Grieving mother on a path to prevention
By Lauri Voter - Staff Writer
Willington - posted Wed., Jan. 30, 2013
Willington parent Tia Klaus said she suspected something was wrong on Dec. 1, when she did not receive one of her frequent texts from her son. When she went to check on the 18-year-old teen at his residence, she found him there in his bed. He was dead.
Klaus' son, Brandon Quinones, of Willington, died presumably by mixing prescription drugs – drugs that were never his to begin with. The autopsy and toxicology reports are still pending, said Klaus, but information she obtained from her son's friends led her to believe that Quinones had overdosed on two prescription drugs that caused a fatal reaction.
Prescription drug abuse is on the rise among teenagers, according to the State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection's Prescription Monitoring Program, which provides literature outlining statistics. For instance, according to DCP's research, 48 percent of emergency room visits due to controlled substance drug abuse were from people ranging in age from 12 to 20; and 20 percent of “young people” have reported abusing medication.
What is the main cause of controlled substance abuse? According to the DCP, it's access to the product. In Quinones' case, said Klaus, her son had second-hand access to medications he saw someone else stash. That someone else, in turn, must have had access as well.
In Klaus' opinion, Quinones was concerned about getting in trouble, so when he began to react to the drugs, he did not reach out to her. Instead, he asked a friend to call him every half hour.
Does fear of repercussion prevent someone from reaching out for help?
“I think that's what happened with my son,” said Klaus. “He knew he was sick... he was too afraid to reach out, so he was afraid to call me. He was afraid he was going to get in trouble; he knew he had done something wrong.”
Klaus is mourning the loss of her son, and she is also trying to turn her personal tragedy into a community-wide lesson in the hopes of saving others, as she sparks a mission of prevention. She feels a resource needs to be in place so that people can seek non-judgmental help when necessary; and making people aware that a resource exists will be key to any such program's success.
Klaus also hopes that parents will become more proactive and involved in their communities and schools by creating awareness about issues surrounding controlled substances. She also recommends that parents inventory and lock up their prescription medications and take advantage of local prescription drug drop-off programs.
Spurred on by a motivation to lead just such a cause in Willington, Klaus said that keeping busy is helping her cope with her loss. In fact, Klaus said she was in the funeral home when she began to plan a program through the town of Willington, for which she received support from Willington First Selectman Christina B. Mailhos.
“This whole community is just so very much involved with what's going on; and it's very sad it takes something like this, but everybody has had a hand in this. It has not just been me,” said Klaus.
For instance, Klaus' friend, Jennifer Avallone, who is the owner of the Track Nine Diner, made her venue available for a fundraising event on Friday, Jan. 18. The event was a sellout, with more than 300 tickets sold, and several local businesses donated raffle items to the event.
“It was bittersweet,” said Klaus.
Klaus' childhood friend, Emily Kennedy, was also instrumental in the success of the event and has been offering support to Klaus during her time of grief. On Jan. 18, Kennedy and four of Quinones' friends were setting out t-shirts, on which was printed his name. The shirts were sold as part of the fundraiser. Kennedy also coordinated efforts to secure and provide literature at the event about the DCP's Prescription Monitoring Program.
Kennedy described Quinones as “feisty” and “rebellious.” He didn't like school, said Kennedy, and was not a good student. At age 18, Quinones had graduated, was working, had his own place and was experimenting with drugs.
Klaus revealed that her son was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and was taking medication to treat it. “There's a higher percentage of those kids who abuse drugs,” said Klaus.
Tara Bergeron, director of Youth, Family & Social Services for the town of Willington, said that Willington does have a prevention council, and the organization has become re-energized in light of Quinones' death. The name Substance Abuse Support, “SAS,” has been recently adopted to lend “sass” to Klaus' movement and generate more attention to the council.
Funds raised for SAS will be administered through Bergeron's department and the local prevention council. The council is a volunteer organization that is available to anyone who wants to join. “It's really made up of local parents who help steer the education against substance abuse in the community,” said Bergeron, who added that volunteers are needed, welcome and valued by the council.
“We decide where to put the financing,” said Bergeron, citing examples that include education, prevention or a scholarship to help someone get treatment. The council's budget comes from the Northeastern Communities Against Substance Abuse (NACASA), via a grant to the town. In Willington, the yearly budget is $2,800.
Because the SAS is so new, its direction is a work in progress, said Bergeron. The funds raised from the Quinones fundraiser will have a dedicated line item, with the council eventually determining how to spend that money.
Bergeron said that the purpose of her office is not to penalize people for trying to be proactive and seek help when they are abusing a substance. She suggests that residents seeking help should state they have a substance abuse problem, without giving details about what substance they are using.
Another step substance-abusers can take, said Bergeron, is to talk to someone reliable. “I think it's really important to find somebody that you trust, to talk to. That's, I think, the first step,” said Bergeron. “I am going to refer out. It's not that I'm a treatment program,” said Bergeron, “but I'm going to give you to somebody who’s going to help you.”
Confidentiality is a top priority for Bergeron. “I grew up here. I know how small it [Willington] really is. I get it,” said Bergeron. “If you're calling for help, that's what you're going to get – is help.”
Klaus shares this view, saying, “I think our goal is just to help the kids that need help, and to let parents know what's going on, and let the kids know what's going on inside their body, and the reaction that it's [substance] having inside their body, not just in their brain.”
In Willington, anyone seeking help for substance abuse may contact Bergeron's office at 860-487-3118 or call 211, or visit 211.org.