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Las Vegas parents helping children battle addiction say substance abuse is a ‘family disease’

Careers suffer, relationships are shattered and municipalities are left to fight a crisis.

Addiction can affect everything.

“We have a monster in this community, and it’s devouring our children, our mothers and fathers, our elderly, including our veterans,” said Mayor Pro Tem and Ward 6 Councilman Steve Ross. “There are not enough people talking about addiction, and I think it’s important and significant that we do as the city of Las Vegas. Addiction doesn’t just affect the addict. It affects families; it affects coworkers, and there’s help out there for the addict to get.”

Demons caught in the spotlight

September was National Recovery Month, and Ross broke his silence on how addiction is hurting his family.

Ross’ son Shane, 28, is currently inside the Clark County Detention Center after allegedly committing a series of robberies around the valley. Ross said his son suffered from back pain for many years, and he believes that the road to heroin use came from prescription drugs he was using.

“His demons attacked him and overcame him, as well,” Ross said. “It’s been devastating for our family, but what I want to share with (people) is this: Shane has to face his addiction, but we, too, are suffering as a family, and we need that recovery, as well. I have five children and 14 grandchildren. You don’t think his siblings are a little upset about this? They are.”

Ross added Shane was recently diagnosed as bipolar and, unlike his brothers and sisters, smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol despite growing up in a Mormon household.

Although Shane has been largely out of their lives for 10 years, Ross said it was hard to walk the fine line between helping his son and enabling his addiction.

“Until an addict recognizes that there’s nowhere to turn, they can’t be enabled by their parents and grandparents, wife or husband,” Ross said. “They need to realize that they really have a problem and need help.

“It hurts us badly because we love him very much, and we know he has far more potential.”

A father’s loss

Six years ago, Henderson resident Joe Engle came home to a hot house and his dogs’ water bowls empty. His son’s car was in the driveway.

After seven months of being clean, Joe’s oldest son, Reese, died from a heroin overdose. Joe started the local chapter of There Is No Hero in Heroin to provide scholarships to addicts, help and support to family members and ultimately, to raise the curtain on the epidemic of heroin addiction.

“Nobody suffers more than the parent of a drug addict,” Engle said.

Engle, who too is a recovering drug addict, says recovery is possible. His son became addicted at 14 and, as a single father raising four boys, Engle admits he was too distracted to see it.

“Being a single father raising kids, I had to keep the lights on, and I had to keep food on the table,” Engle said. “I was a little bit preoccupied. I had my own recovery that I’m dealing with, and at that time, two of my older sons are turning into addicts, and I don’t event see it. I’ll never be able to get that time back.”

Engle stresses the importance of connecting with the right community to fight the disease.

“If we catch them young enough and teach them the right direction to fight this mental illness — because addiction is a mental illness — we can help them toward a path to recovery,” Engle said.

The path to sobriety involves family

Las Vegas resident Robert G. Draskovich, 23, started taking heroin when he was 14. His addiction grew worse throughout the years until it consumed him.

Robert G. and his father Robert Draskovich entered Judge Cedric Kerns’ Youth Offender Drug Court program. The specialty drug court focuses on family treatment and “comprises a team of specialists, treatment providers, attorneys, house arrest officers and other community providers who work with the defendants to obtain and maintain sobriety,” according to the program’s website, yocourt.org.

Last September, Robert G. graduated from the program and now has a full-time job, a 3.9 GPA at the College of Southern Nevada and is studying finance.

“I went from having a strange relationship with my father, being unemployed and having a horrible heroin addiction that made me do things that still bother me today, to being employed, working full-time and having an amazing relationship with my father and family,” Robert G. said. “There was a time in my life when I didn’t care if I live or died. It’s completely different now. Now, I’m excited for the future. A change is always possible if you give the effort and have positive resources.”

The father and son duo stress that addiction is a family disease and needs to be treated in that context.

“Addiction is not about a moral failing. It’s not about will; it’s not about character. It is a disease. It’s a brain disease,” Draskovich said. “When you have a loved one that’s an addict, people close their doors. They end their friendships with you. They try to keep their loved ones away from you and your family. That needs to stop.”

As a criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas, Draskovich said roughly 75 percent of his clientele are dealing with a drug addiction. As a result, they commit burglaries, theft, fraud and robberies.

“Addiction is the source, and the crimes are, unfortunately, the effect.” Draskovich said. “When a person is an addict, they have this bi-genetic wrinkle in their brain that non-addicts don’t. When they use their pre-frontal cortex — their higher reasoning, that’s the moral part of the brain — it ceases to function. Even if they’re not under the influence when they commit their crimes, those frontal lobes still aren’t working. Studies show it takes a full year of sobriety before those frontal lobes return to function normally.”

Hope on the horizon

Barbara Theodosiou founded The Addict’s Mom nine years ago as a way to connect with mothers and other family members who are struggling with a loved one’s addiction. It has 50 state chapters and roughly 80,000 members throughout the nation.

The Addict’s Mom Nevada chapter began five years ago and has approximately 100 members.

“When you learn that someone you love has a substance use disorder, at first you feel alone, ashamed and afraid,” said Leisha Underwood, executive director of the group. “A 24-hour online support group can be accessed anytime, the resources are always there, and there is always someone online to talk to, vent with and to cry with, if that’s what is needed. You realize there is so much to learn. A really hard thing to learn is that while you are sad about your child, your husband or your friend, you have to take care of yourself as well. You matter. You deserve happiness. These are some of the things we learn in The Addict’s Mom. ”

Engle said he is also in preliminary talks with the Clark County School District to open the first recovery high school in Las Vegas.

Draskovich admits the road to recovery is long and hard, but something good came out of it.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, but I can tell you as a result of my son being in recovery and me being in recovery, we’re better people, and that’s just a fact,” Draskovich said.

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