David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | david@davidaltshuler.com

Refer Madness?

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When a poor child is abused, the neighbors hear about it; the walls are thin, the community small. When a wealthy child is abused, the neighbors don't know because their houses are too far apart.

There are those who suggest that there is a qualitative difference between the kind of abuse that goes on--deprivation in one neighborhood, neglect in another. I am less sure.

It has often been remarked that when poor people use a form of cocaine called crack, they go to jail but that when wealthy people use cocaine they go to community service.

Today's conversation involves what drug addiction--which is linked to child abuse in many ways--looks like across income classes. See if you can perceive any similarities between the narratives of those of disparate social status. I can discern a difference between where the stories start out--large house in the suburbs versus small apartment in the inner city--but there appears to be no difference in where the victims end up.

When a poor kid gets into drugs, it's easy to point a finger, find fault. "He had no role models;" "the drugs were readily available;" "drug education is lacking." These "reasons" may be as sketchy as they are incomplete.

Contrast your inferences about children about whom you have no direct experience with the following narrative that I have heard repeatedly for the past 30 years: "My child just smokes a little pot. What's wrong with that? Everyone smokes pot. Everyone knows marijuana is not addictive. Everyone knows marijuana is not a gateway drug. Sure, some people go on to harder drugs after starting with marijuana, but most don't. Those people who steal to get high are from bad neighborhoods. Those people should go to jail. But we're different. Sure, my daughter took money from my wallet and jewelry from her grandmother but we did not prosecute. My daughter can't go to jail. What kind of people do you think we are? We couldn't let our daughter get lost in the legal system. So then when my daughter stole an iPad from a classmate, we hired a great criminal defense attorney. My child did not spend one minute in jail. Now we're working to have the record expunged."

With the passage of time and without intervention, the story of this unfortunate family continues. "I can't imagine how my daughter ended up living with that mid-level drug dealer. She's pregnant. Again. It's likely that this baby will be developmentally delayed as well. The other child is 18 months old now, but he hasn't spoken a word and he shows no sign of walking. The pediatrician said that the alcohol, marijuana, and oxycontin that my daughter took when she was pregnant may have something to do with our grandchild's difficulties. And our daughter is unable or unwilling to stop using prescription painkillers with this pregnancy either."

"If the boyfriend is arrested again--he makes his living stealing prescription drugs and selling them--how will she support the babies? How did we get to this horrible place? When our daughter was in high school, whenever we smoked marijuana with her, we told her to only do it in moderation like we do."

At the risk of overstating the obvious, here is where these parents went horribly wrong. "Do as I say, not as I do" never works. If you use, chances are your kids will too. Don't even tell me that your kids don't know about your stash of marijuana or the painkillers you've been using. By the time your kids hit middle school, they know.

What should these parents have done differently? For starters, they should have stood up earlier. They should have allowed their daughter to deal with the consequences of her incipient addiction early on, before her substance abuse took on a life of its own and morphed into full blown chemical dependency. "The best way to stop is not to start." It's hard for these parents to withdraw support now; the pattern of enabling is too ingrained. When the boyfriend goes to jail, how will their daughter and the grandchild survive? It would have been easier to communicate the lessons earlier on; now it may be too late.

Many of my gentle readers have pointed out that my anti-drug screeds lack universal validity. "Medical marijuana is helpful for cancer patients" they point out. "Would YOU want your loved ones who had an operation not to have access to morphine when in recovery?" "Lots of people smoke marijuana and lead productive lives." "Who are you to tell people what they can and can not do?"

Each of these arguments may hold some truth. That truth will be of small comfort to the family described above. Drugs are an "equal opportunity destroyer." When living in poverty with a developmentally delayed child and another on the way, it no longer matters whether or not some people smoke pot occasionally and productively. Just as it doesn't matter whether or not the mom described above grew up in a big house or a small apartment.



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