Lafayette psychologist Tim Browne led an open forum at on teen drug abuse that brought a former user and concerned parents face to face with each other and reality Monday.
Kyle Rooks, 18, told his story to a rapt audience including approximately 70 parents, educators, Moraga and during a forum entitled "Close to Home: The Effect of Drugs on Lamorinda."
“I had a good family,” Rooks began, “but there was always an underlying feeling that I hated myself.”
He started with alcohol, but didn’t like the taste and rapidly moved from drinking to marijuana.
“I loved it and people wanted to be my friend, but really, they just wanted to get what I had. I never gave it to them; I was too selfish,” he admitted.
Soon, no longer able to get high, he escalated to harder drugs. His parents caught him and grounded him. He went online to learn which drugs didn’t show up on blood tests and switched to them.
“I was a very good liar. I was 16 and I’d tried every drug there was. I was too scared to try a day sober. It wasn’t a hobby anymore: it was a necessity,” Rooks said.
One night, for reasons he can’t explain, he confessed it all to his girlfriend: the lying, the daily use of Oxycontin, the thoughts of suicide, the voices he was hearing.
“For me, the only options were go to jail, die, or get sober,” he told the audience bluntly.
His parents put him in treatment in Orange County and Rooks stated firmly that without those 45 days, he would still be in trouble.
Dispelling a myth, he said it was not peer pressure that drove him to substance abuse: it was loneliness and boredom.
“People will tell you everyone my age parties,” he told the audience, “but that’s not true. But I do know people today who are living on the streets, some even dead. That’s really what happens with this.”
Rooks spends as much time as possible helping other addicts recover and finished his story, saying “My worst day sober is better than any of my best days loaded.”
Mark Bellingham spoke in the absence of his son, David, telling the audience that his boy was currently in a 15-month drug rehab program in Florida.
Seated next to Bellingham, David’s twin brother, Peter, waited to share a sibling’s perspective.
“At the beginning of David’s junior year at Campolindo, I heard he was smoking pot,” Bellingham said.
He issued restrictions, started drug testing, then relaxed when his son passed the tests. Soon enough, he found out his son had not stopped, but was injecting Oxycontin.
Hospitalized, it took five days for David to pull through the drug’s withdrawal symptoms.
“These drugs are no respecter of anything; not class, not race, not anything. I never dreamed I would find a stack of needles and my kid was sticking them in his arm. That’s why I left San Francisco, but it’s worse here. So, watch your kids,” he warned the assembled parents.
Peter urged parents to pay attention to personality changes. He said his brother stopped eating, stopped friendships, stopped activities. He couldn’t explain why he himself didn’t get involved, except to say he was too busy with other activities.
Chief Priebe made a brief, impassioned plea to the audience:
“This is real, and what they are talking about is absolutely the case in this community. Listen to your kids and what they say about what’s going on. It’s here. We had an arrest this weekend: a guy with 174 syringes in his car. He was here to get drugs to people in this community.”
Between the testimonials of Rooks and Bellingham, Browne offered his professional perspective on the escalating drug problem in Lamorinda.
His advice to parents was two-fold: get involved and stay involved with your kids, and educate yourself about today’s drugs.
Points stressed in his presentation:
- The national average for starting drug experimentation is age 13.
- By the end of eighth grade, 19 percent have tried drugs, 38 percent have tried alcohol.
- Alcohol kills 6.5 times more kids than all other illicit drugs combined.
- Gateway, or entry, drugs used to be cigarettes marijuana and alcohol. Now, inhalants and prescription drugs have been added and marijuana has changed. “People have figured out how to make more potent variations,” Browne said.
- Teens say stress is the No. 1 reason for their substance abuse, not peer pressure.
Browne showed a photograph of a red sports car wrapped around a pole.
“It’s an overdose: it’s not funny. It’s not a right of passage,” he insisted, telling the audience he would post all of his notes, too many to cover in the time allotted, on his website.
Audience questions and advice from the panel and a San Ramon doctor who attended, reinforced the two most effective means—attention and awareness—for parents to combat substance abuse.
“Show more interest, compliment them,” Rooks said. “Get educated.”
“Everyone has alcohol in their house: kids just pour it in a water bottle. Count your beers, check your cooking sherry. Sleepovers are a big one: be cautious about those,” a parent warned.
“If kids are drinking in middle school, they’re getting it from your cupboard,” another adult called out.
“Turn in your unused prescription drugs at the police station,” Chief Priebe volunteered.
“Don’t get into that 'all my friends are doing it' argument with your teen. Say it’s not OK with you. Make it clear what your rules are,” Browne advised.
Peter had suggestions for kids who feel pressured to take drugs: “Blame it on your parents; say they’ll send you away to (a boarding school), or use health problems as a reason.”
The psychologist and parents of both of the boys whose stories were told at the forum said honesty and professional help were the best tools for parents who pay attention and recognize the real and present dangers of teenage substance abuse.