by Stacia Friedman
If you believe heroin is another community’s problem, you haven’t been paying attention. On Sept. 17, Thomas Reynolds, 27, died of an apparent overdose in a bathroom at the Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy. The national opiate epidemic now has a local face. But the problem isn’t new.
“My son started using drugs at the age of 13 the Water Tower,” said Lori Quintavalle, 60, a Chestnut Hill resident for the past 24 years. “First it was pot and beer, but it moved very quickly to pills, PCP and heroin. He was a good kid. He attended Jenks and Norwood Fontbonne Academy. We were good parents.”
Quintavalle’s son received court-ordered treatment at 19 and 10 rehabs later, at 25, he was in “recovery.” The revolving door of rehab is par for the course. Research has shown that individuals who are actively engaged in a solid recovery program for three consecutive years have a 14% recidivism rate. Which means, once recovery starts, it never ends. Not just for the individual suffering from addiction but for his/her family as well.
Quintavalle stresses the importance of parents joining support groups. There are several AlAnon groups in Chestnut Hill and another support group for parents that meets at Caron Treatment Center in Plymouth Meeting on Monday and Thursday nights.
“You don’t have to go through this alone,” said Quintavalle. “There are terrific resources in our community, including therapists who specialize in teen substance abuse. There’s also www.Conversation.Zone. You’ll find everything you need on the site, where to find support groups and how to tell if your child is using drugs.”
Quintavalle is on the board of Interim House, Inc. (IHI), 333 W. Upsal St. in Mt. Airy, one of the first holistic substance use programs exclusively for women. “I became involved with Interim House in 2012,” she said. “The Christmas holidays can be a very lonely and painful time for mothers like me whose children may be living on the streets or in rehab.”
Quintavalle organized what was supposed to be a one-time event that has turned into a bi-weekly support group for a dozen mothers from across the region and nearly all of the 25 Interim House residents. “We call ourselves Mama Bears because at the first event I distributed little teddy bears. We share food, stories and hope.
“Many of our residents do not realize the impact their addiction has had on their own parents. Hearing stories from parents who have lost their children to addiction gives them a greater understanding and more incentive to achieve their own recovery,” said Kathy Wellbank, director of IHI for 23 years and a Chestnut Hill resident for 22 years. “Our mission is to empower women to recover from drug and alcohol addiction, pursue healthy life styles and find purpose and meaning in their lives.”
When Wellbank joined IHI, residents were primarily dealing with addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine. “Now heroin and opiates are the addictions of the white suburbs, including doctors, lawyers and kids,” she said. “When I was 25, I worked for the city and managed my stress by drinking after work every day. I hid it from my family. My parents missed all the signs. I’ve been in recovery from alcoholism for 31 years.”
While the majority of IHI residents are on medical assistance, Wellbank pointed out that several have come from affluent Chestnut Hill families who had spent hundreds of thousands on the revolving rehab door. “It only takes two DUIs for a felony conviction to result in court-ordered treatment on medical assistance,” she said. “We offer five levels of treatment from residential to out-patient.”
Now about those DUIs. Many SUVs and luxury vehicles speeding around Chestnut Hill are driven by teens under the influence. “If your child has an auto accident that causes a fatality or serious injury, basically their life is over.” Quintavalle recommends taking the car keys if you suspect your child abuses drugs or alcohol. “It’s the only control a parent has. No keys. No car,” she said.
While most Baby Boomers tried marijuana without experiencing addiction problems, Wellbank said they need to understand that the marijuana of the Woodstock Generation isn’t what’s on the streets today. In the 1960s, marijuana contained only 5% THC. Today, it contains 40%. That greatly increases the risk of addiction, hallucinations and disrupting brain chemistry.
According to Chestnut Hill therapist Jake Neff, LCSW, MSS, it’s when drug experimentation escalates from alcohol and pot to pills that teens get into serious trouble. “There’s not much difference between an opiate pill habit and a heroin habit in terms of what it does to the brain. The big difference is the uncertainty of what exactly you are getting with heroin, which often results in fatal overdoses,” said Neff, who specializes in teen and young adult substance abuse. “Heroin has a stigma that Percocet, OxyContin, Vicodin and other opioids don’t have. Teens aren’t as afraid of pills; they often think it’s just another high.”
“There are families in Chestnut Hill that are suffering in silence,” said Quintavalle, “Parents don’t know where to go because they’re ashamed. I want to reduce the stigma and encourage them to join a support group.”
Interim House welcomes charitable donations as well as donations of products needed by its female residents — shampoos, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, hair products, toiletries, etc.
For more information: LWQ224@gmail.com or 215-849-4606.