SOBERING SITUATION: Drug use in Montcalm County spans generations

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 11:50 am on Friday, December 27, 2013

These days, it’s strictly club soda for Bob, who managed to exorcise his drug and alcohol demons after decades of abuse.

Bob was introduced to the drug culture at age 11; the person making that introduction was his father, a hardcore alcoholic and marijuana user.

A typical Friday night saw Bob’s rural Montcalm County home filled with his father’s friends — his mother had left years earlier — playing cards, drinking, smoking pot. Many of them would still be there Saturday morning, passed out on the sofa or living room floor. When they came to, Bob says, the party would start again.

At these “parties,” Bob’s father would insist the boy drink shots of whiskey and smoke — cigarettes and joints. It was funny to see a young kid get high, he thought.


Hooked at an early age

By the time Bob entered high school, he, like his old man, was an alcoholic with a serious drug monkey on his back. By then, he’d moved on from pot; his drug of choice was now crack, but he wasn’t averse to heroin, cocaine, speed and hallucinogens such as LSD.

Not surprisingly, he flunked out of school in his junior year. He simply quit going. No one seemed to care, or even notice. Bob worked a string of contracting jobs, picking up skills as he went along. None lasted long; he’d start out OK, but within a few weeks or months, he’d go on a bender, miss too much work and wind up unemployed again.

Eventually, Bob started finding his own work as an independent contractor, though — because of his drug and alcohol dependency — jobs tended to be sporadic. By the time Bob reached his early 30s, the only thing he had going for him was an innate ability to play piano. It was the 1980s, and work with area bands was plentiful. Bob performed regularly with some of the area’s best groups.

But again, even in the drug culture of the ‘80s bar scene, Bob’s use was considered excessive; his talent would land him gigs with bands, his drug use would lose them again.

“I had a lot of chances to make a good living playing,” Bob said. “But I screwed most of them up. I’d show up at the bar too stoned to play. One night I just walked off stage and left in the middle of the show; I thought we were done for the night, but we’d only played three or four songs. Half the time I barely knew where I was.”

All the booze and drugs were wrecking Bob’s health and eventually his weeklong bouts were landing him in the emergency room. He made half-hearted attempts at rehab, but never made it to more than a meeting or two before falling back into his old habits.

“I was around all these other people partying and doing drugs,” Bob said. “I’d try to get clean, but it was impossible. Somebody would ask if I wanted to go out into the parking lot and get high and I’d go. It was all part of the lifestyle.”


Near death experience

It took a near miss with death to wake him up. A hard partying night of whiskey and heroin stopped Bob’s heart and earned him a weeklong stint in the hospital. When he came to, he knew it was time to make some hard choices.

Even then, it was touch and go. He tried Alcoholics Anonymous, but wound up backsliding after a few meetings. But unlike in the past, he kept trying to clean up his act.

Finally, he realized he’d never be able to kick his habits while hanging around people who were still drinking and doing drugs regularly. Bob sold most of his possessions and moved to another state, where he checked into a highly regarded rehabilitation center.

“I won’t lie, it was hell,” Bob said. “I thought I was going to die. I wanted to die. I really didn’t think I was going to make it.”

He did. It took a while, but Bob not only got himself clean, he started volunteering at the rehab center, helping others who were going through similar problems with withdrawal. It was this mentoring, as much as anything, that propelled Bob into a new, drug-free life.

It has been over 20 years and Bob hasn’t backslid yet. These days, he runs a successful recording studio in another state, where he lives with his wife and two children.

For every success story, though, Bob says there are countless tales whose endings are far less happy.

“Drugs can really (mess) up your life,” Bob said. “I look at it now and … those were just wasted years, those drug years. I’m lucky to have come out of it and made a good life.”


Judge sees abuse in her courtroom

Though the ‘80s are now only a big-haired memory, drug use remains prevalent in Ionia and Montcalm counties. The drugs of choice have changed somewhat over the years — according to 8th Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger, prescription medications, heroin and methamphetamine are popular locally — but their usage is still strong across all age groups.

“The prescription medication is all over the board in terms of ages,” Kreeger said. “For the most part heroin is 17 years old to 30 years old. Meth doesn’t really seem to have a specific age, nor does methadone. Heroin has come into the area in the last two to three years and we are seeing an increase in its use. It was not a problem prior to that. (We have seen) very limited cocaine and crack cocaine use over the last five years.”

Kreeger attributes drug abuse to many factors, not the least of which — as would be no surprise to Bob — is family disfunction and a familial pattern of drug use. Economically disadvantaged families tend to see the highest incidence of drug abuse, she said, but abuse certainly is not limited to poorer families.

Many addicts develop their habit “legitimately,” while recovering from some sort of injury or illness. Hence the rise in prescription drug abuse.

Given the history of the “war” on drugs, however, it seems apparent that something more must be done with these users other than simply locking them away. The establishment of “drug courts,” such as the one in Ionia and Montcalm counties, provide not only incarceration, but treatment options for drug and alcohol abuse.


Drug courts offer offenders a chance

According to Bonnie Steed, the Montcalm County ADTC (Adult Drug Treatment Court) probation officer, drug courts may give some addicts a fighting chance at getting their lives back.

“We are optimistic that drug courts combining accountability and treatment will have lasting results,” Steed said. “Public awareness, education and community support and involvement are equally important in realizing long-term, lasting solutions because in the final analysis, it is people working together who can make a difference.”

These drug courts incorporate inpatient and outpatient treatment, Steed added, and work in tandem with agencies such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.

For area addicts who want it, help is available. A list of local support groups is published in The Daily News every Monday.


Editor’s note: Bob is a fictitious name as he preferred to remain anonymous in telling his story.

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