September 14, 2007


Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen

 Part One of Three


"Hi, my name is Dane and I am a family member." That is what I would say every morning during my four day stay at Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota. If you have not heard of Hazelden then you probably are either very lucky or you have not had a family member or friend who has been touched by the curse of addiction.

Hazelden started in Center City, but now has locations in New York, Illinois, and Oregon. It is the most respected substance abuse rehab organization in the country. It is the model for most other treatment centers, including the Betty Ford Center. For over fifty years Hazelden has been helping patients and conducting research in the field of addiction recovery. Although Hazelden will never tell you who has been or is a patient, many famous, but addicted people have gone through their 28-day treatment program. This includes people like Mathew Perry, Kitty Dukakis, Erick Clapton, and Liza Minelli to name but a few. And now my daughter Adria has joined their ranks. People from 42 different countries have come to Hazelden for help. It ranks up there with the Mayo Clinic and this can be seen in that Hazelden has an accredited graduate program in addiction studies.

My stay was short; I was only there for their four day educational family program. My daughter was a resident for 28 days and is now in another Hazelden institution offering follow-up treatment.

I probably heard over 40 stories from the various family members in the family program I attended. They were all sad and very difficult for the family members to share, but most had one thing in common that our family story did not share. The commonality was the length of time. Most of these families had suffered the pain that comes from having a drunk or addict for years. In the case of one tearful husband, the problem had been going on for over thirty years before they did an intervention on his wife. Either knowingly or unknowingly these families were enablers that often found themselves making endless excuses, making up stories, covering up, avoiding conflict, and protecting their addicted loved one. In one family, the alcoholic father was a talented physician who could hold his family hostage by the fact that he made a fabulous income. Also, he was charming, clever and talented. So talented that his wife was told by an addiction expert that her husband was not an alcoholic and that she was being unreasonable. After twenty years his drinking finally over shadowed his ability to control his family.

In our family the drug addiction came down to months, instead of years. Acting is an important talent that addicts use to hide their love affair with a drug. Distance is another tool and one that our daughter used by chance. After graduating with honors from Saint Scholastica as a Webster Scholar, she was one of seven people picked for the graduate program at California State University/Northridge. Her first semester was 18 credits and she handled it easily. Then sometime around the end of March something happened. By April she had stopped coming to class and refused to answer the urgent emails from her professors and even from Dr. Adia Metzenberg, the head of the Genetic Counseling Graduate Program.

We are not sure what happened to cause our daughter to become a meth addict. Maybe depression. Maybe she was pressured by a boyfriend to try it. Maybe the pressure of graduate school was too much. We may never know. Meth is promoted by users to lose weight, to stay alert for days, to feel on top of the world. I have no doubt that is all very true the first time you use meth. What follows is tragic and debilitating.

Every state has drugs in our country. Every city has drugs, as we all know by first hand experience. California is one of those places where money grows on trees and drugs are as easy to get as oranges. One drug counselor told me that getting drugs in Mexico is as easy as buying an ugly hat. You can drive or walk into Tijuana from San Diego. The streets are lined with pharmacies on every block in the business district. For most items you don't need a prescription. People from all over the United States that have poor or no health care can buy medicine and save hundreds of dollars. The dark side of this is that many of these pharmacies have a doctor in the back where you can get a prescription for any narcotic you want. After paying a $50.00 doctor fee, you can then legally buy it for 50-80% less in Mexico and merrily go back to the United States. Homeland Security will wave you off with a smile. Mass smuggling of illegal drugs is huge from Mexico. Most of the meth in California comes from Mexico. Tunnels have even been found crossing the border.

My wife and I were unaware there was a problem until after Father's Day. Adria did not call. My wife called the college to check on her. Luckily, Dr. Metzenberg realized that the concern of a mother is more important than data privacy laws and told her that Adria had stopped going to her classes almost two months earlier. Our first reaction was dismay and shock. We wondered why Adria had not told either of her sisters or us. We knew our daughter was a perfectionist and could imagine how difficult it would be for her to admit she quit. Rather than jump on a plane we choose to discreetly find out more. We established that she was still renting a room in a Northridge home by the college. Our oldest daughter managed to talk to Adria a few days later. She reported to us that Adria sounded odd and was hard to understand, but talked like she was still in school. After that I called Adria's landlady and explained the situation. She did not know that Adria had dropped out of school. She did not see Adria much, but on the occasions when she did she hadn't noticed anything unusual. At our request she would try and check out Adria's room when the opportunity arose. About a week later, the landlady reported that there was nothing unusual in Adria's room. No sign of drugs.

We were still prepared to hop on a plane, but after the landlady's report and a few emails from Adria, we felt that she probably was okay. However, we were upset about the fact that she still was lying to us about grad school. We all kept talking or emailing to her and found nothing definitive. She did not answer most of the phone calls from Candy and I during this time.

On August 1, our oldest was planning to be married in Ely. As this date was quickly approaching we waited and hoped Adria would tell us what had caused her to drop out.

On July 29, she drove into town. It took only one look for each of us to realize she had a problem. First guesses were cocaine. It was at that time I had to try and educate myself on what would be the best course while at the same time trying to enjoy my daughter's wedding. In my next column I will talk about how hard it is to find help in Ely, Minnesota and why.


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