Pictured earlier this year at a Families Against Narcotics event, Kyle Bond, of Warren, discusses overcoming his addiction to drugs.

Pictured earlier this year at a Families Against Narcotics event, Kyle Bond, of Warren, discusses overcoming his addiction to drugs.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Addiction: A stranglehold on American life

The first part in a series examining the opioid epidemic

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published July 25, 2018

 Bond gives a hug to Hope Not Handcuffs angel coordinator Lisa Cattaneo-Boska earlier this year. Programs like Hope Not Handcuffs and organizations such as Families Against Narcotics have emerged in the battle against the opioid epidemic.

Bond gives a hug to Hope Not Handcuffs angel coordinator Lisa Cattaneo-Boska earlier this year. Programs like Hope Not Handcuffs and organizations such as Families Against Narcotics have emerged in the battle against the opioid epidemic.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

METRO DETROIT — How did America let this happen, and who is to blame?

The opioid epidemic has been changing lives for more than a decade, ravaging individuals and families while showing in plain sight the desecration of the fabric of society. Drugs for the most part used to be part of the solution, but now are contributing to the problem.

It’s hard to identify where to begin. Stemming from coastal cities to the Midwest, from impoverished households to those whose wallets are mired with dope-buying currency, the epidemic has no bounds. It doesn’t care if you’re white or black, rich or poor, young or old, using recreationally or because you actually need medication.

To get the real story, you have to talk to those who deal with the crisis each and every day. These are health department officials who study data and iterate findings to local and regional residents and entities; members of law enforcement whose roles as public defenders have changed as education on the subject matter evolves; substance abuse professionals who work with inconsistent fiscal year budgets to remedy the problem, rather than give it time to become even worse; and the doctors who fight the profession’s conventions related to prescribing narcotics and managing pain. 

Ultimately, there are the addicts themselves and how they shape the world around them — and in turn how the world swallowed them whole. It’s the teenager who buys laced heroin from a cheap street dealer in a rough neighborhood. It’s the mothers who wait up all night for their sons and daughters to come home, but they never do — or if they do, it’s in a body bag.

It’s relatively easy to scan every city and state and be sympathetic toward the sadness induced from drug addiction. But it’s more palpable when individuals find that their relatives, friends or neighbors, are addicts. Most of us know someone, or knew someone, who succumbed to the deathly grip of drugs. Some wonder, ‘Why them and not me?’

Addicts never want things to end that way, even if sometimes it does. It’s the reality of the battle that is being waged in nearly every community. People are hooked on substances that never promised to be forgiving.

 

Taking pills ‘was like magic’
Addiction tends to originate at the beginning. Just ask Kyle Bond, 25, of Warren.

He grew up in what he described as a dysfunctional family, with an alcoholic father who spent most of his time behind bars. His grandfather required help due to illness. His mother was forced to work double duty due to raising Kyle and his 28-year-old brother.

“I was exposed to some nasty sides that a child shouldn’t be,” Bond said. “I had to grow up pretty quick.”

His ascension into the teenage years mirrored that of many kids across America: He met a group of people who he shared common interests with, and debauchery ensued. It wasn’t uncommon, he said, to be 12 or 13 years old and smoking marijuana and drinking booze — one or the other, or simultaneously.

Meanwhile, his grandpa’s health deteriorated, leading to his being prescribed methadone. He was in a stage of pre-rigor mortis, losing function of a hand that was essentially frozen in position.

One day, Bond found his grandpa’s medication, leading to a whirlwind of a life he never anticipated.

“By the time I took it, it was already too late. … It was just what I was looking for: for love, for comfort, for warmth, for happiness — things I never received as a child,” he said. “I clinged to anything that would give me comfort. All I had to do was take a pill and it was like magic.”

Such experimentation led to more usage. Bond tried lots of things, but like every addict, he had a drug of choice. In his case, it was opioids and benzodiazepines like Xanax. He used the drugs as a way to fit in, watching the mental and physical anguish drift away into a sublime state of being.

As he put it, kids try their hardest to be accepted by anyone.

He looked at life as if he was incessantly staring in a mirror, wondering where the journey would take him. For years, he was selling drugs or getting high off his own supply just to break even or keep his habit going.

But the hysteria didn’t last long. He began to develop a criminal docket, predicated on possession charges, theft and violence. A portion of his teenage years were spent in the Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center.

At the center, he was just another fish in a barrel. He routinely told judges, officers and attorneys that being stuck inside such load-bearing walls would only make him a better criminal. Negativity breeds negativity, he would say.

After spending years 15 through 17 in what was a parole-type deal, he “graduated” to Macomb County Jail. It elevated the game, but not how people on the outside would expect. There was even more criminal activity, blurring the line between rehabilitation and being stuck in a cultural institution.

Waking up in jail cells, close to murderers and rapists and child molesters, brought feelings of guilt, shame and remorse. Those emotions transitioned to frustration, anger and depression.

Bond felt “possessed,” not being able to curb his habits and feeling the situation escalate. A sense of hopelessness towered over him, making him wonder whether there was a way out.

“I didn’t think I would be alive past 19,” he said. “I didn’t see it in my future, who I was hanging out with and the way it was going.”

While incarcerated, he took up reading. He recalled sifting through the pages of the Bible, at first thinking it was a fictitious work before delving into its testimony. A self-proclaimed chameleon who could blend into different social situations, be it school or in jail, he began to undergo rehab and take pieces from his life and mold it into his personality.

That involved focusing on the positives: Taking bits from Narcotics Anonymous, educating himself in the parables of Christianity and Buddhism, undergoing rational behavioral therapy and smart recovery.

For Bond, it wasn’t just about staying sober; the challenge was based in recovery. It was becoming a responsible member of society, showing up to his job early and before everyone else, paying his bills on time, curbing profanities. Anything based in moral servitude, he embraced.

“I explain it as a staircase: You’re trying to get to the next floor,” he said.

The first stair was staying sober, and as one keeps climbing then it becomes an issue of staying alive. Thoughts of suicide compounded his psyche, but that feeling ultimately became temporary. You get to a point where you have to become better, or you die.

 

Secondhand effects
Often, dependence is a double-edged sword. You’re either the victim, or affected by proxy.

Such was the case with Linda Taylor, of Harrison Township. On June 5, 2017, her 17-year-old daughter, Marina Michele Taylor, died.

Marina grew up with what was described as the average childhood. Even though her parents got divorced when she was in 8th grade, co-parenting remained consistent and no major issues emerged. She grew under the tutelage of an older brother, Adam, 23.

Linda said her daughter, who attended L’Anse Creuse High School, was a little different than most overdose victims. She was a “normal teenager,” a good student with big goals. A dancer and artist, Marina had aspirations of attending the College for Creative Studies in hope of becoming a photographer.

With a penchant for silence, even her teachers told her she should be more social. A transition ultimately occurred around January 2017, and maybe even a little before that. Linda said girlfriends her daughter had since kindergarten had sort of faded into the background, living different social lives.

That was when Marina started hanging out with a different crowd than her mother was previously accustomed, expanding her horizons in a negative way. Within a period of about three months, the once quiet teen was skipping classes and got suspended from school. She almost lost enough credits to not even graduate.

“She was hanging out with different people I didn’t know as well,” Linda said.

Marina’s personal rendezvous began to wear on her extremely close relationship with her mother. The fracture truly began when arguments were born out of Marina’s lies, notably in her myriad denials of substance abuse. Arguments became commonplace.

Linda felt a motherly instinct that something just wasn’t right. Evidence emerged, as she put it, when she found marijuana, cigarettes and alcohol bottles hidden underneath her daughter’s bed. It was behavior Marina reportedly told her mother she would never engage in.

“She was always blaming somebody else, it wasn’t her fault,” Linda said. “I wanted to believe her. … I couldn’t accept the fact that she would lie to me.”

Marina was dating a guy at the time who stayed on her mother’s radar, mainly because she didn’t know much about him. The couple attended prom together, even though a big argument prior to the event almost derailed the entire evening.

Linda thought she saw a light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of Marina texting her on the day of prom. The near-graduate told her mother that she loved her more than anything and hoped she was proud of her, adding that she never aspired to forfeit her entire future for some friends who equated as bad seeds or troubled souls.

She promised her mother that the two would have a girl’s night the next evening, looking over photos Marina took as part of her college portfolio.

“She never came home,” Linda said.

The pair were supposed to convene at 9 p.m., but after 30 minutes passed there was no sign of Marina. Linda began calling and texting her phone. No response. She received no answer when calling the boyfriend.

Around midnight, Linda, exasperated, received a call from her daughter, who said she was at her boyfriend’s house and decided to just spend the night. Linda was furious she never got any responses, but she saw the bigger picture. Her daughter was OK.

But that giant sigh of relief was only temporary. At 6 a.m., Linda received the worst call a parent can ever hear. The boyfriend’s mother relayed that Marina had become unresponsive and was in the hands of emergency personnel.

Just mere days from graduating high school and embarking on the next chapter of her life’s journey, Marina was announced deceased as result of an overdose.

The toxicology report was delivered about three months later, allowing for Linda and the family to grieve and process what happened — and what went wrong. The report concluded that Marina had LSD, Xanax, marijuana and ecstasy in her system.

It was the Xanax that ultimately led to her death, due to being laced with fentanyl and likely shutting down her respiratory system.

Grief turned into a parental investigation, with Linda trying to put the pieces together as if it was a jumbled puzzle.

A camera that Marina was given on Christmas and could often be found around her neck disappeared, and was ultimately never recovered. Her phone was damaged, with Linda just recently getting access to text and call logs. A criminal investigation was never able to find evidence or proof of wrongdoing.

 

Different paths forward
Linda believes outside influences persuaded her daughter, but she is privy to her daughter’s culpability, saying, “I have to recognize she made her own decisions.”

Hindsight can be a dangerous thing, but Linda realizes the power it can have for others who were or are in her shoes. She encourages parents to aggressively monitor their children’s activities, be it via social media or checking texts. Her daughter earned her trust, but in retrospect, it was probably too much.

“You just really, really need to pay close attention because kids that are that young don’t have the greatest judgment and want to fit in,” she said. “As much as you think you know them, they might surprise you. … We need to be diligent in constantly following up and not giving them too much freedom before they become adults.”

Bond has been free from heroin since December 2016, and sober from all substances — including alcohol — since Nov. 28, 2017.

He escaped his addiction and made it out the other side, with a new car, an apartment, a supportive girlfriend and a renewed relationship with his family. He makes car parts as a subcontractor for a major automaker. He enjoys rock climbing, traveling and taking art and music classes.

“Subconsciously, I may be making up for lost time,” he said.

The best thing his mother and brother could do was not help fuel his addiction, he said, because it was enabling him. Their relationship evolved from ignored phone calls to daily checkups, in an attempt to gauge Kyle’s newfound sobriety.

Bond has made a promise to never give up working on himself. He wants those who struggle to know that there is a way to find peace if you align yourself with the right individuals.

He also hopes people admit the truths of addiction. He said a negative stigma routinely surrounds the word “addiction,” but it’s a disease not related to failure or embarrassment.

“I think it’s more interpersonal than just a senator or congressman or president making a decision (to impact the epidemic),” he said. “There needs to be a community force against it — the people who know the addicts.”

Now, Linda — like Bond — regularly attends Families Against Narcotics meetings. She is an angel with the Hope Not Handcuffs program. Twice a month, she attends grief support group meetings, which have grown significantly in size.

In a dangerous world, she encourages kids to come forward and tell the truth. Even if it saves one life, it makes a world of difference.

“One bad dealer or one bad pill can kill you instantly,” she said. “It’s like Russian roulette. Kids think they’re invincible, and they’re not — especially when dealing with opiates.”

Call Staff Writer Nick Mordowanec at (586) 279-1118.