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Family Drug Awareness group in New Haven puts personal touch on addiction

This story was originally published in the New Haven Registerwas originally published in the New Haven Register and was written by Anna Bisaro. 

NEW HAVEN >> Never having experimented with drugs herself, it was hard for Ann Stieler to recognize that her high school-aged son had a problem.

But then she found the needles.

“Every parent wants to believe that the needles are someone else’s,” she said. “I didn’t always know when he was getting high.”

Stieler said her son’s problems with substance abuse began with selling prescription drugs at school. She said her son, now 27, would participate in the buying and selling of drugs that high school students had taken from their parent’s medicine cabinets.

And Stieler, who asked that her son’s identity remain anonymous, has since realized that she’s not the only parent who is struggling with a child’s addiction.

The state of Connecticut has seen a dramatic increase in the number of accidental deaths from overdose in the last four years. Data from the state Medical Examiner’s office shows 357 people died from accidental overdose in 2012 and the office projects that number will reach close to 900 this year. The number of deaths relating to heroin have increased as well with the number increasing from 174 heroin-related deaths in 2012 to a projected 488 by the end of 2016.

That’s why Stieler started a Facebook group and blog for parents and family members struggling with a loved one’s addiction.

The Facebook group, Family Drug Awareness, is where Stieler shares as much information she can about treatment options or information about dealing with a loved one’s addiction. She will post links to articles about the benefits or downsides of certain treatment options, or information about books and stories she has found helpful in her own journey.

“Its part of my nature to try to help,” Stieler said. “And, I’m living it. So I want to help any way I can.”

One of her regular referral contacts for those seeking assistance or treatment is Allan Griffin, who lives in Durham and is the marketing representative and outreach coordinator for Granite Recovery Centers in New Hampshire. Griffin is a survivor of addiction himself and said that he saw firsthand the pain he caused his own family when he was abusing drugs and has worked with countless parents since his recovery.

“This is a situation no parent is ever ready for,” Griffin said.

Griffin said he tries to encourage families and parents to take care of themselves and prepare for both the best-case (recovery) and the worst-case (death) that may come from a loved one’s addiction. The realities of substance abuse, particularly hard drugs like heroin, is that it is “progressively fatal,” he said.

“A family being public about their recovery helps others,” he added, applauding Stieler’s openness and willingness to help others. “Ann is a great resource for other parents.”

Every parent or family member deals with a loved one’s addiction differently, Griffin said, and it’s ultimately up to them how they want to push their loved one to recovery while also taking care of their own needs.

For Stieler, while she tries to provide help and resources to other parents, she also seeks her own help through in-person support groups.

“It’s good to have other people,” Stieler said. “They’re your family in a way.”

A support group she attends is not full of just parents of substance abusers, she said. There are spouses, siblings, and even adult children whose parents are or have struggled with addiction.

Stieler said she has met many who still struggle with a loved one’s addiction for years after the person has recovered or passed from the disease.

But her support group gives her “a path and strength to move forward,” she said.

As for helping her son, who still struggles with addiction, she said she does her best to only help him financially when she can buy him a bus ticket or lunch or drive him to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. She doesn’t like to just give him cash, she said.

Stieler, a medical sales consultant, was transferred to Pennsylvania about a year ago, and has recently relocated back to Connecticut. Now living in Milford, she said she would someday like to work for an addiction treatment center because of her son’s experience.

But, for now, she tries to be a resource for others who are forced to worry all the time about their loved ones, she said.

Her son is currently seeking treatment at a methadone clinic in New Haven, she said, and that is impeding his ability to work regularly as he has to go to the clinic for appointments daily. But he has been finding work through friends of hers.

“I would love to see him married in the future with children,” Stieler said. “He has so much potential.”

“But he has to get into recovery first,” she added. “In the meantime, I worry all the time.”

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