solid, respectable citizens, the Ruttans and Halls have formed a pressure group called From Grief to Action.

“We realized we had some credibility with politicians and the public that people on the Downtown Eastside don’t have,” Nichola said.

About 160 parents of young drug users packed St. Mary’s Anglican church in Kerrisdale when From Grief to Action held its first public meeting last month.

They have received masses of e-mail from anguished parents of middle-class kids with drug problems.

Susie, who answers it, said, “Every day, I get another e-mail with a story chillingly similar to ours.”

From Grief to Action has joined forces with other groups pressing for a more extensive network of prevention, detox treatment and recovery facilities in B.C.

The Ruttans and Halls have also come to appreciate activists who are arguing for controversial harm-reduction measures such as safe injection sites.

“We pray every day that our son won’t use,” said Rob. “But if he does use, we don’t want him dying in an alley.

“He has hep-C. We don’t want him to get HIV. We don’t want him to die of an overdose.”

MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart

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