From the notebook
of Manda Spitler, age 18, drowned two years later in the family bathtub
after shooting a lethal dose of heroin:
The door flies
open, the gates give way,
In barges the
beast, he comes to play.
I try to run, I try
to get away,
No matter how far I
go eternally he stays.
Hunting me at day,
haunting me at night,
Whispering in my
ear, testing me with fright.
I can’t break
loose, for he’s wrapped me in chains,
Locking them up
He tortures me
Raping me with all
his will and might.
Manda’s father, Dr.
Mann Spitler--15 years after he and his wife made the decision to take Manda
off life support, on Easter Sunday 2002--read that poem on Thursday night at
Chesterton High School’s Drug Prevention and Outreach Program.
And for Spitler
these lyrics, handwritten and accompanied by Manda’s own sketch of a lion,
say everything that needs to be said about the savagery of drug addiction.
Spitler, a member
of the Community Action Drug Coalition, has spent the last 15 years telling
Manda’s Story, to any school or church or community organization interested
in hearing it. On Thursday, as he always does, he began by playing the
horrific 911 tape made of his call to a police dispatcher, pleading for EMS,
as he performs CPR on his own daughter. “Parents should never have to make a
phone call like that on behalf of their son or daughter,” he said. “It is a
senseless thing to have to do.”
So here’s the
question. By the time girls and boys reach the age of 13, certainly in the
Duneland Schools, they’ve heard the warnings and the pleadings and the
admonitions: drugs damage and cripple and kill, don’t do drugs, just say no.
Why, then, do a not insignificant percentage of intelligent youth--like
Manda--experiment with illicit and dangerous substances anyway?
Because, as Jason
Kniola--a licensed mental health addiction counselor--explained, they’re
adolescents, and that’s what adolescents do: take risks.
said, is--in the nature of things, by definition--a time of neurological,
biological, and social upheaval. “Kids are having more complex, conceptual
thoughts. They’re thinking for themselves. They’re questioning authority.
They’re questioning traditional ideas of right and wrong. They’re rebelling.
It’s a normal, healthy part of development.”
And that’s not all
of it either. Adolescents, Kniola said, are caught between the desperate
need to “form their own identity” and the equally desperate one to “fit in.”
They’re hormones are firing madly and they’re developing sexually. They
whip-saw, from day to day and hour to hour, from the heights of self-esteem
to the depths. And through it all, because of it all, they’re tempted to
The jury is still
out on why risk-taking is a common component of adolescence, Kniola said.
Kids--bored despite, maybe even because of, the flood of stimuli available
to them nowadays on their devices--are looking for “excitement and novelty.”
Risk-taking can sometimes be a product of group-think, a way of “bonding”
with a clique. It’s the open-air abyss which some kids think they must leap
between youth into adulthood. And for some, those tempted to experiment with
drugs, risk-taking is played for “very high stakes.”
As Kniola noted,
“Reason can be overridden at this time. Kids aren’t thinking about the
The point which
Kniola went to pains to emphasize: risk-taking isn’t limited to a certain
kind of kid from a certain kind of family in a certain kind of neighborhood.
“It’s not about being a bad kid from a bad family,” he said. “Drugs can
happen to any kid in any family. Drugs fulfill the need for risk-taking but
in the wrong way.”
Kniola had this
advice to parents. Encourage children to take their risks in healthy ways:
in art or music or athletics. Communicate with them, but understand
that doing so can be especially difficult with they’re “individuating
themselves away from you.” Encourage positive behaviors, that is, “catch
your child doing something good” and praise them for it. Negotiate emotional
conflicts calmly. Set limits, when your kids are being disrespectful
or defiant, calmly. And monitor how they’re using their unsupervised
And if you think
you need to seek professional help, you probably do, Kniola said. There are
numerous resources on line. Or call Partnership for Drug-Free Kids at (855)
A Recovering Addict
Amber Chaffer was
only a couple of years behind Manda Spitler at Valparaiso High School. Like
Manda, Chaffer fell afoul of heroin. Unlike Manda, she made it out alive and
has been clean and sober for the last 10 and a half years.
speak for long on Thursday. But she spoke from her heart: “There is hope.”
Chaffer wasn’t a
slacker. She graduated from VHS with an honors diploma and a 3.8 GPA. She
had plans to be a corporate lawyer. But she started on her “path to
addiction” when she was 15, while hanging out with kids from work. She began
smoking cigarettes, then marijuana, and eventually graduated to heroin.
At 22, she was
facing 40 years to life in prison. Now, a decade later, Chaffer is the
mother of two and has a life she can call her own. The hundreds of addicts
right now shooting and popping in Porter County can too. There is
hope. There is life after addiction.
stupid,” Chaffer said. “But they don’t think past the weekend.”