Mother recounts son’s downward spiral to untimely drug death
BY SUE WEBBER
Andrew Scheig was born April 7, 1993.
He graduated from Maple Grove High School’s alternative program in 2011. On March 5, 2013, his mother found him dead in bed, the result of an unintentional overdose of heroin at the age of 19.
Andrew’s mother, Becky Scheig, told the story of Andrew’s downward spiral at a Dec. 4 Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office presentation on drug abuse prevention for teens. She was one of three speakers at the presentation, hosted at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove.
During the years from 1993 to 2013 Becky and Bill Scheig loved their son, a boy they remember as precocious, rambunctious, and spirited. “We loved his sense of humor; he was full of a lot of love,” Becky said. But Andrew also had developed mental health issues, suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. The Scheigs took him out of school in sixth and seventh grades.
When Andrew was a ninth-grader, they caught him smoking marijuana. They caught him doing it again when he was a sophomore.
“In high school, it got tougher; it became a roller coaster,” Becky said. “I believe a lot of his drug use was due to wanting to fit in and to escape.”
The Scheigs sent Andrew to a boarding school in California for his junior year.
“Andrew was looking for acceptance,” Becky said. “He started using Percocet that was not prescribed for him. We had tested him for marijuana, not opiates. His ability to get Percocet came from other kids.”
Those kids included students with 4.0 GPAs, great athletes, and kids heading to college, Becky said. “Substance use knows no boundaries,” she said.
She found out after Andrew died that he was using Percocet and was unable to get it the night he died. But he found someone who offered to get him heroin instead.
“That cost him his life,” she said. “We were always so hopeful about what he could become. He could have done good things. He wanted to go to school and help kids who struggled like he did.”
And it changed the lives of two other young people who have both been charged with third-degree murder in connection with Andrew’s death.
Becky noted that drug use is “extremely prevalent in our society today,” that children are starting drug use much earlier, and that they are finding easy access to prescription pills in medicine cabinets.
“Adderall is a huge problem,” she said. “It’s so easy for kids to find it and sell it.”
A LOCAL RESOURCE
Partnership for Change, a local coalition of youth, parents, schools, law enforcement and community groups in Brooklyn Park, Maple Grove, New Hope and Osseo, is working to reduce drug use among youth in northwest Hennepin County.
Brenda Badger, coordinator of the coalition, said that alcohol still is the primary drug of choice for teens, followed by marijuana, prescription painkillers and ADHD prescription medications.
Drug and alcohol use frequently begins during the middle school years, she said.
“Gateway drugs [prescription painkillers] are substances that are more legal in our culture,” Badger said. “You can use medicine prescribed by a physician legally. Kids take advantage of what’s available.”
The old adage of “Just say no” doesn’t always work very well,” Badger said.
She maintains that much of the reason why young people get into trouble with substance abuse has to do with their brains not being fully developed until the age of 25. The part of the brain that control judgment, planning decision-making and impulse control is the last to develop, she said.
“Just because they wear size `12 shoes or drive a car doesn’t mean they’re good at making decisions,” Badger said. “Teens are not good at thinking things through.
Badger suggests that parents keep asking the four Ws: Who are you with, what are you doing, where are you going, when will you be back.
She also recommends the following:
• Talk with your child early and often about alcohol and drugs
• Set family rules and expectations early
• Teach your child how to resist pressures to use; create a plan
• Monitor alcohol and medications in the home to reduce easy access
• Know your child’s plan
“What parents think matters to kids,” Badger said. “Keep your expectations high and reasonable. Show them you care.”
She also said it is important for families with a history of addiction to have honest discussions with their children about it.
“Red flag” warning signs of drug use include:
• Physical clues – unusual eating or sleeping habits, weight loss, deterioration of appearance
• Sudden and sustained emotional changes – lack of motivation, loss of interest in family, moodiness, dishonesty
• Change in school attendance or grades
• Unexplained loss of money
• Dramatic change in friendships
• Drugs missing from the medicine cabinet
“If you suspect something, take action,” Badger said. “It’s not a weakness to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength.”
Drug testing is an option, she said, as well as help from a school guidance counselors, a family doctor or a treatment center.
Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Andy Smith, a 23-year law enforcement veteran, said that prescription painkillers are the gateway drug to heroin.
“Heroin overdose deaths in Hennepin County have climbed tremendously,” Smith said, noting that there were four heroin overdose deaths in 2008, 37 in 2012, and 48 thus far in 2013. “An increase of 1,100 percent is a big deal,” Smith said.
“Heroin always has been a really scary drug,” he said. “Young people in their teens and early 20s who are addicted to prescription painkillers and can’t get those go to heroin.”
He noted that the purity level of heroin in the Twin Cities is 90 percent, second in the United States to Detroit. Heroin cost in the Twin Cities is the cheapest in the country, and most of the supply is from Mexico, Smith said.
“It’s not a law enforcement problem or solution,” Smith said. “Law enforcement and the schools have a role, and community events are important, but parents are the biggest factor in preventing it.”
Young people often begin using alcohol and drugs because they’re curious, because others use, and they want to fit in. But they often continue to use and abuse drugs as coping skills, or for mental health reasons.
“We’re very aggressive about enforcement and prosecution,” Smith said. In the event of a drug-related death, he said, if police can prove where the drug came from, people responsible can be charged with third-degree murder.
“Parents are absolutely the key to this,” Smith said. “There’s no way law enforcement is able to arrest our way out of this problem.”
Hennepin County officials encourage people to properly dispose of bottles of unused pills by bringing them to one of six drop boxes, in Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Edina, Minneapolis, Minnetonka and Spring Park.
“Drop it off if you don’t need it; lock it up if you do need it,” Smith said.
Information: Hennepin.us/medicine, or call 612-348-3777.
WHAT THEY COULD
Becky Scheig believes her family did everything they could to support and love Andrew.
“We did all the things you’re supposed to do,” she said. “We had dinner with our kids. We talked incessantly about drugs and alcohol. We knew where Andrew was and who he was with. But you can’t get it right all the time. It gets hard when kids get their drivers licenses.”
She found that having a child with mental health and substance abuse problems is “extremely lonely,” she said.
“People are afraid to talk about it,” she said. “If you’re willing to talk and share, parents can know they are not alone. There are a lot of good people fighting for our kids.”