No One is Immune: A Parents’ Story

Names in the story may have been altered to maintain the individuals’ privacy 

Nothing prepares you for the experience of watching your child suffer from addiction. Sitting in the reality of your child’s pain fosters deep shame and loneliness. The lie that you are alone and that your child’s choices are a reflection of your parenting can be detrimental to an individual and a family unit. Without the necessary tools and supportive community, one can feel isolated and hopeless.

Parents, Amy and Bryan share their experience watching their son, Andrew, suffer from the disease of addiction. Although conscious of a substance issue, they were unaware of the breadth and width of the substance use. It was not until a year ago when they were approached by their son, that they learned the entire truth of the darkness he was living in. What began as experimenting with unwashed poppy seeds on the internet to combat anxiety, led down a path of bondage to heroin by the end of his college career. Amy and Bryan chose to assist Andrew in detox and recovery without outside help, however, quickly came to realize the need for external and professional help. While in professional detox, Andrew was informed by his fellow patients that there were dietary supplement pills that would eliminate cravings that could be found at gas stations. Directly out of detox, Andrew stopped on his way home at a local gas station, picking up his first of hundreds of ZaZa Red pills.

ZaZa Reds, also known as Tiana Red is a highly addictive and yet legal pill sold in local gas stations under the title of “Dietary Supplement”. These pills, like other opioids, acts as an opioid agonist, connecting to the receptors in the brain, creating a euphoria and high. Highly addictive and dangerous for recovering heroin addicts, Andrew quickly found himself in deeper bondage to substances. “He ended up being addicted and substituting one supplement for another and wiped out his savings.” Andrew is not the only one who has suffered from a Tianeptine addiction. This issue is nation-wide, and it was not until recently that Tiana Reds were placed as a schedule II drug by legislation in Alabama. Because the drug reacts and attaches to the same parts of the brain that heroin does, it is very easy for a heroin addict to become dependent on these substances, often with worse withdrawals than that of heroin. At the height of his addiction, Andrew was making two or three trips a day to gas stations. At $25 a bottle, Andrew quickly found himself at rock bottom to the point of being willing to trade his iPad for a few bottles of this “Dietary Supplement.” Amy recounts, “He was physically and chemically addicted to a long-acting morphine metabolite… When you are at a gas station, and you are willing to take someone’s iPad in exchange for a couple bottles of stuff that you are selling…you know what is going on.”

Although legislation passed for Tiana Red bottles to be pulled from the shelves in Alabama, the manufacturers have altered the chemistry on the label and are marketing the same addictive product under the name, Phrenze. Bryan states, “The bottom line is our FDA and government needs to be doing a better job at deciding what can and cannot be sold over the counter to people.” Every child is at risk to these products, whether they have had previous exposure to substances or not. Phrenze and Tiana have been marketed as anxiety relievers and mood boosters to adolescents. Parents who are not informed may miss the warning signs before it is too late. Amy and Bryan are fighting to spread awareness to ensure other parents do not make the same mistakes they did. Amy explains her and Bryan’s perspective on their role in this fight against substance use, “What should be done is not being done and we need to pursue a long-term solution. For now, the short-term fix is mainly getting the message out there to parents…Every kid out there is at risk for this.” Addiction is not selective or a societal issue, it is a human issue, and no one is immune. No parent wants to plan for the possibility; however, it is crucial for them to be educated and be aware of the dangers their child can fall into.

Andrew found himself once more in detox and has recently left sober living, having now found freedom from both Heroin and Tianeptine. The past year for Amy and Bryan has been one of great grief and hardship as they have watched their son struggle and fight the disease of addiction. Amy describes this season saying, “You’re scared to death, you are living in fear, you are very isolated because you can’t talk to anybody about it because you’re ashamed.” It was in the midst of these dark days that Amy and Bryan were introduced to Parents of Addicted Loved Ones where they found a community of individuals walking through similar experiences. Brian explains his experience with the weekly parent meetings saying, “I was reluctant at first. I said, ‘I don’t need anyone to help me through this.’ But I was surprised at how much it did help me…You hear so much of the same thing and you realize you’re not alone.” It is in these meetings that stories are shared, and hope is slowly weaved into the hearts of its participants. Amy and Bryan’s boldness to share their story is bringing freedom to other parents in the community as they seek to spread the awareness about these gas station drugs and their hidden but dangerous effects.

There are 3 Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) Meetings in our area.  Monday night meetings meet at Double Oak Community Building and are led by Dave and Laura and Urech. The Thursday night group at The Moore Institute is led by Carie and Art Wimberly. On Thursday night, you can also tune in virtually by Zoom. Anyone with a loved one who struggles with substance use are welcome to join attend the meetings at 6:30. To get involved in these meetings click here.

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