WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | Jaime Bauer felt like she was living a double life.
She had a successful career as a health educator with a Positive Approach to Teen Health, or PATH.
But her personal life was falling apart, as her son, Michael, 18, slipped deeper into drug addiction.
Bauer and her son were among several families who shared their stories Tuesday at the Porter County Expo Center as part of an event called Breaking the Silence.
Sponsored by PATH, Women in Bloom Inc., WORTHY Recovery Inc., EMPOWER Porter County and Education Litigation Group, the program sought to give parents the tools to talk to their children about drug use.
The event drew about 250 people, including parents, church members and teens going through juvenile court.
Bauer said she noticed changes in her son when he was a sophomore in high school and she grew concerned. Yet she never dreamed he was taking prescription medication to alleviate the depression he felt.
She said her son told her he was able to get drugs easily at the high school and even to get high while at school. He told her he saw other people using drugs and they seemed OK.
After overdosing twice on prescription medication, Michael was able to make a full recovery through addiction treatment programs, Bauer said.
Keeping the lines of communication open with your child is key, she said. Parents need to practice humility instead of pride, and overcome their own feelings of guilt or shame, she said.
Parents also should be willing to listen to their children and “not freak out” or severely punish their child if they find out the child is using drugs, Bauer said.
“My hope is to bring awareness to parents (of) the importance of communication between parent and child,” she said.
The event also featured displays of drug paraphernalia, including seemingly innocuous items such as markers, flashlights and batteries that are actually used for drugs.
Portage Police Chief Troy Williams demonstrated how the items could be taken apart and used as drug pipes.
There also was a question and answer session with addiction specialist counselors, and round-table discussions to get parents talking about what they would do if they discovered their child using drugs.
Jayne Baker, of Valparaiso, served as a round-table leader. Baker said her son went through rehab at age 15 for alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs.
He is 21 now and “doing super,” she said.
“We've learned a lot,” Baker said. “If any of the pain I've been through helps someone else, then so be it.”
She said drug users aren't always what they seem.
“Just because they're a straight-A student doesn't mean they aren't using heroin,” Baker said.
She urged parents to “stay involved” in their child's life, including searching their room if they have to.
“Kids should have privacy, but they have to earn it,” Baker said. “If you feel there's a need to go through their room, there probably is.”