Local family weighs in on helping loved ones who struggle with substance use

Opioid Crisis

On Monday evenings in February, abc27 News is examining the resurgence of the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania. Last week, a discussion about how the COVID-19 pandemic has played a major part in the ongoing, statewide struggle with opioids and drug addiction. This week, abc27 Alicia Richards’ elaborates on how to help a loved one who struggles with substance abuse disorder.

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One of the most difficult challenges a family can face is helping a loved one with a substance use disorder.

“A lot of people are very surprised to learn that we had no idea,” Laurie Wicks, of Mechanicsburg, said.

Wicks describes her son, Keegan, as “amazing,” but as Keegan grew into his teen years he wasn’t so sure he felt that way about himself.

“I didn’t feel comfortable being who I was. It was really just a sense of feeling different and feeling like people didn’t understand,” Keegan said.

Wicks’ son had been experimenting with substances that eventually turned into an addiction involving prescription medications and heroin.

While Keegan used right at home, his mom says, “He was complying with his curfews, he was getting his school work done, he was social and active.”

It came to a head Christmas morning when Keegan was 17 and a student at Cumberland Valley High School. His parents noticed that cash for a donation was missing.

“It was terrifying. It was very frightening,” Wicks recalls.

Keegan admitted to taking the money and that he was addicted. He was also managing a diagnosis of clinical depression.

“This is a story of hope in that recovery really is possible,” Keegan said.

Keegan received intensive treatment for almost a year and a half and it worked.

Wicks says she did three things right in her family’s situation. First, she sought immediate professional intervention. Second, she became informed about the science of addiction and recovery. Finally, she practiced self-care.

The pandemic has been difficult on Keegan, having virtual therapy sessions and missing in-person involvement in the recovery community. On the other hand, he says, he’s been able to speak virtually with others in recovery from as far away as London. 

Wicks gets emotional talking about what her son endured.

“He is, uh, here we go. Yeah. What a fantastic human,” Wicks said.

Keegan is now 29 and a recovery support specialist. He and his mom speak nationally about their story of hope. He’s also engaged and a new homeowner.

But where can other Pennsylvanians turn to make that initial call for help? The experts urge individuals struggling with substance use disorders to call this national hotline: 1-800-662-HELP.

They say callers won’t get the runaround and they won’t have to deal with insurance issues. An expert will answer and quickly provide the help an individual or their loved one needs.

Additionally, Wicks offers a texting option for parents. It’s run by the Partnership to End Addiction. To seek support, text CONNECT to 55753.

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