The Children of Drugs: Covering Up and Surviving

Note: This is Part Two of Chris Earl's special report on children who grew up with drug abuse in their homes. In September, Chris reached out to thousands of people through social media. A handful of people agreed to step out of the shadows and tell their stories, publicly.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The good news, in Iowa, is that the state's three million people do have a markedly lower percentage of illicit drug use.

The federal government's Iowa Drug Control Update reports 4% of Iowa residents reporting "illicit drug use" in the previous month of a 2010 survey with the national average at about 8%.

Yet, for the children who are in a home with illegal drug abuse, drug dealing and addiction, what steps can they take to survive and thrive? Who needs to make the first move - the child in the middle or the adults who may seen the child or teenager at school?

"I would say both," said Carol Meade of St. Luke's Child and Adolescent Programs in Cedar Rapids. "Many times we don't know about it until later because, many times, the kids are covering up for their parents."

Teachers and other responsible adults are often trained on what to look for.

"There are kids who will show various symptoms that things aren't right at home. Drug or alcohol abuse or other issues," said Meade. They come to school disshelved or maybe their grades start to drop. They kind of have a mask on in front of them. As adults, its our job to seek those kids out and be mentors for them.

Ray Acker, 27, of Marion, watched his teenage world crumble after a drug raid for meth in Quasqueton while he was a high school student at East Buchanan. All part of the different places he lived growing up.

"Quasqueton. Cedar Rapids. Marion."

Yet the drug bust in Quasqueton made him want to turn inward.

"My stepdad at the time got busted for meth then," said Acker. "I never actually saw them do drugs but, from the time I was little, I remember them pulling a tray out of the couch to finding that crushed up Ritalin when I was in middle school and it all came to a head from there."

Acker found himself having to "grow up early" as the adults in his life could not be counted on.

"I've always felt a lot more grown up than most people," said Acker. "I didn't go out and party all the time and I, definitely, don't think I had the adolescence that others had."

Once the cloud of being a teenager in a small town where a drug raid hovered over his life, Acker said he was able to develop some cornerstones and boundaries to avoid the same dark fate.

Even now.

"Especially with marijuana so prevalent and I see people doing it but I stay clear of it because I've seen something that doesn't seem that big of a deal to people," he said about marijuana being a "gateway drug" to other abuse. "I know where that leads in the end."

For any children of teenagers watching the adults in their world battling drug addiction, bridging the "trust gap" can be crucial.

"Find somebody you can confide in, you can trust it," said Acker. "That's one thing I always did. Whether a teacher or someone I'd seen and how they were and I wanted my life to end up like their life."

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports, from 2002 to 2007, 3% of children lived with a parent who was "dependent on or abused illicit drugs".

Meade also adds this is a real danger for teenagers entering the stage where depression and anxiety can easily overcome the mind.

"We know with kids and teen suicide is kids don't realize that their life experience is limited," said Meade. "You're 14 and you have 14 years of life experience and you don't realize when you get to a low, eventually you're going to come back up again. If you can't count on your parents or are in a similar state by using drugs and alcohol, it's hard to imagine the hope of getting out of that and the feeling of hopelessness."

On Wednesday night, we heard from two women who were addicted to drugs as children or teenagers. Both Jessica Stamper and Tara Henderson have been through the battles themselves. What would they recommend on getting help?

JESSICA: Get a support system going. Friends, Al-Anon. Kids don't really know about addiction. They just got into it. I didn't even have my family because I had to lie all the time. I was all alone.

TARA: A lot of prayer. A lot of counseling. I went through the counseling and knowing that my grandpa was a minister and knowing his word that God wasn't going to put more on you than you can bear. I held onto that. I had to believe there's something out there for me.

Both women also mentioned their lowest points while in the grips as teenagers.

TARA: I had no one to turn to. Me and my sisters were split apart. I didn't have anyone and I didn't know where they were at. I didn't know why God even wanted me here.

JESSICA: I've been homeless. I've been without food. I've been unable to pay my rent. There were many, many times that I wanted to give up but I didn't.

We reached out to 13,000 people in September for their experiences. Here are some of the other replies and messages that came in from people who asked not to be identified:

T.C.: I've been there addicted now to give back I mentor people who want to change. I often hear people speak negatively on anyone who had ever made a mistake related to drugs. Hoping this story opens just one person's eyes.

C.G.: Many of these kids are raised by parents who aren't addicts. I would also like to see more focus placed on the DISEASE of addiction. Addiction is never a choice. The individual may choose to use that first time, but if their brain is wired a certain way, or they have a predisposition for it, that is when the disease takes hold. I'm the parent of a 19 year old who began using as a young teen. The disease took over early on and had it not been for great treatment options, I believe he would not be with us today. He is healthy, happy, and clean now. Raising awareness of the actual disease is what people need to learn. There is too much stigma associated with addiction, but it should be treated like any other life-threatening illness.

J.D.: My husband and I both come from what we will call "broken" homes. Drugs, alcohol, abuse both physical, emotional and sexual. Somehow we found each other (a true fairy tale) and have our own children now and have fought HARD to give them EVERYTHING. We're far from perfect. FAR from it. But yes. These trials and tribulations we face every day have indeed affected us.

K.T.: I admire this story of drugs in homes is being told. Many people only know the "facts" based on what supposed studies have found with the use of drugs. I had gone through an addiction in my adolescence and since have turned my life around. There are many people here in Dubuque who have gone through this and would probably love to tell there story.

E.W.: I was adopted and put into foster care for it. Lived with it for the first 4 years of my life...but knowing that i was given up for drugs has hurt me deeply

The National Alliance For Drug Endangered Children offers a checklist on "what to look for" when anyone suspects a drug in such a situation.

- Evidence of physical, sexual or mental abuse of children.
- A child's appearance, including poor hygiene, dental issues or insufficient clothing.
- Drugs or drug paraphernalia
- Weapons, chemicals or strong odors.
- Overall poor home conditions.
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