Panelists share experience with drugs, alcoholSubstance abuse led to suspensions, death of friends
The harmful effects of drugs and alcohol were the focus of a panel Thursday night in the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.
The Jefferson County Alcohol Consumption Task Force and First Resources Corporation hosted a program designed to educate the public about substance abuse and the lives it has ruined. Three people recovering from drug and alcohol abuse spoke about their personal experiences and advised the audience on how to avoid making the same mistakes they made.
The common theme running through all three testimonies was the young age at which the people started using drugs or alcohol.
Steve Pilkington said he started using drugs and alcohol at the age of nine, and by the time he was a teenager he was using those substances daily.
Pilkington had a rough home life and he moved frequently as a child. Rather than confront his problems head-on, his parents sent him to live with relatives in other states. He bounced around from Georgia to Texas to California and finally ended up in juvenile court in Missouri. He has been to prison three times and has been in multiple treatment centers.
Abusing drugs and alcohol to cope with problems didn’t seem unusual to Pilkington because it’s what he saw in his own home. His mother was addicted to prescription medications and painkillers.
“I didn’t know there was any other way to live,” he said.
He told the crowd that when he became an adult he felt like a scourge on society. After he was let out of prison in Missouri, his parole officer didn’t want him to return to Iowa, even though it was his home state and his family lived there. Pilkington married a woman who was also addicted to drugs and alcohol. Although the two are now separated, Pilkington said his ex-wife has been clean for nine years and the two of them remain good friends.
Corbin Shy said he, too, began using drugs and alcohol at age nine. He began using marijuana and speed in his teenage years. He had little interest in his studies and dropped out of school when he was a sophomore in high school.
Shy said he was leading the same kind of reckless lifestyle his friends were leading, and the results were often deadly.
“By the time I was 21, I had buried six friends from drunk-driving deaths, one of which I was involved in,” he said.
Even after seeing the effects of drinking and driving, Shy couldn’t beat his addiction to alcohol and was arrested for driving under the influence in a separate incident.
Recovery proved to be a difficult process. Shy recalled a time when he was going to see his parole officer and planned to do drugs after the appointment. The parole officer told Shy he looked much better than he did when he was arrested, and showed Shy his mug shot from that day. Shy couldn’t believe it.
“I looked bad in that picture,” he said.
After realizing the progress he had made, Shy decided not to do drugs after the meeting.
Another turning point for Shy was when he began to read the Bible and attend church. He said he feels great now that he’s given his life to the Lord and has made many friends in the church congregation.
Shy’s advice for the parents in attendance was to not allow their kids to set their own curfew. He said parents should be wary of sleepovers when kids get older because that is one way they can hide their drinking. He advised parents to keep track of how kids spend their money, too, because it takes money to buy drugs and alcohol.
The third panelist, Alan Stonehouse, said he got drunk for the first time at age 15 on Jim Beam whiskey. The experience was not what he thought it would be. He was so sick he couldn’t walk and had to crawl back to his house. It took him several days to return to full strength.
Just like Shy, Stonehouse was involved in a drunk-driving death. With a few friends along for the ride, he took a curve too fast and rolled the car. Stonehouse was ejected from the vehicle. He was able to get on his feet and yelled out for his friends. He heard one friend, Josh, but not his other friend, Davey. He looked for Davey in the wreckage but couldn’t find him. An ambulance came and transported Stonehouse and Josh to the hospital. Upon arrival, Stonehouse learned the first responders found Davey had been ejected from the car and that he was dead.
“I cried for weeks, and I still cry about it to this day,” he said.
Stonehouse told the audience he wouldn’t listen when people told him to stop drinking. He said he hopes today’s youth don’t have to lose a friend before they stop using drugs and alcohol.
Margie Gerber of Life Solutions Behavioral Health in Ottumwa said getting kids to listen is one of the most important aspects of parenting. Parents have to be aware of the peer pressure their kids are going through, and what drinking and drugs can do to their health at that age. She said their brains are not completely “wired” until age 20.
Gerber spoke about ways parents could find out if their children are experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Rather than ask the child yes or no questions, she suggested forcing the child to elaborate on what they’ve been doing or where they’ve been.
If a child runs to their room immediately after getting home, Gerber said it might be a good idea to follow them, because they could be trying to hide the smell of alcohol or drugs.
The audience had a chance to ask the panelists questions at the end of the program. A member of the audience asked the panelists a simple question: why did you start?
Shy said it was because he began hanging out with his older brother’s friends, and they liked to drink. Stonehouse said much the same thing, attributing his alcohol problem to peer pressure.
Someone asked them what their parents knew about their drug and alcohol use and if the parents tried to stop them. Shy said he was good at manipulating his parents and getting them to believe what he wanted them to. Stonehouse said his step-dad was not around very much and that he hid his alcohol use from his mother by lying.
He said one way he hid it was exactly as Gerber described earlier in the meeting, which was by running upstairs when he got home from a friend’s house. Shy said he would tell one of his parents he was with the other parent, when in reality he was out drinking with his friends. He said his drinking got him suspended from school on multiple occasions and that he had to attend class on Saturdays.
A child in the audience asked the panelists why they continued to drink even after it had caused problems in their lives.
“It wasn’t because it tasted good,” Stonehouse said.
Another audience member asked what programs exist to steer kids away from drugs and alcohol. Jefferson County juvenile court officer Troy Seeley, who moderated the panel, said Fairfield Middle School does a fantastic job of creating a wide variety of after-school activities for kids.