Chesterton Tribune

'Every child is savable from drugs'

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With the emergence of managed health care in the early 1990s, says Terri Nissley, president and CEO of Pathway Family Center in Indianapolis, addicts and the families of addicts who wished to enroll in treatment programs whose regimens lasted longer than 30 days began to see their claims denied.

“These children have a long time of getting to this point and we’re willing to give them 30 days?” Gus Brown asks incredulously.

“Thirty days won’t do anything,” his son, Joshua, says.

Josh should know. Since April 5, 2001—just four days short of a year—he has been in recovery at Pathway. Today is his 363rd day of sobriety.

“Just Say No is wonderful and I support it,” Gus says. “When they don’t say No, what do you do?”

Pathway has one answer, at any rate, and apparently a good one. A study completed in the fall of 2001 by John Franklin, a professor of addiction studies at the University of Detroit, found that 82 percent of addicts who entered Pathway were “presently clean and sober” and fully 98 percent of them reported a “non-return to prior drug severity.”

Pathway was established in Detroit, Mich., in 1993, on a single principle, Nissley says: every child is savable.

Although the treatment program can last for as many as 18 months, participants average around nine months in the regimen. And regimen it is. While enrolled in Pathway, kids are initially separated from their own families and live instead with the families of their “big brothers” or “big sisters,” mentors who are themselves recovering addicts. During that time they participate in intensive day-treatment program, which includes substance abuse education, on-site tutoring and instruction, peer mentoring and support groups, and individual professional counseling. In the early stages of Pathway kids are required to “focus on themselves”: no television, no radio, no music.

But Pathway doesn’t merely treat the child. It treats the child’s own family, and beginning with the second phase of the program—when the recovering addict is reunited on a limited basis with parents and siblings—“everybody is making changes,” Nissley says. “Parents need to learn to set boundaries. No more codependency.”

Pathway ultimately leads a child through five increasingly complex levels of self-discipline, self-discovery, and accountability. On the day before Josh spoke with the Chesterton Tribune he had reached the fourth level, what Nissley calls the “miracle”: when the treatment program becomes the kids’ own and no longer the parents’. Josh is now learning “to make new friends who don’t use, how to have fun without getting high.”

One further level awaits him: graduation and the preparation of a “life plan,” for a future which only months before was impossible even to imagine.

Drug use is nothing new, Nissley says, yet many of the drugs themselves are: plentiful, powerful, and dangerous—and generally inexpensive too—the highs sought by kids today are nothing like the ones with which their parents may be familiar. “There are so many more drugs out there. Parents don’t realize that they’re different. The new ones are terrifying in what they do to people. We’re going to see more and more violence with these drugs.”

Josh is one of the lucky ones in Duneland, and the Browns one of the lucky families. He entered Pathway before he’d overdosed, before he’d been jailed, before he’d abandoned his home and taken to the streets, before he’d lost his soul. He has a chance. Others may not.

Pathway, Nissley says, “is the last stop. There’s nothing after.”


Posted 4/1/2002