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Today's word on

Thursday, March 10, 2005

From the High School Free Speech Front:

"If they feel an article isn't appropriate, they will pull it -- or ask the student to make changes to it. They said that isn't censorship. They said they're just approving or not approving what goes in. What's your definition of censorship?"

--Hawley Kunz, co-editor of the Warrior News, Weber High School, Pleasant View, Utah. The principal ordered prior review of the monthly newspaper after an editorial critical of the condition of the school's running track. (3/8/05)


A 'routine' interview is followed by a suicide attempt -- and the reporter asks, 'Why?'

By Melissa Dymock

Steve was clean from drugs and alcohol for nine months when I met him. I thought his turnaround would be a success story.

He was in a good rehab center and had supportive parents who were doing everything they were supposed to do. He hadn't used in nine months and the scars running the lengths of his forearms, marking the wounds from his previous suicide attempts, had healed. I figured the worst was behind him. At 17, he had his whole life ahead of him.

"I've learned my lesson," Steve said.

Just a few short hours later, Steve tried to commit suicide again.

This time he inhaled from a can of Silly String. It was a gift from another rehab member to congratulate him on moving up in the program.

Inhaling kills brains cells. There is no getting them back

Steve later told his counseling group he wanted to die.

I was careful when I interviewed him, not wanting to ask questions that were too difficult. I told him if he wasn't comfortable, he didn't have to talk. But he spoke openly about his past.

He didn't speak with sadness or regret, or with boastfulness. He spoke matter-of-factly about being an alcoholic and a drug addict.

"It's like 50/50. I want to (use) some days, but some days I couldn't care less," Steve said. "It depends on my attitude. I'm trying to work on that."

I didn't find out until two days later that he had made another attempt at suicide that night. I tried to listen to our interview again. Did I say something? Did he say something? Was there something I should have said? Was there some clue I missed? I sat just a few feet from him -- how could I not have noticed?

Steve told me, "They say once you're an addict your always an addict." I heard him, I believed him but I didn't understand.

I thought his battle was mostly behind him. I was right in a way. One battle is behind him, but the war rages all around.

I spoke to him for an hour and I could see his potential. He spoke of his past. He said he wasn't going anywhere back then. He said he didn't want to be unhappy anymore and he didn't want to hide anymore. He spoke of the future. After he graduated from his program he wanted to return to help other teenagers.

Now he has to begin again.

And part of that comeback is being cut off from most of the outside world. I could not interview him again after the suicide attempt.

In a small way I can understand what his family faces each day. I want to know why. Why after doing so well? Why that night? Why does he want to give up life?

With the "why?" questions, come the "what if?" questions. What if I said or did something different? What if I there was a sign I missed, a clue he dropped? What could I have done to prevent it?

There are a thousand reasons, but we will never know with certainty why. There will always be the "what if" questions, but they don't have answers.

Steve isn't alone in his battle. In 1998, 915,000 youths ages 12 to 20 reported suffering from alcohol dependence but only 16 percent received treatment according to the most recent National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, suicide is the third leading cause of death in people, ages 15 to 24.

This traditionally adult problem is rapidly becoming the disease of youth.

When you look at Steve you see innocence and youth. He's what people call clean-cut, with his short red hair, blue eyes and freckles. He's 17 and already over 6 feet tall.

He was raised in Salt Lake on a tree-lined suburban street. His parents have been married for 20 years, one sister is on the dean's list at her university and one brother is serving a mission for his church.

Why does one child abuse drugs and alcohol and one doesn't?

"Most people do it (drugs) because they have all this emotional stuff they don't know how to handle," Steve said. "I was running from relationships."

"I never really had any relationships with anyone since I was really young. I started distancing myself when I was like 5. I became my own person."

"I still really haven't had any relationships yet. I haven't been that close to the family for a long, long time."

Steve was in the fifth grade the first time he got drunk. He and some friends were on their way to sleepover at a friend's house. By the time they arrived it was too late and the friend's mother sent them home. He called his parents to see if he could sleep at another friend's house.

When they arrived there, another friend called and invited them to his trailer. There was beer in the trailer that the kids started drinking.

Steve said he thought, "I'll try it, I don't care." They were about 10 years old.

Steve was in the third grade when he started smoking. He said the stores used to keep cigarettes and cigars where anyone could reach them. He would steal them and smoke them.

"We always just kind of figured we'd end up using drugs. We just had nothing to do, I guess," Steve said.

In junior high more drugs became available to him and his friends.

"I've done mostly every drug but heroin," he said.

He said they had a dealer at another school that could get them the hard-core drugs.

He's taken over-the-counter and prescription drugs, marijuana, opium, speed, methamphetamines and cocaine, he said.

"I took basically anything that would give me an uplift."

Steve drank Robitussin and other cough medicines for a high. He said he would take around 12 Dramamine pills. The Dramamine acts as a hallucinogen, making him see and talk to people who weren't there. At one occasion Steve took 36 Dramamine pills. He said he was at friend's house but in his hallucination he thought he went home and found his friends in his house. He couldn't figure out why they were there.

Inhaling or "huffing" was another way for him to get high. He took aerosol cans and inhaled them.

Steve had been using for a year or two before his sister Jessica found out. Their parents were out and she could smell the marijuana in his room, she said.

She immediately called her mother and told her but her mother didn't want to believe her. Jessica said her mother told her she didn't want to accuse Steve if he was innocent.

"They didn't want to see it," Jessica said.

They would ask Steve if he was doing drugs, and he would lie and say no. He would make up excuses for the smell of smoke and the positive drug tests, she said.

Steve said he could hide it better than others. He could drink more than others, and they would act more drunk than him. He said he also used Visine drops keep his eyes from looking red.

When he started with drugs and alcohol, Steve said it was about having fun but it became serious quickly.

"It does get bad. It gets emotional," he said. "I've seen my friends have seizures and that's scary."

It's more of a disease than anything," Steve said. Some people can drink every day and not be affected but with others it leads to addiction.

"It's something in your body you can't control, it controls you. You think about it, you crave it," Steve said.

He said there is a difference between being sober and being a dry drunk.

When you're in the program you have no choice but to be dry. Sober is when not using is your choice.

"I don't think I'm fully there yet."

Of the seven kids who were Steve's friends, all ended up addicted. Four of the boys and two of the girls are in rehab and the seventh has graduated from rehab.

In rehab, Steve said, they teach you about yourself. Why you do things your thinking pattern. Most people when they get out of rehab they go to use again. They teach you tools if you do relapse. It's important to find someone to support you.

"If I do use again I can use my tools and I can know whoops I did something stupid and continue on with my life," he said.

As part of the rehab program Steve was allowed to go to a small ranch and work with the horses and cattle. There was one gray horse that was taller than Steve and hadn't been trained very well.

"Horses are a lot like people. It (the horse) tries to take control of you. It was trying to push me around," Steve said.

It threw him off and when he stood up it ran. "You got show it, who's in charge. It doesn't try take control over me anymore."

No one knew Steve had relapsed, he told his support group. He's back on that horse again.

I don't know what the future will bring for Steve, not even Steve knows that but that's all right.

He said, "The only thing I have to focus on today, is not using."


Copyright 1997-2004 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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