Mother shares heartbreak of drugs

When Teri Clark talks about her son Nicholas, emotions flicker across her face " pride in his accomplishments the first 21 years of his life, and pain in the knowledge that love wasn't strong enough to extract him from the grip of methamphetamine.

In the three years since Nicholas died, Clark has used her son's story to illustrate how any family can be touched by the effects of the drug.

No matter the size of the audience " a half dozen senior citizens, or a class full of middle school students " Clark says being open is a form of grief therapy.

"I was a good mom. I didn't do anything wrong," she said last week before addressing a group of senior citizens. "Those were his choices. How do I put a positive spin on that?

"Technically " in black and white " I know our Nicholas did not try meth because of anything we did or did not do. But, emotionally, I question myself every day. Every day my husband and I find some memory of how we did not respond or react perfectly. And we beat ourselves up. I cry daily. Sometimes I sob. Sometimes it's just a tear trickling down."

She illustrates his story with a PowerPoint of pictures " a smiling, toothless baby, a tow-headed little boy dressed in a pirate costume for Halloween, playing with his older brother, Pop Warner, swim team, 4-H, rodeo, high school graduation, his first marriage.

Nicholas was "a normal kid, not an angelic two-shoes."

He grew up in Carson Valley with an older brother, graduated from Douglas High School in 1996, went to college, and married a woman who was studying to become a veterinarian.

As far as Clark knows, he didn't start using methamphetamine until he was 21. In four years, he lost everything " his wife, all his possessions except a couple of boxes of childhood memorabilia he couldn't sell for drug money, and eventually, his life on March 25, 2005.

It is stories like Clark's that the Partnership of Community Resources wants to bring to the community to raise the awareness of the pervasiveness of drug use, and its effect on every aspect of the community.

Last week, Becky Hanson of the Partnership, made a presentation to a small group of senior citizens. She was joined by Clark and Sgt. Dan Britton of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

The good news from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office is that methamphetamine use has declined over the past years. The bad news is that officers have seen a frightening rise in the use of heroin and cocaine.

"Methamphetamine use is nowhere near what it was two years ago," Britton said.

"With all the education, it seems kids don't want to use the chemicals associated with methamphetamine. Unfortunately, we're seeing more cocaine and some cases going to heroin because they think it's natural," Britton said.

The presentation at the senior center came shortly after two young Minden residents were arrested on charges of trafficking in heroin. A year ago, a Douglas High School sophomore lay comatose from a heroin overdose for 16 hours and still is recovering.

"We might be jumping from the frying pan into the fire," Britton said.

"Heroin was unheard of. Those who used it were the stereotype of old junkies who shot it in their arms. Now, they're smoking it, and calling it opium because somehow it sounds better to them," he said.

The seniors at the presentation were no strangers to neighborhood drug users.

"We had a meth dealer in the neighborhood," said one woman who asked not to be identified.

She and 62 neighbors in their mobile home park signed a petition to have the suspects evicted.

"There was a lot of stuff going on day and night," she said.

Another woman said her husband was threatened by a next-door neighbor who told him "to go inside if he knows what's good for him."

The seniors don't want to say where they live because they know the drug dealers even if arrested eventually are released from jail or prison, and they fear retribution.

"The most heavily armed criminals I ever dealt with were meth dealers," Britton said.

Hanson said seniors often are the "first responders" in their families, seeing behavior changes or other habits associated with drug use that parents might overlook or not want to acknowledge.

"One positive nonparent role model can make a tremendous difference," Hanson said.

Another function is to share information, she said.

"Pass it on to your grandchildren, neighbors and friends," she said.

Grandparents need to be vigilant in their own families, keeping an eye on prescription medicines, another easy source for youthful drug users.

"Kids are showing up at school having taken an oxycodone from mom's medicine cabinet," Britton said.

Clark said she understood the awkwardness of getting involved.

"We're embarrassed if it's in the family," she said. "We don't want to get anybody in trouble. But we have to speak up."


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