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Dr. Mann Spitler urges parents to face the 'Beast of Addiction'

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Twelve years ago, Dr. Mann Spitler’s 20-year-old daughter, Manda, took a lethal dose of heroin and died submerged in the bathtub of their Valparaiso home.

In the days and weeks and months after, Spitler did what few of us would find the strength to do: he channeled his grief into a tireless activism, warning parents of the “beast of addiction”--his daughter’s own words--which could be hiding at the heart of the home.

For more than a decade, Spitler has been telling Manda’s Story to any school, church, or community group interested in hearing it. It’s the godawful story of a bright and beautiful girl, dearly loved, with her whole life ahead of her, and of a father who one April night in 2002 finds himself on his knees in a bathroom performing CPR on his own daughter.

Hundreds and hundreds of people have heard the tape of the 911 call which Spitler made that night, as he begged the dispatcher to send help, as he begged his daughter to live. It’s chilling and brutal and just terribly, terribly sad.

Now Spitler is offering hope to parents, in a new presentation, which he test-trialed on Wednesday at the Duneland Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in Chesterton.

There are things which parents absolutely must know, Spitler says, and things which they absolutely must do, if they’re to bar their door to the beast.

Risk Factors

Begin with the No. 1 Risk Factor for Substance Abuse.

It’s not what you may think.

It’s your children’s friends.

Substance abuse has about it the quality of a communicable disease which follows certain epidemiological vectors. By far the most pernicious vector is, or could be, your children’s network of friends.

If your children’s friends are using, Spitler says, your children very likely are or will be too.

Get to know your kids’ friends. Get to know their friends’ parents. If your children seem hesitant in introducing you to their friends, then be very suspicious, Spitler says.

And the parents of daughters specifically should know this: girls and women become addicts in the first place--pretty much without exception, Spitler says--through their boyfriends.

Trust?

Parenthood isn’t about friendship, Spitler says. It’s about raising your children right, teaching them how to be adults, giving them rules to follow and enforcing consequences when they break those rules.

Childhood isn’t about toeing the line. It’s about testing and experimenting.

Parents, accordingly, are ill advised to trust their children even as far as they can throw them, Spitler says. “Love them with all your heart. But trust them much less than you love them.”

Perhaps his greatest mistake as Manda’s father, Spitler now says, was trusting his daughter, not monitoring her more closely, not questioning her more rigorously.

Spitler therefore urges parents not to take their children’s word about things, to expect them to lie--such an easy thing to do on a cell phone, he notes--and even to snoop. Check your kids’ use of data devices. Open their drawers. Read their diaries. Know where they’re going and who they’re going with and then verify.

Drug-Testing

Spitler--who cheerfully admits being “a huge advocate of drug-testing” kids--acknowledges that many parents are uncomfortable with the notion of playing Big Brother in their own home. But our nostalgia for privacy shouldn’t blind us to the fact that drug-testing is an extremely effective early-warning system, he says.

Spitler advise parents to begin drug-testing their children at age 10.

Um, isn’t that pretty young?

It is, but there are two distinct advantages, he says. First, it makes drug-testing a routine and expected part of household life. If you wait until your children are well into their teens, you’ll probably have to deal with some nasty pushback on their parts.

Second, drug-testing gives your children an ironclad response when someone urges them to take a drink or a toke: “I can’t. My parents drug-test me.”

What do you do if your children test positive?

Get a professional assessment, immediately. Porter-Starke Services offers them. So does Frontline Foundations Inc., headquartered right here in Chesterton. For a full list of substance-abuse treatment providers in Porter County, visit www.empowerpc.org

Spitler says that he wishes now that he’d had Manda professionally assessed when he caught her smoking cigarettes when she was 13.

Spitler brought 100 home drug-testing kits with him on Wednesday and made them available to guests at the Chamber luncheon. Such test kits are available in pharmacies.

Hope

Parents with teens know better than anyone how frightening the world has become, how varied and profound are the threats which the 21st century poses to their loved ones’ futures, their happiness, their lives.

But there is hope, Spitler says. Talk to your children. Communicate with them. Be honest. “As parents you have more power than you can imagine. When you’re talking to your kids and feel they’re not listening, they are.”

 

Posted 3/28/2014