In this program, Bill Moyers examines how the cycle of addiction passes from generation to generation and looks at efforts to prevent kids from becoming addicts.
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TED JANSEN: Watch the mitt.
Group of Children: (In unison) I want to be healthy and happy.
TED JANSEN: Right at the mitt.
Group of Children: (In unison) I pledge to lead a drug-free life.
TED JANSEN: Good.
DONALD WRIGHT: I’m still just basically admitting the fact that I have a problem, you know. And I can’t really imagine life without drugs because it’s been a part of my life for so long.
Group of Children: (In unison) I will say no to tobacco.
TED JANSEN: Right here, big guy.
Group of Children: (In unison) I will say no to alcohol.
TED JANSEN: Yes!
JOE CARAM: To a person like me, it’s impossible to understand, like, why somebody would get a drink, drink half of it and then leave it there and totally forget that they had it. And all this time, I’m staring at it, ‘Finish your drink.
Group of Children: (In unison): I will say no illegal drugs. I will help my friends say no.
TED JANSEN: Good.
T.J. JANSEN: I can’t quite remember the time where I said, ‘Dad, please quit heroin,’ you know, straight up in his face, but I told Mom if Dad was gonna quit and she said, ‘I don’t know.’
Group of Children: (In unison) I pledge to stand up for what I know is right.
BILL MOYERS: I’m Bill Moyers. Few things are more popular with the American public than trying to prevent young people from using drugs. We’ve spent many millions of dollars hoping to get the message across to each new generation. The impact of all this is hard to measure. Teen-age substance use goes through cycles — rising and falling, then rising again.
But regardless of whether the use of drugs is up or down, the rate of addiction has stayed the same. Why is that? Well, it may well be because you can’t fight a complex disease with a simple message, because preventing use is not the same as preventing addiction.
In this hour, we’re looking at efforts to prevent kids from becoming addicts. Now no one can tell exactly who will grow up to be addicted, but we’ve come to realize that some young people are more at risk than others. Many factors come into play — not only parental behavior but psychological problems; not only the genes they inherit and the environment they live in but the empty place in the heart. We’re going to visit two American cities to meet several young people at risk for addiction and some of those trying to help them before it’s too late.
TED JANSEN: Yeah. That’s OK. Just slow down a little. Good one. That’s it.
T.J. JANSEN: I like sports because I think I was born as an athlete.
TED JANSEN: Good.
T.J. JANSEN: I like running around, playing games.
TED JANSEN: Where’s your foot?
T.J. JANSEN: I’m gonna be a pitcher and I think that I wanna play for the Mariners.
BILL MOYERS: T.J. Jansen lives near Seattle with his sister, Summer, and his parents — Ted, a carpenter, and Sue, a homemaker. Both his mom and dad are battling heroin addiction.
SUE JANSEN: Whoa! Almost. When I was high, we had a — a very good time. The kids and Ted — we had a very good time. We were very happy. And we were much more patient with the children and more apt to do things with the children than when we weren’t, or we were trying to get the drugs, forget it — ‘We haven’t got time for you kids right now. We have to get our drugs.
BILL MOYERS: When their supply would run out, the Jansens roamed Seattle’s streets looking for more.
SUE JANSEN: I justified it by saying, ‘OK, we get the drugs. I know you don’t like this, you guys, but we have to do this.’ So you would cook it up in the car, so you had to find a place you could do it where a police would not drive by and see you doing this. Unfortunately, the kids would be with us at times, in the backseat of the car, T.J., you know, our nine — 10-year-old son, watching us. Ted and I would fight because he would always get to go first. ‘How come you get to go first?’ you know. ‘Why not me?’ ‘Well, because you take too long. We can never find a good vein for you.’
T.J. JANSEN: When my mom couldn’t get the needle in the vein, then she would just get it in the rear end.
SUE JANSEN: And as soon as it’s over with, it was put away, and we would go do family things and be like a normal family. But I knew we weren’t and I knew my kids knew.
T.J. JANSEN: They’re nice people. They raised us good, even though they do heroin, you know. It’s pretty hard of experience because you don’t know what to do. You — you just — you don’t stop loving them.
BILL MOYERS: Ted’s 20-year addiction has made it hard for him to hold a steady job. Right now, he’s trying to quite heroin by going cold turkey. While he tries to get back on his feet, the family is living in a relative’s basement. They seldom have more than a temporary home.
TED JANSEN: It’s always been a cycle with me. It’s — I — I’ll get well for months, six, seven, eight months tops, and build back up everything that I’ve lost and then just to fall into the same trap and lose it all again.
T.J. JANSEN: Lay down. Lay down. Lay down.
TED JANSEN: With the kids, they always see the blood, the guts, the gore, the needles, the — the crying, the fighting, the lying, the stealing, the cheating part of it, and they’re just too young to see that.
BILL MOYERS: T.J.’s sister was born with developmental disabilities. Sue and Ted aren’t certain how much she understands of their addiction. Not so with T.J.
TED JANSEN: He’s a 10-year-old boy that’s probably gone through 30 years of experiences.
T.J. JANSEN: There. One day, I just came home from school, I dropped my stuff like I usually do, I take off my shoes, I put my stuff in my bedroom, and then I go in the kitchen and grab a snack and then watch some TV. But-instead of that, I went into the kitchen and I saw — and I saw my dad lying on the floor, breathing only once a minute, and I go, ‘Dad, Dad, are you OK?’
SUE JANSEN: I came out and he’s got 911 on the phone, Ted’s on the kitchen floor, facedown, blood everywhere, needle still in his arm.
T.J. JANSEN: If he was still on that floor for about five more minutes, I think he would’ve been dead. All the people said, ‘What happened to your dad?’ and I didn’t tell the truth. I just said he broke his nose — just broke his nose.
SUE JANSEN: I — I can only pray that T.J. will be able to look at his father and I and see the hell we’ve gone through, but I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t speak for him. We never lied to him. We were always very honest. He knows what drugs can do. He’s seen it firsthand. So I just pray that he doesn’t go that route.
BILL MOYERS: After Ted’s overdose, Sue vowed to stop using heroin.
SUE JANSEN: And I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to stop without help of some kind.
BILL MOYERS: She signed up at a methadone clinic. The methadone helped Sue stop using heroin for the first time in almost three years. OK. That was probably going to be the only way I was going to be able to even have a chance of stopping this craziness.
BILL MOYERS: The clinic offered more than a drug to help control her dependence.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: So active parenting, the parent moves and goes to the child and talks to the child …
BILL MOYERS: It also provided therapy — therapy for the addicted parents and therapy for their children. The hope is to prevent the addiction from being passed from one generation to the next.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: If your parents are using, then you don’t have a strong family, and you don’t have good communication skills, and you don’t have family meetings, and you don’t have family recreation, you don’t have family time and — and — and you’re probably not getting consistent discipline or consistent structure.
BILL MOYERS: Kathy Kuciemba runs the program.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: The kids learn that they’re not accountable for their behavior. So what does that leave them? That leaves them with matching with people that are using, and so that’s where their peer group is, and so they end up using, ’cause they don’t know how not to, just don’t know how not to, even though they say, ‘Oh, no, I’ll never do that.’ What are your goals for your family? Iris, what are your — some of your goals? Give some examples.
BILL MOYERS: Kuciemba knows kids like T.J. Jansen are at high risk for addiction because of the environment they live in and their genetic link.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: No drug use.
BILL MOYERS: Nothing can be done to change heredity, so the program tackles the thing that can be changed: how
the family works. ¬
T.J. JANSEN: Focus on Families is about where you bring your families and you talk about problems, and I like it.
BILL MOYERS: The clinic itself has raised the money so that for four months, three times a week, parents and children come to learn basic skills that have often been sacrificed to addiction.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: We do it to our kids all the time. They want our attention, they’re talking to us, and we continue to wash the dishes and go, ‘Mm-hmm,’ and — ‘Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.’ So what message are we giving them? That same message, right?
Unidentified Woman: That they’re not important.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: That they’re not important or we’re really not interested in listening to what they have to say. Mr.
PAUL LaFOND: Let’s have a little conflict that happened of the week. And you’re in the middle of family time and somebody’s real hot, somebody’s real angry about something that happened. Ted.
TED JANSEN: T.J., I’ve told you time and again that you’re supposed to take your dog outside to do its business and to feed it and take responsibility for it. It’s your dog.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: Let’s stop here. What happened? Did you see T.J.?
TED JANSEN: He — he shied away.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: He shied away, his feelings started to get hurt, he started to get mad. And now is that gonna change the behavior of what T.J. does? If the goal is for me to s — tell you how angry I am at you, well, OK, that’s fine. But that’s not gonna change anything on how the family works.
BILL MOYERS: The program’s research has shown that the parents in these classes have never learned ways of
handling family stress, and that if they can learn to manage it, they may be less likely to relapse.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: OK. So let’s try that with an ‘I’ message. Let me give you an example: ‘T.J., I really feel frustrated when you don’t take out your dog.’ Tra — OK, Ted, try it.
TED JANSEN: T.J., I really get angry when you’re not accepting responsibility for your dog.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: OK, Ted, one more time. ‘T.J., I really feel angry … ‘
TED JANSEN: Well, I do.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: Well, say it then!
TED JANSEN: Oh.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: Why are you saying ‘get angry’ if it’s a feeling?
TED JANSEN: T.J., I really feel angry when you’re not taking responsibility for your dog.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: Now stop for a minute. Do you all see the difference in that? That time, you were really communicating to T.J. about how you feel. Did that feel different to you?
TED JANSEN: I was as — yes, it did, and then I also …
KATHY KUCIEMBA: But you’re not sure if it’s good or bad.
TED JANSEN: I don’t — I’m not sure …
KATHY KUCIEMBA: OK.
TED JANSEN: …because I was still feeling the anger because it — I mean, when I — it came right back.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: That’s good. It’s all right to feel the anger. But the way you communicate it is the trick to — because what’s your goal? To get T.J.’s behavior to change. I think it’s for the kids, but the trick is that you can’t do anything for the kids unless you can fix these parents. So while we really wanna save this next generation from being addicts, we have to save the first one first. You know what? What I wanted to do is change behaviors or encourage.
TED JANSEN: I was doing a lot of things that I never was even aware that I was doing that — you know, that shut, turned people off, you know, instead of building the relationship, building the conversation or working through problems, you know. I was always a little dictator.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: You don’t just practice this for four years, you guys gotta do this for 18, 20 years, OK? You know, this parenting thing just doesn’t end, so you gotta practice it. Go for it.
TED JANSEN: OK, T.J., I think that if you can do all these things this week, that that would be fine, and then at the next family meeting next week, we’ll bring it up and go over it again. Is that OK with you?
T.J. JANSEN: Yes.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: Great.
TED JANSEN: I’d like that. Thank you.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: Great. Yea!
T.J. JANSEN: Focus on Family, I think, is really good. I think it should be every day because you — you can’t wait, like, once a week. You know, you got too much stuff already that you wanna get off your chest and stuff that’s bothering you.
BILL MOYERS: It seemed the Jansens were doing well. Methadone and counseling were working for Sue.
SUE JANSEN: Being at Focus on Family has gotten me in a surrounding of clean. Doctors, nurses, people are watching me, I’m not doing other drugs, I’m doing only the drugs they’re giving me. I’m back with my family, where I wanna be. I can hold my head up in front of my son and say, ‘Look, Mom has no needles anymore.’ T.J. was with me when I threw my needles away.
BILL MOYERS: But going cold turkey wasn’t working for Ted. Despite the family’s progress, six weeks after joining the group, he relapsed, returning to heroin. It was uncertain whether the Jansens would remain in the program.
There are a lot of kids like T.J. One in five American children lives in a home with at least one addicted parent. But you don’t need to be the child of an addict to be at risk for addiction. Donald Wright is a junior at Palmetto Senior High in Miami, Florida.
DONALD WRIGHT: Well, it’s Friday, so it’s been a long week in school, you know? So you definitely wanna hang back and do something just to get rid of all that stress, you know? So — I don’t know. Probably chances are — usually either get drunk off my butt and then I end up sleeping all Saturday day and just go back and party Saturday night.
My dad’s always been working late hours and I’ve been living with — with him for the past, like, three years. So basically, I’ve learned how to, like, live on my own. I cook for myself. I clean for myself. I do my own laundry. So he thinks I’m pretty independent and I think so, too. I can basically take care of myself.
BILL MOYERS: Donald’s parents are divorced. He shares a two-bedroom apartment in South Miami with his father, who works nights managing a restaurant.
Donald is alone from the time he comes home from school till late into the night. He says he smokes marijuana to fall asleep.
DONALD WRIGHT: It’s very hard for me to sleep ’cause I live alone pretty much and 3:00 in the morning, nobody’s home. I’m by myself, you know. I worry about that.
Once I go to sleep, you can’t wake me. You cannot wake me up. I’ve been late to school I think almost every day, just about every day and maybe I’m on time once every two weeks for the past two years. For the past two years, I failed both my first-period classes ’cause I haven’t been there.
BILL MOYERS: But there is one school session Donald never misses. Twice a week, he joins a group of students who are or have been very heavy substance users. Some, like Donald, come voluntarily or at the suggestion of a teacher. Others come as an alternative to being suspended or expelled.
DONALD WRIGHT: It’s just a bunch of basic — confused teen-age kids and we talk and we all — you realize, wow, there’s somebody else like me, you know?
STACY: You know, you — you start off just wanting attention or trying to help yourself out, and you become addicted, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
BRENT: I think a kid’s gonna use drugs to, like, get away from some type of problem, you know. It could have something to do with his family, you know. I mean, maybe he has some stressful situation at home. I mean, I can pretty much relate to that. I mean, I’ll start using some kind of drug, you know, it’ll make me feel better. Something’s bothering me, you know, I’ll go smoke weed, I’ll go drink a quart and, you know, at that point in time, you know, I feel a lot better, you know. It’s true. It’s an escape.
BILL MOYERS: They’re part of an effort called Trust. Each high school and junior high in Dade County has a Trust counselor specially trained to identify and work with the most vulnerable kids, especially kids at risk for addiction.
ROBIN TASSLER: I mean, some — I know in some cases some of you feel that your parents don’t really understand you, but how does drug use create a sense of…
BILL MOYERS: The counselor at Palmetto is Robin Tassler.
ROBIN TASSLER: When I work with the kids that are using drugs, we do spend time on drugs, but we also spend time looking at our lives and what’s going on in our lives.
Helplessness. You know, it’s like when I see someone I care about…
Initially, when we start the group, we talk about why people use drugs. You get a lot of superficial reasons: ‘Oh, it’s — it’s fun. It makes me feel good.’ But that’s just the surface. You know, how did they get to that point? And some of the kids say, ‘I like to be high. I like to — you know, ’cause I like the way I feel’ And I’ll say to them, ‘Well, why do you like it?’ ‘Well, I feel good.’ ‘Well, why do you feel good~ And we keep going around, and each time, the answer starts to change.
VERONICA: I’m always put down. My parents are not supportive at all and it just hurts me a lot.
DANNY: My mom, my dad, they were under the assumption that it was something that they did, you know. ‘We didn’t take you to the park that one day when you were two or that birthday party — you know, we didn’t have the theme right,’ you know, and they — they went through every event of my childhood thinking that they must have done something, screwed up somehow.
CHRISTINE: And for me, it was a sense of betrayal. You know, like, ‘How could you do this to me? You’re supposed to … ‘
BILL MOYERS: These kids bring a lot of experience to this circle: anxiety, trauma, grief, depression.
GIZZY: I’ve never had that support there from family or anything like that. I’ve always had myself to, like, to take care of responsibility of, you know.
BILL MOYERS: No one can say these things cause addiction, but not addressing them increases a young person’s risk.
ROBIN TASSLER: When you hear other people get angry at their parents or why don’t they… If you’ve got a child who is depressed because their mother died and no one ever addresses that depression early on, as they grow older, there may be some issues that could ultimately lead to either drinking or using to deal with it, which could lead to more serious problems.
DANNY: I keep putting myself in situations where I don’t really particularly wanna be in.
ROBIN TASSLER: And if someone intervenes early on to help give them whatever they need to deal with that problem, then they may not resort to using at another time.
BILL MOYERS: In Robin Tassler’s profession, they call it intervention, trying to reach young people while there’s still time.
ROBIN TASSLER: You have to give yourself a lot of support, because I know with — you know, it’s not like you have a family you can go back to to get the support and I know they love you, but like you said, it’s hard. So this way — but you’re trying to align yourselves with situations that give you the support you need.
DONALD WRIGHT: I’ve always had to give myself support.
ROBIN TASSLER: I know you have. And — and in some ways, you’ve — you’ve developed into a very strong person because of it.
DONALD WRIGHT: But I’m sick of it.
ROBIN TASSLER: Well, then you look for people that care about you and nurture you. It takes time. Rome wasn’t build in a day, you know. I mean, you know I — the thing is even, like, with school, you know, I think — I think school’s important. I do. However — however, I think sometimes when you’re trying to focus on one time in your life that you’re working on, those things will begin to fall into place, too. And I keep telling you …
DONALD WRIGHT: My Dad needs to understand that. Like, I tried to explain. He was totally pissed off. The only reason why I’m living with him is for school.
ROBIN TASSLER: I know.
DONALD WRIGHT: And — I don’t know. It’s just, like, ridiculous. He does not understand what I’m saying.
ROBIN TASSLER: But what does he say to you?
DONALD WRIGHT: He says, ‘School’s the most important thing. That’s the only thing I care about. If you don’t start doing good in school, I’m gonna throw you back in with your mom. ‘
ROBIN TASSLER: OK, so what…
DONALD WRIGHT: ‘I’ll pull you out of Palmetto, go to South Dade.’
ROBIN TASSLER: OK, what can — what can you say to him? See, you have to understand, what sounds like disappointment, although it may come across like that, if you change it a little bit, what he’s saying is he knows you’re bright and he knows you’re capable and he wants you to have a good future.
DONALD WRIGHT: But I’m using all this intelligence for not doing drugs.
ROBIN TASSLER: Fine, and that’s what you tell him for right now. You know, I was with you the other day when you signed up for summer school. I know you’re — you know, it’s — you know, you could’ve said, ‘The hell with it,’ and not done it.
DONALD WRIGHT: I almost did.
ROBIN TASSLER: But you didn’t.
DONALD WRIGHT: If something comes up this summer, like, if I wanna go somewhere or get a job…
ROBIN TASSLER: But — but you did — excuse me. But you didn’t. But you didn’t.
DONALD WRIGHT: I know.
ROBIN TASSLER: OK? But you didn’t.
RICK WOLFSON: We have a responsibility to identify kids who are troubled. So for the first time in zillions of years, there’s a program that enco — surrounds the kid and says, ‘This is what we’re gonna do.’
BILL MOYERS: Dr. Rick Wolfson runs the Adolescent Treatment Program at South Miami Hospital. When a Trust counselor identifies someone she thinks is in need of treatment, she often refers the student here.
RICK WOLFSON: If you listen, the kid will tell you what’s going on. I had a kid in my office the past week was shaking allover. I said to him, ‘If your body could talk to me, what would it be telling me? What is all the — what are — what are — what is — your legs jumping up and down. What would your legs tell me?’ And he looked at me and he says, ‘I’m scared.’ ‘Well, what are you scared of? He didn’t know. He’s scared. He needs help, the poor kid. I felt like hugging him. You know, I set him up for some psychological testing and we’ll look a little further, but it wasn’t just addiction, the kid is scared. He’s not scared when he smokes pot.
If the kid can survive long enough and recognize they’re gonna have to change their computer, the way they think, then they got a shot. Our job is to get them at that point in time.
BILL MOYERS: Is there anything that might have kept you from using, anything anybody could’ve said or done?
DONALD WRIGHT: Mostly if they said they cared about me. I mean, ’cause a lot of times I feel like nobody cares about me and I don’t care about myself. And …
BILL MOYERS: Nobody ever said that to you? Your father didn’t say it?
DONALD WRIGHT: There’s no time. He’s coming, I’m going. That’s the way it’s always been. I don’t know. Like, usually I don’t — at least before I didn’t care about myself. And I had to hear about — people — I had to have people tell me that they care about me.
BILL MOYERS: Like Robin?
DONALD WRIGHT: Yeah, but she didn’t have to tell me. Like, I can tell.
BILL MOYERS: Intervention is crucial in the lives of the most vulnerable kids because they’re often the ones who didn’t respond to traditional drug prevention programs.
JUSTIN: The problem with prevention is that it’s different for everybody. You can’t take a universal message and throw it into 75 billion minds that are different in every single way.
JOE CARAM: They feed you this ‘Just say no’ stuff when you’re really, really young and — and, you know, you’re impressionable ’cause you’re a little kid, so you’re all for it and, you know, ‘Yeah, yeah. No drugs. Drugs are bad. I say no to drugs,’ dah, dah, dah and you wear the sticker and you buy the T-shirt. And — and — but — but the thing that they don’t count on is that right around, like, 13, 14 you start to learn, like, rebellion.
JUSTIN: And it’s just, like, the preventive measures that they take, they hit you with when you’re in, like, third grade, you know, and you’re, like — or you’re, like, really young. You have just as much success explaining, like, prostate cancer to those kids. It’s not — it’s not a reality at that age .
MIRIAM WILLIAMS: What does ‘addicted’ mean?
Unidentified Child #1: They can’t help, like, having more and more.
MIRIAM WILLIAMS: They can’t help having more and more. What do you think it means?
Unidentified Child #2: They’re hooked on it.
MIRIAM WILLIAMS: You have lost control of the ability to stop.
BILL MOYERS: The Trust program began nearly a decade ago in the junior high schools. There was a classroom curriculum for all students, taught by regular teachers, and a counseling program for kids believed at risk for serious problems. It showed so much promise it was expanded into the high schools.
MIRIAM WILLIAMS: What are the risks of smoking marijuana or cocaine?
BILL MOYERS: But Dade County administrators realized that adolescence was too late to reach some kids.
Teacher #1: Today, we’re gonna be talking about alcohol and alcoholism and alcoholics that are in our family. And we’re gonna …
BILL MOYERS: Now even the elementary schoolchildren have their own Trust curriculum.
Teacher #1: If you have an alcoholic in your family, and you go and you throwaway all of the alcohol that’s in the house, what do you think might happen? Ashley.
ASHLEY: They’ll get very mad and angry at you.
Teacher #1: Excellent. If one out of every four children come from a family that has an alcoholic in it, that means that you’re not alone.
If you look around, that means that five of you have an alcoholic in your family. What do you have to remember? Children: (In unison) You are not alone.
Dr. DIANNE COTTER: (Trust Counselor): It’s very important for the teachers to understand that drug prevention is not about teaching about drugs. Teaching about drugs is just a very small portion of the curriculum. Parents and teachers need to understand that what you start with in drug prevention is with the child and the feelings and the emotions, and written communication, verbal communication, how to interact, how to follow rules, how to solve problems, how to make good decisions, all those things.
Children: (In unison) Success.
Teacher #1: The T? Children: (In unison) Together!
Unidentified Girl #1: I wish I were cool like those people. Maybe then I’ll be popular.
BILL MOYERS: While traditional drug education is included, Trust’s curriculum for younger kids is much more than
‘Just say no.’ They’re taught to recognize and understand the social and personal pressures that may tempt them to use drugs.
Unidentified Girl #2: If you take some of this, you’ll be cool like us.
Unidentified Boy: Being cool is being your own self.
Unidentified Teacher #2: I love what you just said. Say that again so everybody can hear you. Boy: Being cool is being your own self.
Teacher #2: It’s being your own self.
Unidentified Teacher #3: Making the right choice means that you will choose to say no …
BILL MOYERS: There’s a Trust curriculum taught by regular teachers in each of the district’s 200 elementary schools, but there is only enough money in the budget to put a Trust counselor in five of the most needy schools.
DIANNE COTTER: There’s a little bit of fear, a little bit of anxiety. Some of you …
BILL MOYERS: And it’s the counselor who is most necessary to help kids at high risk for addiction.
DIANNE COTTER: I guess I hear almost everything. In a typical group usually there’s an uncle in jail, there’s some type of sexual molestation that has occurred, these kids have seen their — their parents murdered. It’s hard to talk about at first and we talk about that. I let the kids know that if you have a problem or you have something to talk about, that if you ever want it to go away, you’re gonna have to tell someone and you’re gonna have to talk about it and you’re gonna have to deal with it, and the time is when you’re young.
BILL MOYERS: The district would like to have Trust counselors in every elementary school. -But the federal government, which provides about half the annual $5 million budget, has been shrinking its contribution, leaving the fate of the program in local hands.
In the upper grades, the counselors have their work cut out for them. Over the course of a year, Robin Tassler will see up to 300 students, listening and counseling, connecting them with school and community support and, if necessary, helping them get into treatment.
ROBIN TASSLER: I have a group of rape survivors. These are all young women. Some of them are at risk for drug use ’cause they’ve gone through some difficult periods. I have a bereavement group. I have an anger management group. Gosh, the list goes on and on and on.
You wanna wait for a less stressful time to quit? Is that what you’re saying? OK. Have you thought ahead, thought, about if you encounter stress again, once you’ve made the decision to quit, how you’re gonna handle that you won’t go back to smoking again?
ANNIE: More self-control, you know, but right now I don’t have — I don’t have …
ROBIN TASSLER: We’ve kept stressing that it’s not a matter of self-control ’cause if you keep telling yourself ‘willpower,’ you put yourself at a real disadvantage. It’s a question of changing your behavior, of doing something different.
BILL MOYERS: Whether it’s illegal drugs, alcohol or nicotine, Tassler’s goal is to get the students to examine why they do what they do.
ROBIN TASSLER: I get angry at the tobacco industry ’cause I feel they insult your intelligence. You know, I mean, we were saying that — that it — it’s just, like — you know, like, they’re just assuming that you’re a mindless bunch of boobs. Do you feel you’re mindless?
ANNIE: Yes. We’re — it’s true. I mean, if wanna — if we’re at age, like, 12 or whatever, if we’re gonna be controlled by a white stick with — filled with tobacco the rest of our lives that’s gonna take us, like — we’re gonna give them so much money, like, to destroy our bodies, I guess we are kind of mindless.
BILL MOYERS: When it comes to cigarettes, Tassler’s job may be the most difficult of all. Of those who start smoking, up to half will become addicted.
Unidentified Girl #3: It doesn’t make me stop smoking to see a — a charcoaled lung, you know, ’cause I think, ‘That’s not gonna happen to me.’ But why do I do it? That’s what this class makes me think about.
BILL MOYERS: Describe that craving to me.
Unidentified Girl #4: You haven’t had breakfast, you haven’t had lunch, you’ve been running late all day, it’s time for dinner, you sit down at a restaurant, and they’re taking — they’re taking their time, and the waitress is slow. That’s what addiction is. When you’re so hungry, you want your food so bad, and you’re staring at the kit — you — you know, when you stare at the direction that your food’s coming from, that’s — that’s what a cig — wanting a cigarette’s like.
BILL MOYERS: Did you read the little label?
Girl #4: The labels are a joke!
Girl #3: It says’ Smoking by pregnant women could cause harm.’ Well, I’m not pregnant.
MAX: Yeah. I’m not a woman. What do I care? I’m not gonna get pregnant, so it’s not…
Unidentified Girl #5: I’m still a smoker, but I’ve definitely cut down ’cause of the group. I just look at it a little differently. I know all the bad effects about smoking, but this has made it clear. And now I think when I have a cigarette: Why am I really having this cigarette?
BILL MOYERS: For kids in the drug group, quitting cigarettes isn’t the highest priority. They’re concentrating on sobriety. To that end, Donald has started hanging out with some of the kids in his Trust group outside of school.
ROBIN TASSLER: Kids that have stopped using, they start developing some clarity, and when they develop clarity, they can — they provide real good wisdom to the ones that are still using, even though those kids, a lot of times, are highly defensive about their use still.
DONALD WRIGHT: I usually have to smoke pot every night before I go to sleep, just to go to sleep, and the way I think about it most of the time is that I’d rather be smoking pot than taking Unisom, you know.
JOE CARAM: It turns into a lifestyle, man. Unidentified Teen: It does.
JOE CARAM: It turns into a lifestyle, like, almost — like, so quickly, you know? And you don’t even realize that you end up, like, scheduling your life around — around drugs. And you, like, actually make a schedule. Like, you just assume that, OK, from what I’ve done — like, I — OK, I did coke today and I’m not gonna be able to sleep, so I gotta take some pills or I gotta smoke, you know. And it’s like, in order to wake up, you gotta bump a line or you gotta smoke. And in order to go to sleep, you gotta smoke, you gotta take pills. You gotta do anything. And it’s — it’s like …
DANNY: And with drugs it’s like that. You have your own purpose when you start out, whether it is to, you know, cope with something in your family or medicate yourself or have fun. You know, at one point you go to leave it and it just doesn’t work.
DONALD WRIGHT: I live by myself and I still do drugs. I worked, like, seven months — seven months working at one place waiting tables.
DANNY: Without drugs, you would’ve done, like, that much better. You’ll never know.
DONALD WRIGHT: Not really. OK. First of all, I would have really wacky conversations with the customers and I would get bigger tips, and second, I would have money in my pocket, so after work I’d be able to go buy as much weed as I want and then …
DANNY: You can justify it however you want, it just doesn’t. ..
DONALD WRIGHT: But I’m just saying, like …
JOE CARAM: It’s that cycle, you know. Like, I smoke so I can work better, so I can get more money so I buy more weed, so I can smoke, so I can work better, so I can get more money …
DONALD WRIGHT: Some people can handle the responsibility on the drugs and I’m one of those people, I guess. I don’t know.
CHRISTINE: And I’m sure half of what you’re saying is true, but the other half is just a real naive, false interpretation that your body and your mind is giving you to justify you — to the things that you’re doing.
ROBIN TASSLER: These kids can say to them, ‘You know, I understand what you’re saying, but this is what I see happening.’ They can say, ‘Yeah, I see what you’re saying ’cause I loved it too. I do, I — I — I understand because I used to do that. But at the same time, this is how things are for me now.
JUSTIN: I mean, at night or on long breaks from vacation, I’ll literally pace my house, wanting a drink or something. I’ll just pace and — and rub my hands, but then I can call someone up that I met through this program or something and hang out, you know?
DONALD WRIGHT: I asked you if your life was that much better since you quit drugs and you have a year under your belt, and you said, ‘No.’
JUSTIN: It’s not. I still cry. You know, I still cry. I still hurt. I still — I still get angry.
DONALD WRIGHT: So what’s so much better about not doing drugs?
DONALD WRIGHT: What’s so much better about not doing drugs?
JOE CARAM: Life doesn’t just spontaneously, like, from out of nowhere get better because you stopped, like, you know, doing drugs. It’s just life is still tough, man. People have — people have the hardest time, you know, in their lives and they have so many problems and whatnot, and — and it’s not because they do drugs and — and it’s not because they don’t. It’s just because that’s how life is, you know, but it’s — it’s — it’s good for me, you know. I like the idea of actually being able to deal with the situation at hand on my own, without, you know — without having to run to a specific chemical.
BILL MOYERS: Joe Caram is a senior at Palmetto and a senior member of the Trust group. He stopped using almost a year ago.
JOE CARAM: When I went to the hospital, I mean, they just kind of told me, ‘Joe, you’re an addict. Look at you.’ And, I said, ‘Why? How? Because what? Because I hang out with my friends and do, you know, drugs?’ They said, Well, no, because you hang out with your friends and do drugs, you know, all day, like, every day,’ you know.
BILL MOYERS: Joe began drinking when he was 11. Soon came pot, acid and finally cocaine.
JOE CARAM: Ever since I was a kid, I had an image of — of — of a drug addict being, you know, like, a — like, a skinny, sweaty guy, like, half-naked, in, like, a dark comer, quivering, you know? That was just my image of — of what somebody who did any kind of drug — it didn’t matter. It’s just how you — always how you would end up, in — in my view. And it — it didn’t tum out that way, you know.
ROBIN TASSLER: You know, now that you got over the — the hump, you know, you — it’s — it’s nice in a way because I think now you can truly make the decisions you …
JOE CARAM: Why can’t I do what everybody else is doing, you know? What makes me different? I don’t know what boundary I s — I crossed, I don’t know where I went wrong. There are so many theories, you know, that — that it’s — that it’s hereditary, that it’s something that you’re born with, that it’s something that you get from your friends. I — I really don’t — I really don’t know.
All I remember from my childhood, from when I was really young, that far back, is that I was a really, really violent kid — really violent, you know. I was the most angry little kid. I don’t — I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe that — maybe that might’ve — might’ve given it away. As far as what — what could — what could’ve been done, I — I really don’t know, you know? I — I don’t know anything about — about what — what could’ve intervened.
JOE CARAM: When I was a kid, we’d move constantly. I was back and forth from New York to Connecticut to Chile to Florida, back to Chile, now back to Florida. I just bounced all over the place. I — I couldn’t help but involve myself with whatever was between my parents. They’d just, like, fight and decide that they were gonna div — get a divorce and then they would tell me and nothing would happen and then, you know… ¬
I — I never thought for a second what my mother was feeling — it — it didn’t — it didn’t make any difference to me. I thought — I thought what she was feeling was completely ridiculous.
BILL MOYERS: As Joe progressed toward a full-scale cocaine habit, he tried to hide it from his family.
Mr. CARAM (Joe’s Father): Very honestly, I did not notice. I thought his mood changes were part of the age, you know, and the — whatever generation in here. He had a lot of friends going around with him, but my wife — yes — oh, my wife said, ‘This kid — something going on with him. You know, look at him. Look at his eyes. Look at his mood. He sleeps all day and things like that.’ And I said, ‘OK, you know’ — kid’s 16, 17. They all do the same.
JOE CARAM: You know, I used my substances and people ended up getting really worried about me. You know, the whole reason I went to rehab was because people were worried about me, you know, like my girlfriend.
AMY: I have the type of family where my — you know, both my mom and dad are there. They’ve always been there. You know, my mom was the milk and cookie mom, you know. So I just try to take care of him when his dad’s not there and, you know, bake him cookies and, you know, kind of look out for him. I just kind of wanna give him a little bit of, like, support and guidance.
JOE CARAM: Amy got really, really concerned and I remember she wrote me this letter telling me that, you know — that, ‘I’m killing myself,’ and that, ‘Oh, it’s so horrible to see you, you know, doing this to yourself.’ And that’s how I took it. I was just like …
AMY: So I wrote him a letter, you know, and it didn’t do much good. And I guess at the same time his mother was starting to kind of notice some changes in him. So one day she came into where I was working, which was really — you know, ’cause she lived pretty far, and I was like, you know, ‘What’s going on?
BILL MOYERS: Amy decided to confide in Joe’s mother, and together with his father, they convinced Joe to enter the treatment center at South Miami Hospital, where he finally got clean. But staying clean was another matter.
JOE CARAM: I didn’t wanna be sober anymore, you know? The first couple of months I was just — ‘I don’t wanna do this. I don’t wanna do this. I don’t wanna do this. This is really, really horrible. I miss my friends, you know. I still — I wasn’t — I wasn’t happy in, you know — Miss Tassler, I know, has — has been instrumental in — in my sobriety. Especially in the beginning phases, I would spend so much time down at her office, because I didn’t wanna be sober anymore, you know. No, it’s — it’s during my first lunch.
ROBIN TASSLER: Oh, it is?
JOE CARAM: Yeah, so it’s — so it’s, like …
ROBIN TASSLER: Oh, OK. A web of support is extremely important — extremely important. Anything you do that’s gonna help a kid get through a crisis or an obstacle in their lives that will give them an alternative to tum to using substances as a way to cope is addiction prevention.
BILL MOYERS: Today, Robin works with Joe to help prevent a relapse.
JOE CARAM: At least — at least eight out of 10 times that I go to Miss Tassler, it’s in part because I wanna use. And I got to Miss Tassler just about — Miss Tassler’s just about every day — easily about every day. And I don’t tell her that. I don’t see why. But it’s just the fact that I’m not with Miss Tassler and I don’t feel like it anymore.
BILL MOYERS: You gonna take her with you when you graduate in three weeks?
JOE CARAM: No. I don’t — I — I have — I have — I have no idea, really, how I’m — how I’m gonna deal with cravings. I’ll just put my mind into something else.
My name is Joe. I guess I’ll start from the beginning. I started drinking when I was 11, more or less.
BILL MOYERS: One way Joe keeps himself straight is by talking to other students about his experience.
JOE CARAM: I met a bunch of burnouts and I became a burnout for, like, months. I — I was this — just this drooling vegetable slug of a human being. I was, like — ’cause I — ’cause, like, I pounded — I pounded pot like — like it was going out of style or something.
All I — all I can really do is sort of — is sort of nudge them into a different direction and — and explain that there’s a different way of life. Nobody ever did that for me. I never had anybody my age come up to me and tell me, you know, ‘I don’t do drugs. I used to do drugs. I used to be in the same boat that you were — that you are in now, you know, and this is what my life is like now.’ I never had anybody say that to me. And quite possibly, if I did, maybe things would’ve been different.
BILL MOYERS: As the school year draws to a close, Donald Wright is starting to rely less on drugs and alcohol.
DONALD WRIGHT: The thing I got out of the group was — at least when I was still using, I started realizing, you know, there’s somebody who’s been sober for a month, and I’ve seen them when they were using. They look a lot better now. They’re more talkative, you know. They just — they’re all around a better person, you know? Maybe — just maybe I can look like that, you know? Now I, like — I’m starting to care about myself, you know? I care — like, I care about how I look. You know, I care about what I say. I care about the fact that I walk up to a girl — I’m gonna say, ‘Hey, man. How you doing?’ And that, believe it or not, is how I sound when I’m high. And I like going up to a girl and actually being able to start, you know, an intelligent conversation, even though there aren’t that many intelligent girls out there, but — I don’t know.
BILL MOYERS: As for Joe Caram, he’s planning to graduate and attend community college. He’s determined to stay sober, despite the temptations to use.
JOE CARAM: Prom night? Oh, God. Oh, yeah. Prom — prom is, like, notorious. It has its reputation for being this big all-night party at a hotel where you just — the objective is to get as smashed as humanly possible. So, yeah, the pressure’s on, definitely.
But I’m not gonna miss prom because everybody’s drinking. It’s not fair to me, you know.
BILL MOYERS: If these Miami seniors mirror the national average, by the time they graduate, 80 percent of them will have consumed alcohol. Just under half will have tried illegal drugs. Of those who’ve used either, at least one in 10 will become addicted.
Programs trying to identify and help those at highest risk are few and far between. In Seattle, it’s a big day for Focus on Families.
KATHY KUCIEMBA: Good morning. Welcome to your graduation. All right. Thank you all for all the work and time you’ve spent.
BILL MOYERS: Over three-quarters of those who began the program have stuck it out. The Jansens didn’t make it. After Ted’s relapse, he lost his job. Sue began working six days a week in a bagel shop to support the family.
T.J. JANSEN: They’ve been having a lot of problems and I just sometimes blame myself. I don’t talk to anybody. I just hold it inside and wait.
TED JANSEN: She feels so guilty all the time about the way that we are, that she just spoils the kids — I think that you do, and that’s a big part of it.
SUE JANSEN: Now see, I wouldn’t agree. I would say that it’s been harder on T.J. — even harder on T.J. than
Summer probably. But Ted is right. I do try to make up and give as much time to them as I can.
TED JANSEN: I don’t see T.J. hurting. I mean, he participates in all the sports every season. He has a problem, he still comes to us and verbalizes it.
SUE JANSEN: Not always.
TED JANSEN: Does he have any deviant behavior in him because of it, anything that makes the — the child not normal because of our drug use?
SUE JANSEN: Yes.
TED JANSEN: No, he might not like it, but I wouldn’t say that there’s a pr — that he has a problem with it.
SUE JANSEN: I do. I disagree. You have your opinion, but I disagree. I see it affecting him. I do. He isn’t able …
TED JANSEN: I didn’t say that it didn’t affect him. I’m saying that…
SUE JANSEN: No, but I just don’t think he’s able to have a childhood as he should be having a childhood — carefree.
TED JANSEN: Oh, sure. Yeah. He’s — he’s had to take on a lot…
SUE JANSEN: He’s too worried about us.
TED JANSEN: Yeah. He’s had to take on a lot of responsibility. I’ll give you that, but…
SUE JANSEN: Taking care of me, which a 10 — 10-year-old shouldn’t have to worry about taking care of his mom and dad.
TED JANSEN: No, no, that’s true. No, he’s never had to take care of me. He’s taken care of you.
SUE JANSEN: He’s taken care of you a lot. He saved your damn life.
T.J. JANSEN: I know they’re trying to teach me not to do drugs and they are doing drugs, but not my mom. I know my dad’s trying to get on methadone, but not as quick as I want him to. I don’t think he’s doing the very, very best he can. I hope, but — I still got faith, but I don’t know if it’s gonna happen. I’m open!
BILL MOYERS: After three months back on heroin, Ted finally did begin a methadone program. He’s back to work and hoping to find a permanent home for his family.
As for T.J., he’s in the fifth grade. He still dreams of becoming a baseball player.
T.J. JANSEN: When I’m a grown-up, I wouldn’t do heroin, because once you get started, you can’t stop. Bull’s-eye! I think I might, you know, use a little alcohol, but I won’t be like a — like a real addict, like going out every night, you know, getting drunk and stuff. I might have, like, a couple and then go home.
This transcript was entered on May 1, 2015.