Toddler Given 6 Shots Of Vodka by Mom & Aunt

Two Texas women face serious charges after allegedly giving a toddler six shots of vodka.

The child’s mother, 17-year-old Shadreon Jefferson, and the victim’s aunt, 24-year-old Shamara Batiste, were both charged with felony child endangerment, according to ABC 13.

The little girl, only 1 year old, was rushed to a Houston hospital on Feb. 8 after she was dropped off at her father’s home. The father called authorities when he noticed the girl’s eyes rolling into the back of her head, according to court documents. When authorities arrived, they said she was unresponsive, moaning and vomiting.

At the hospital, doctors said the child had a blood alcohol content of 0.268, more than three times the legal limit for adults, according to KHOU. The child suffered acute alcohol poisoning.

A motive for the crime wasn’t immediately clear.

While Jefferson was sleeping, Batiste allegedly gave the child a vodka mixer. According to a criminal complaint, Batiste admitted that the baby drank about six shots of vodka before falling asleep. The child was apparently swaying and smelled of alcohol at the hospital.

On Wednesday, State District Judge Ryan Patrick signed a protective order keeping the women from the child after Jefferson was arraigned, the Houston Chronicle reported.

“I see them every day and the baby is good, know what I’m saying?” neighbor Dante Montgomery told KHOU. “Taken care of, they always feed and take care of them. If they did give [her] vodka, they deserve the punishment they’re getting, but like I say, I can’t believe that they did it.”

The child is now in the care of her maternal grandmother after spending four days in the hospital.

Jefferson is free on a $10,000 bail, but authorities are still seeking out Batiste.


What is Alcohol Tolerance?

What is alcohol tolerance  — and how quickly does it change?

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, many revelers are already busily coordinating their green outfits and drinking plans. But there’s a difference between enjoying one green beer (or perhaps something similarly festive but a little bit healthier) and losing all control. St. Patrick’s Day undeniably owns one of the top spots on any list of the drunkest holidays — and tolerance (or lack there of) may never be so publicly on display.

So why can some people handle their liquor better than others? First, it’s important to define what, exactly, tolerance is. There are two ways of thinking about it, says George F. Koob, Ph.D., the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Developing tolerance to alcohol — or any drug — means it takes more of that drug to produce the same effect — or, looked at another way, the same amount of the drug produces less of an effect.

Some people are born with the ability to go round for round, showing minimal effects. A growing body of research from the University of California, San Diego among families with history of alcoholism has pinpointed low-sensitivity to alcohol in some people, or what Koob calls inherent tolerance. “These are basically individuals who drink everybody under the table and they’re born that way,” he says. “It’s an intriguing neurobiological question as to why, but it still remains somewhat of a mystery.” Ironically, this low-sensitivity actually seems to make someone more likely to become an alcoholic, he says.

But other people simply become more tolerant as they drink more. “In effect, to me, tolerance is the brain adapting to the drug,” says Koob. There are different pathways by which the brain adapts, but the end result is that more alcohol is required to feel the same buzz.

There’s likely a Pavlovian-esque learning response involved, he says. The brain learns the effects of alcohol and triggers a response to counter those effects. Then, the next time you throw a few back, your brain has already learned how to react. When we drink, our brains are constantly working to return our bodies to baseline. “When you remove the alcohol, that system is exposed as being overactive,” says Koob. “That’s what we call withdrawal.”

On a day-to-day basis, you might have a different name for that withdrawal: hangover. What’s called acute tolerance can develop over just a few hours, says Koob. Take your average picnic, he says. One beer might make you feel relaxed and sociable, but the third or fourth beer out on the lawn has much less noticeable of an effect. Technically, that’s a form of tolerance building throughout the afternoon, he says. The more you drink at that picnic, the greater tolerance you develop — and the worse you can expect to feel the next day.

Among people who are dependent on alcohol, adaptations can also take place elsewhere in the body, says Koob. Drinking a lot may cause liver enzymes that break down alcohol to become more active. “An alcoholic person could metabolize perhaps twice as fast and twice as much in a given amount of time as a non-alcoholic,” he says.

The exact rate of building or decreasing your tolerance will vary greatly depending on how much you’ve been drinking and for how long, but you’ll likely lose your tolerance at the same speed you gained it. A period of time spent teetotalling “will reverse a lot of the tolerance but not all of it,” says Koob. That’s because those pathways in the brain that adapted to the effects of alcohol show traces that changes have occurred forever. Pick up the bottle again and they’re reactivated much more quickly. It’s similar to riding a bike: Hopping back on after a hiatus takes a little re-learning when it comes to steering and balance, but it’s infinitely easier than learning that first time. “The system is forever changed,” says Koob. “Your response is not quite the same ever again.”

Synthetic Pot Tied to Surge of Emergency Cases

Colorado patients were delirious, combative, had seizures and breathing problems

Doctors in Colorado are sounding an alarm about the dangers of synthetic marijuana after seeing a surge of emergency cases tied to its use. The products, sold under names like Black Mamba, Crazy Clown, K2 and Spice, sent at least 263 people for emergency treatment statewide over a one-month period last year.

“At the end of August, we started noting that patients were coming in with a very severe clinical illness,” said Dr. Andrew Monte, an assistant professor in emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. Monte said patients were delirious; they were fighting medical staff. Their pulses were racing and many went on to have seizures. Seven patients were put on ventilators in the intensive care unit after they developed trouble breathing. All survived. Monte said the cases they counted before the outbreak ended Sept. 19 were probably just a fraction of the total. “All these kinds of toxicologic outbreaks are far underreported, for a couple of reasons,” he said.

First, not everybody who got sick went to the hospital. Monte thinks most people would try to stay at home and wait out the bad reaction, especially if their symptoms weren’t as severe. Second, some patients probably weren’t asked about drug use or wouldn’t admit to it, making the final case count lower than it really was, he noted.

The surge in cases was reported in a letter published Jan. 23 in the New England Journal of Medicine and in the Dec. 13 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colorado isn’t the only state to see a rise in poisonings tied to synthetic pot.

According to an earlier report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of emergency department visits associated with use of synthetic pot more than doubled from 2010 to 2011, with the case count increasing from about 11,400 to more than 28,500 nationwide.

Synthetic marijuana is dried plant material that has been sprayed with laboratory-created psychoactive chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. It’s sold in gas stations and head shops as an herbal product. But experts say there’s nothing natural about it. “This is much closer to meth [methamphetamine] than it is to marijuana,” said Mike Van Dyke, chief of environmental epidemiology and occupational health at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in Denver. “This is not a natural product. This is a chemical,” said Van Dyke, who was involved in tracking the outbreak.

What’s more, Van Dyke said, consumers never really know what they’re buying.

“It’s different from batch to batch. The whole chemical can be completely different from batch to batch, and you just don’t know what you’re getting when you buy these things,” he said. “It’s very dangerous.” Monte said most of the synthetic marijuana users treated in the ER last fall were men, and the majority were in their late 20s.

He said the typical user seems to be a person who needs to beat a drug test. The chemicals in synthetic marijuana aren’t easily detected in the blood or urine. For that reason, both experts said they didn’t think synthetic marijuana use would drop now that the real thing could be legally purchased in the state.

Although synthetic marijuana is illegal under Drug Enforcement Agency law, Monte said the drug makers get around that by changing the chemicals and packaging.

FDA approves a powerful new opioid painkiller

Addiction experts protested loudly when the Food and Drug Administration approved a powerful new opioid painkiller last month, saying that it would set off a wave of abuse much as OxyContin did when it first appeared. An F.D.A. panel had earlier voted, 11 to 2, against approval of the drug, Zohydro, in part because unlike current versions of OxyContin, it is not made in a formulation designed to deter abuse.

Now a new issue is being raised about Zohydro. The drug will be manufactured by the same company, Alkermes, that makes a popular medication called Vivitrol, used to treat patients addicted to painkillers or alcohol. In addition, the company provides financial support to a leading professional group that represents substance abuse experts, the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

For some critics, the company’s multiple roles in the world of painkillers is troubling.

Dr. Gregory L. Jones, an addiction specialist in Louisville, Ky., said he had long been concerned about financial links between the group and the drug industry, adding that the Zohydro situation amplified those potential conflicts.

Dr. Stuart Gitlow, the current president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, said he had been unaware until now of Alkermes’s involvement with Zohydro. Dr. Gitlow, who is affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said that the group would seek more information from Alkermes about the situation and then decide what, if anything, to do next.

Officials of Alkermes appear to recognize the issue they face. In recent years, the company has been trying to increase sales of Vivitrol, a form of a drug called naltrexone, that is used to treat both alcoholism and opioid addiction.

In a statement, Rebecca Peterson, a spokeswoman for Alkermes, said the company was “evaluating its role with respect to Zohydro” as a result of the drug’s approval. She declined to elaborate.

The tie between Alkermes and Zohydro had not drawn attention because the company did not initially own the drug, nor was it apparently involved in the efforts to get it approved in the United States.

A small California-based company called Zogenix purchased the right to market Zohydro in the United States from another drug maker, Elan. Then a year later, in 2011, Alkermes bought a unit of Elan that included Zohydro, among other products, and inherited the existing agreement with Zogenix.

In their presentation to the F.D.A., officials of Zogenix said they would closely monitor the drug’s use for signs that it was being abused and quickly move to stop such problems. Agency officials said they had approved the drug to give doctors another long-acting opioid to use when treating patients with chronic pain. A few days after the drug’s approval, Zogenix announced that it had signed an agreement with another company, Altus Formulation, under which Altus would develop a formulation of Zohydro that was less vulnerable to abuse than the one just approved.

The development of drug formulations that are less prone to abuse can take years and are not always successful. Currently, drugs like OxyContin are designed so their consistency changes when they are crushed, making them difficult to inject or snort.

Zogenix began running a clinical trial of Zohydro in 2010. In a statement, the company’s president, Dr. Stephen J. Farr, said that the F.D.A. only recently laid out guidelines for the types of features it would like to see in opioid formulations that deter abuse. “Zogenix is fully engaged in efforts to bring an abuse-deterrent-form formulation of Zohydro,” to market, he said.

Dr. Andrew J. Kolodny, the chief medical officer of Phoenix House, which runs drug and alcohol treatment centers in 10 states, said he believed that the American Society of Addiction Medicine should not take money from a company whose product would most likely worsen this country’s drug abuse problem. In addition, Dr. Kolodny, who is a member of the group, said that while Phoenix House will continue to use Vivitrol when appropriate to treat patients, Alkermes officials will find the door closed. “Representative of Alkermes are not welcome,” he said.

Sniffing Smarties: The dangerous new trend in schools

There’s a dangerous new trend that involves the popular candy Smarties. Instead of eating them, kids are snorting them. They’re crushing the candy and inhaling it, in videos seen all over YouTube. The motivation behind the crushing and snorting of Smarties isn’t known.The bizarre trend is happening across the nation, including at a Rhode Island middle school, where the principal sent an email about it to students. And a health expert is warning about the dangers. “Anytime you snort or inhale a substance into your lungs that is not meant to be it is definitely hazardous to your health and could have significant health consequences for individuals,” said behavioral care expert Rebecca Boss. Some of the negative side effects of snorting Smarties include infection and scarring of the nasal cavity.

OD’d on ‘Multiple Drugs’

That ’70s Show” actress Lisa Robin Kelly died from “multiple drug intoxication”  … and the L.A. County Coroner says her death has been ruled an accidental overdose. Kelly — who played Eric Forman’s older sister on the show — died August 15th at an alcohol rehab facility in L.A. County.

An autopsy performed immediately after she died failed to identify the exact cause of death —  the coroner had to wait until the toxicology results were in. The coroner did not identify which drugs were in her system.

Just days before her death, Kelly had been hospitalized with an alarmingly high .34 blood alcohol level … a level that can sometimes lead to death.

The Coroner’s full report will be released within 2 weeks.

Teen left brain damaged and blind after smoking synthetic marijuana

A teenage girl has narrowly avoided death after smoking ‘synthetic marijuana’ that she bought from a gas station and suffering a series of strokes.

Seventeen-year-old Emily Bauer, from Cypress, Texas, has been left with brain damage, paralysis and is unable to see after taking the synthetic weed with friends last December. Her family is now hoping to raise awareness of the dangers of the substance, which is often labelled as ‘potpourri’, while campaigners battle for stricter laws to make it illegal across the country.

Fake weed, which is also known as ‘Spice’ or ‘K2’, is an herbal mixture doused with chemicals that trigger a high similar to smoking marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is often sold as incense or potpourri, and is advertised as a legal alternative to weed. While many states have outlawed it, manufacturers have responded by slightly changing the compound so that it can return to shelves. Emily smoked the drug last December with friends and within 15 minutes, she told her boyfriend she was suffering from a migraine and needed to lay down.

She suffered a series of strokes which left her in a psychotic-like state, during which she urinated on herself, ran into walls, hallucinated and acted violently, her sister told CNN’s iReport. The police were called to help restrain her into an ambulance, and she was taken to Northwest Cypress Hospital, where she bit guardrails and attempted to bite medical staff.

‘We thought once she comes down off the drug, we’d take her home and show her the dangers of this drug,’ her older sister, Blake, said. ‘We didn’t think it was as big of a deal until 24 hours later she was still violent and hurting herself. We realized you’re not supposed to stay high this long.’

She was put into an induced coma as doctors carried out tests on her brain. Doctors soon found Emily’s strokes had caused severe vasculitis, meaning contracting blood vessels had constricted the flow of blood and cut off oxygen to her brain. ‘In four days’ time, we went from thinking everything is going to be OK and we’ll put her in drug rehabilitation to now you don’t know if she’s going to make it,’ stepfather Tommy Bryant told CNN.

Synthetic marijuana, which is known as ‘Spice’ or ‘K2’, is an herbal mixture sprayed with chemicals that create a high similar to smoking marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Advertised as a ‘legal’ alternative to weed, it’s often sold as incense or potpourri. When many states outlawed the drug, manufacturers slightly changed the compound so they were no longer illegal. It was linked to 11,406 drug-related emergency department visits in 2010, a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found. Most were aged 12 to 17.

The first state laws banning synthetic drugs were established in 2010. Now at least 41 states have banned them, but that has not deterred the manufacturers. ‘These drug manufacturers slightly change the chemical compound, and it becomes a different substance that’s not covered by the law,’ said NCSL policy specialist Alison Lawrence.

Common side effects from smoking synthetic marijuana include bloodshot eyes, disturbed perceptions, a change in mood, paranoia, raised blood pressure or hallucinations.

Doctors soon found Emily’s blood vessels were expanding again and while the family saw it as a sign of improvement, pressure on the teenager’s brain grew rapidly – and dangerously. Surgeons had to drill a hole in her skull and insert a tube to relieve pressure. But her brain was still affected. ‘We met with Neurology team who showed us Emily’s brain images,’ her mother, Tonya Bauer, said. ‘They told us that all white areas on images were dead. It looked to us at least 70 per cent of the images were white.’ Doctors said Emily would not be able to recognise her family and would never be able to use her arms or legs again. With this heart-breaking news, Emily’s parents made the tough decision to take out her breathing tube and stopped all nourishment on December 16 – but she continued to fight.

As her mother went to her room one morning, she said, ‘Good morning, I love you’ and was stunned to hear a hoarse voice saying: ‘I love you too.’ ‘Even though she couldn’t move, is blind, and could hardly be aware of what was going on around her, she laughed with us as we made jokes and listened to her soft whisper replies,’ Blake said. ‘It is my little sister shining through, in every way she can manage, with every ounce of strength.’

The family does not know how much control she will recover, but she is already moving her arms and legs, and two weeks ago she started eating solid food again. Emily’s parents have started a nonprofit organization called Synthetic Awareness For Emily to educate teenagers and parents about the dangers of synthetic marijuana use.

‘We want to let kids and parents know about the warnings signs: migraines and withdrawal,’ Bryant said. ‘We all know the warning signs of alcohol and cocaine, but with this synthetic weed stuff, it’s so new that nobody knows about this stuff. We want to let other parents know about this so they don’t have to go what we’ve been going through.’

Bryant said he knew Emily used real marijuana occasionally, and told her she would be grounded if he ever caught her smoking.

‘Had I thought that there was any chance that she could have been hurt by this stuff, I would have been a lot more vigilant. I had no idea it was so bad,’ Bryant told CNN. ‘I’d never have thought we’d be in this situation. If she had bought it off the street or from a corner, that’s one thing, but she bought it from convenience store.’

For more information about the family’s nonprofit organization, Synthetic Awareness For Emily (SAFE), visit their Facebook page.

If you are currently using synthetic marijuana and want to stop:
Call 1-800-662-HELP in the U.S. to reach a free referral helpline from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Parental substance abuse the main reason kids end up in foster care

While strung out on heroin, Anne Bissell spent hours, sometimes days, passed out in the bathroom or bedroom. What her young son did during those times, she has no idea.

“I’m assuming he would eat at his friend’s house or he would come in and get stuff out of the refrigerator, but I wasn’t there to prepare his meals,” Bissell says. “I wasn’t there to make sure he wasn’t getting hit by a car. I wasn’t there to make sure he’s brushing his teeth and helping him get dressed in the morning. I wasn’t there for any of that stuff.”

Drugs and alcohol are a huge factor in Arizona’s spike in kids being placed in foster care. Of the 10,141 children removed from their homes statewide in fiscal year 2012, at least 59 percent were removed because drugs or alcohol use were contributing factors to maltreatment, Department of Economic Security figures show. Local numbers are even higher: This year through October, 67 percent of Pima County families involved in a dependency case had substance-abuse issues, data from Pima County Juvenile Court show. All three of Bissell’s children were taken away as a direct result of her drug addiction. When her son was in second grade, he went to live with his father. She later had two more kids who were removed from her care — her mother has custody of one and Child Protective Services took the other at birth when the baby tested positive for heroin and cocaine.

Stories like Bissell’s are more and more common in Pima County.

Between July and October, 406 children under age 5 entered CPS custody. That’s an average of 102 a month, nearly twice the monthly average of 57 seen seven years ago, says Annabel Ratley, former division director for child and family services at the Easter Seals Blake Foundation. Some of the increase is due to greater awareness of drug use among parents, says Jinny Ludwig, executive director of the Northern Arizona office of AmeriPsych, a foster-home licensing agency based in Phoenix with offices in Tucson. The agency recently got referrals for five babies on the same day.

“There’s more of a focus on keeping track of parents with babies that are born with substance abuse,” Ludwig says. “More immediate action is being taken.”

In October alone in Pima County, 22 babies under 3 months old were removed from their birth families, and 20 of those cases involved allegations of parental substance abuse, Pima County Juvenile Court records show. At the University of Arizona Medical Center, chief of neonatalogy Dr. Alan Bedrick says about two babies a week enter CPS custody after testing positive for illicit drugs. That’s about a 50 percent increase over six years ago, he says.

“CPS does have a visible presence here because we have so many high-risk babies with challenging family situations,” he says. “We’ll have babies ready for discharge, and we are not able to send them home because Child Protective Services has not been able to find placement.” Bedrick described one mom, a drug addict with ongoing CPS involvement, who has given birth to several babies who have tested positive for drugs. “She’s saying, ‘I’ll keep having babies until I’m allowed to keep one,’” he says.

Drugs Equal Neglect

Drugs and alcohol can lead to children being abused, but when drugs are in the picture neglect is a certainty, says Chris Swenson-Smith, division director of children and family services at Pima County Juvenile Court.

“Most people who have substance-abuse issues aren’t violent or abusive, but once you become addicted to a substance your life becomes about getting or using (drugs) and your budget, your money, goes towards those things, too,” Swenson-Smith says. “When you have something taking over your time and your money, kids often then take the back seat.”

Kids of addicts might be left unsupervised or in the care of inappropriate caregivers. They might fail to thrive from a lack of proper nutrition. They might not get proper medical attention. When Bissell had custody of her son, who is now 19, he often missed more than 45 days of school. Her drug-dealer boyfriend would show the boy violent movies and hit her in front of him. She’d take him to drug-dealers’ homes, where she would pass out and he’d be left to wander.

“I just really neglected taking care of him, basically,” she says.

The day her daughter was taken away, the home they were living in had no gas or electricity. There was no food in the fridge. Soon after that, Bissell became pregnant with a second daughter. She moved to Nogales, Sonora, to follow her boyfriend, who had been deported. She said her low self-esteem and desire to be loved contributed to her staying in an unhealthy, emotionally and physically abusive relationship. Plus, the man was her link to drugs. They lived in a cardboard shack with no running water or bathroom, and Bissell alternated between using methadone and heroin throughout her pregnancy. She didn’t seek prenatal care.

“Back then, as hard as it is to say, my primary focus was him and not my children,” Bissell says. “It’s hard for me to say that, but drugs just consumed my life.”

Heroin Use Rising

Meth, marijuana, cocaine and alcohol remain the most common drugs used by parents involved in dependency cases in Pima County. But there has been a sharp increase in the use of heroin and prescription drugs in the last five years. The number of families in dependency cases who abuse opiates has tripled in the last five years in the county. In 2008, 29 cases involved heroin and 56 involved prescription drugs. Among open cases through Oct. 31, 138 involve heroin and 148 involve prescription drugs.

Opioids prescribed for pain relief are among the most commonly abused prescription drug, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says. A crackdown on prescription drugs made pills harder to get and more expensive, driving people to find a cheaper fix, says Elizabeth Kempshall, director of the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

The price of heroin dropped about five or six years ago, and now it’s cheaper than meth, cocaine and crack — and it provides a faster, longer-lasting high, says Kelly Irving, director of women’s services at CODAC behavioral health services. The drug has also become more appealing in recent years because it no longer needs to be injected.

“There was a horrible stigma about using needles because of the AIDS epidemic and people looking for places to shoot up black tar heroin,” Kempshall says. “With the white heroin you can snort it or smoke it. It doesn’t leave tracks on the body.”

Heroin stands out among illicit drugs because it’s easier to get hooked on and harder to quit.

“When somebody’s withdrawing from cocaine or meth, they may have a headache, feel really irritable and just want to sleep a lot,” Irving says. “Somebody who is withdrawing from opiates …if you can imagine having the flu times 100. It’s severe body aches fever, nausea, diarrhea, and it’s intensified — because it’s more extreme than a normal flu, but also because these people have also not felt any pain for a long time because of the drug so their pain tolerance has decreased significantly.”

Babies of women who used opiates often face withdrawal symptoms, too. Nationwide, the number of opiate-exposed newborns increased from 1.1 per 1,000 hospital births in 2000 to 5.6 per 1,000 hospital births in 2009, says Dr. Mo Bader, a neonatologist at UAMC. While those babies come off the drugs, they can suffer tremors, feeding difficulties, vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes seizures, Bader says. They also are likely to need hospital stays of two to four- weeks — sometimes as long as six months — which makes it difficult for them to bond with a parent or caregiver and causes lasting developmental challenges. In adults, withdrawal symptoms, depending on the amount of heroin used and a person’s metabolism, can set in with 24 to 28 hours after an addict’s last hit. Heroin also causes users to “nod out” or fall asleep wherever they are, including driving with their kids in the back seat.

Bissell said she remembers one time passing out on the couch with a baggie of cocaine stuffed in her sock. When she woke up, her daughter, who was around 1 at the time, had white powder all over her face. Bissell doesn’t know if the girl ingested any of the drug; She was too afraid to take her to the hospital, fearing CPS intervention.

Antidote To Stress

Many addicts turn to drugs and alcohol hoping to escape the pain of trauma they endured in their past.

“It’s almost always that they themselves, these parents, were victims of abuse or neglect or some kind of significant childhood trauma and no one helped them,” says Swenson-Smith of Pima County Juvenile Court. “They’re living with anxiety disorder and depression and PTSD, and when their lives became stressful they turned to something that helped and made them feel better.”

Bissell says she was bullied in grade school and felt emotionally disconnected from her family, which adopted her at birth. When she met her birth mother as an adult, she learned she, too, used marijuana and cocaine while she was pregnant. When Bissell was around 12, she started sneaking sips of alcohol at her parents’ dinner parties and then started stealing bottles from the liquor cabinet. She and a friend spent their weekends drinking and smoking marijuana.

“I felt good about myself. I didn’t have to feel all of the negative feelings I was feeling,” she said.

Eventually she started using cocaine. And when she destroyed her nasal cavities, she turned to heroin.

“I just wasn’t happy with myself. I’d been in these relationships where I was seeking somebody to love me,” she says. “I had very low self-esteem … and I didn’t have the proper coping mechanisms.”

Though she had tried treatment programs before, it wasn’t until she enrolled in a long-term residential treatment program in 2006 through the Amity Foundation that she got sober. After her first three months in the program, Bissell said she thought it was time for her family to be part of her life again and to forgive her. But that’s not how things panned out, and she once again sought comfort in drugs.

In treatment, she learned to accept that her family would come around when they were ready, not when she was ready. And they did. Eventually they started coming to family groups, and her son and oldest daughter started to visit. Her youngest daughter was adopted outside the family. But she still had plenty of work to do. Her daughter, who was 3 or 4 when Bissell got sober, had no idea who her mother was and called her “Anne.” The first time her son — who was around 12 at the time — came to spend the night with her, he asked if she was going to spend the whole time in the bathroom.

“That was his last memory of me,” she says.

Rebuilding her relationships, especially with her son, took time.

“I had said sorry to him so many other times that it wasn’t going to matter unless actions speak louder than words, and I had to demonstrate that to him,” she says.

She and her son now have what she calls a “phenomenal” relationship. When he was in high school, she would speak to a health class about the effects of substance abuse. Twice he’s accompanied her to share what he remembers from those days. As for her daughter, who is now 10 and still lives with her grandmother while Bissell is in school, “Today we’re like this,” Bissell says, crossing her fingers. “She makes me all sorts of pictures; she calls me mom;; she texts me all the time. Our relationship has just evolved into this beautiful mother-daughter relationship.”

Bissell now works as the director of housing compliance for Dragonfly Village, transitional housing being built by Amity. She’s also working toward her master’s degree in social work through Arizona State University and is participating in an internship at Family Drug Court. She says she constantly thinks about that little girl she left in the hospital.

“What is she doing in school? Is she struggling? Does she have any learning disabilities?” Bissell wonders. “I’d love to sort of make an amends with her because I didn’t take care of myself when I was pregnant with her,” she says “I can’t take back time. All I can do is change, live day by day.”

A substance abuse counselor’s wishes for 2014

1. That you understand we aren’t real sure we will be able to help you. Recovery from addiction is an inside job. And, in recovery, everyone is unique and is going to be asked to do a whole lot of work to change his attitudes, thoughts and behaviors about most everything. So, just know we don’t have superpowers, but we do know the way to sober living. Use us like you would a GPS. Having someone point it out helps get you there. Then, pass it on.

2. That despite your counselor not being your new best friend, we hope you will open up about your life, fears, goals, hopes and dreams. Ours is a very lopsided relationship. We get to ask you all sorts of questions and you get to try to eke out a little unimportant information about us.

3. In our training, we are advised not to give you advice. Hah. We break that rule a lot. What we hope is that you listen to this advice as though your life depends on it, because it probably does.

4. All the degrees in the world, either yours or ours, don’t bode well for better outcomes. You want a therapist you feel comfy with, someone who is a superb listener, who has empathy, humility, gratitude and a sense of humor, plus an education and experience in the field. We want a client who gets out of their head and into their feeling zone.

5. We’re not in this for the money. First of all, the pay for this profession — well, sucks. Second of all, we work all sorts of hours night and day, most holidays and weekends for inpatient, halfway house and detox units. We get few paid days off and must fight your insurance company tooth and nail to get you days of service, and we have paperwork that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. But we love it anyhow. Go figure.

6. We hope, too, that you have more fun. Find something that makes you laugh and revisit it often.

7. Have gratitude for the little stuff, like dirty dishes, which tell the story that you ate; like mowing the lawn, which tells the story that you actually have a lawn; and laundry, which says, “Wow, I have clothes.” And soap and water. And for the big stuff like your vision, your living in America, and your pancreas, which knows without you telling it exactly how much sugar to release into your blood stream — too little, you’re dead; too much, same thing. Gratitude for your chance to reinvent yourself as a sober, loving human being.

8. More patience. More perseverance. Courage. Serenity. Getting well doesn’t need to happen by Thursday. It’s an exciting, sometimes frustrating journey that takes as long as it takes.

9. We wish for you to give service to others, which will bring blessings back to you tenfold.

10. More faith and determination. It’s gonna happen if you stick with it no matter how defeated you may feel in this moment. The moment passes and then, well, you have another moment to apply your best effort.

11. We wish that you pray more. Not necessarily to some form of a god created by a particular religion, though that’ll do, but to a power higher than us all. To that place in your heart that says, “I’m lucky to have survived this, am lucky to be alive, lucky to be sober today.” “Thanks” is one great prayer.

12. We hope you use your love. Love for yourself, who is doing about as good as you can right now. Love enough to forgive yourself. Love of your higher power, who is there cheering you on. Love for the all the gifts of the earth and of the stars and nature. Spirituality in a nutshell.

13. We hope you believe in the promises listed in the big book. (If you follow a 12 step program)

14. And finally, we hope you know we want someone, anyone to put us out of business. The sooner the better.

NJ Drug Court Saluted for Helping Addicts

Keith Jones stood at a podium in a Passaic County College auditorium in front of friends, family, police officers, prosecutors and judges to proudly declare that he has a job, he has credit and he has respect. The reason, he said, was that he had turned his substance-abusing life around, thanks to the state Superior Court’s county-based drug court program — on Wednesday, the 45-year-old grandfather was one of 24 people graduating from the program that day. “I learned how to be responsible,” Jones said. “I was a 40-year-old man living with my parents. I took the opportunity to change my life.” He’s now a truck driver for a company in Wayne. He worked up to that position during the past two years. He started as a package handler and then as a machine operator. “I have credit,” Jones said as his voice boomed over the packed room. “I bought two new cars in the past year … it’s just from paying my bills on time.”

It’s successes like Jones’ that lead many involved in the drug court program, like Judge Rudolf Filko, to declare, “Drug court works.” Statewide, there have been 3,400 graduates from state drug courts, and 379 of them have come from Passaic County, Filko said. What’s most important, said the judge, is that 144 parents have regained custody of their children and 286 drug-free babies have been born to drug court alumni. The county’s drug court is one of three programs set for a mandatory expansion next year under a law signed by Governor Christie that requires non-violent drug offenders to be sentenced to treatment programs instead of prison. The Atlantic and Cape May counties joint court and the Mercer court are the others. The full expansion will be rolled out over five years.

Christie, who has made drug-offense prosecution one of the corner stones of his administration, was the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s graduation. Speaking before Jones made his presentation, Christie noted the need to stop the cycle of drug abuse and incarceration, which puts the same people in front of the same judges time and again. He said the solution to the state’s drug problems cannot be to put them out of our sight “and feel that we’re fixing the problem.”

“They don’t want this,” Christie said referring to addiction. “We have an obligation as a society to help them get over this.” Regardless of the humanitarian reasons for drug court, the governor said there are financial considerations, too. Keeping a drug offender in jail for a year costs about $49,000. Rehabilitation for an addict costs about half as much. It helps people take control of their lives and gets them off the streets and back to work.

Jones called the opportunity to go through drug court a blessing. He was either drunk or high when his two older sons, now 25 and 22, were growing up. Jones has been able to rebuild a relationship with them, he said. His oldest lives in Virginia with his four children, and Jones has the opportunity to drive there and see his grandchildren. “They will be able to know me,” Jones said. “I can be there for them.”