a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, April 7, 2008

Heroin addiction hits home

The scrappy village of Webster, where I’ve lived for five decades, might be called the best-kept secret in the mid-Mon Valley.

The property taxes there are incredibly low, yet local kids attend Belle Vernon Area School District, which has long been considered the Cadillac of schools in the area. About the only time Rostraver Township police are called to town is when vehicles collide at a confusing set of traffic signals at the entrance to the Donora-Webster Bridge.

We don’t need a newspaper to keep up with weddings or obituaries because most of our 164 neighbors know each other on a first-name basis.

However, we have a dirty little secret that few people whisper about. In the past decade, according to unofficial statistics, we have buried five neighbors who succumbed to their heroin addictions.

It seems that every family, including mine, has become a victim of the tragedies that surround those chasing this drug.

The addicts all seem to be reinventing the wheel by being unable to hold down a job, so they steal from relatives to support their habits. Their families fall to pieces, while some relatives deny the problem exists altogether and others are too embarrassed to face up to the fact that someone they love is skidding out of control.

Along the way, these family members become enablers by their failure to deal with the problem.

The news that neighbor Gerald L. Szakal Jr. had been arrested last month on charges of double homicide left many of us wishing we could have done something to get him the help he needed to quit heroin.

But most of us didn’t know him in the year or so that he lived around the bend and before he was accused of shooting coin dealers Howard and Nancy Springer of Carroll Township.

It wasn’t until the details of the crime began to leak out that I learned that his mother was the former Christeen Mackey, someone I’ve known since she was a girl.

It appears that her 25-year-old son, sick for drugs, decided to kill the Spingers to prevent their records from proving that Szakal had sold them jewelry and coins that he stole from his mother. The day before the murders, he reportedly told his co-defendants that his mother was going to turn him in for the thefts unless he entered drug rehabilitation.

Now, her son’s relatives on his father’s side of the family are blaming her for Szakal’s arrest. It’s a shame, because her heart bleeds for her son, whom she still loves, a son who faces the death penalty in the case.

Justice will be served, no doubt, but no one is going to come out better from this tragedy. If only someone could give us the right approaches for dealing with heroin addictions.

(Caption: Gerald L. Szakal Jr. is led to his preliminary hearing in March to face charges in a double slaying.)


Alison said...

This was a very...(I'm having trouble finding the right adjectives)...powerful and touching entry.

Brant said...

My heart goes out to this man's mother. Most of us try to raise our children with the proper values, but once they're grown, they sometimes stray. I do, however, have a problem with addicts blaming their addictive drug of choice for their problems in life. Countless times, people come before our county judges and say they need help because their addiction is causing them to steal or kill. Guess what? Nobody put a gun to their head and forced them to take that first heroin injection or hit of crystal meth. You can't become a drug addict if you have the good sense not to take an addictive drug in the first place.

Scott Beveridge said...

My heart goes out to Christeen, too. In a perfect world we would all have enough sense to stay away from addictive drugs. So what do we do with those who don't?

Brant said...

Put them in prison. As I said, I have no sympathy for those who take addictive drugs with the knowledge that their lives are likely to be ruined. If people want to smoke marijuana on Main Street, I really don't care. But crack, heroin and meth are totally different. I'm willing to bet that a large percentage of the robberies and burglaries we see reported in the paper are the result of people trying to feed their drug habits. Then you have the people shooting one another on the streets over drug turf and the like. Someone so stupid as to take these drugs in the first place has forfeited any hope for my sympathy. And maybe by keeping them locked up, we'll reduce their chances of reproducing and fouling the gene pool.

Amanda Gillooly said...

Abuse of prescribed medications can also rip an entire family apart. People, I think, forget that sometimes. And sometimes, it's the parents that are the addicts, which takes away a child's security and hope. If adults don't know how to handle an addict, how is a child?

Scott Beveridge said...

Good point Amanda.

Christeen said...

Yes all of you are right,but understand when the addict is in need for the high they care about no one. They do not think of consequences,only the high that they are chasing. I forced my son into detox,and if they are not ready it doesn't work. Well my son has been clean for 35 days no drugs no smoking which has helped his asthma. He follows up with Dr. takes his depression meds and also his blood pressure meds twice a day,he's eating again. He looks healthy,healthier than ever. Well Brent- You may have a point,that the addicts be forced to jail,statistics say that if they can be clean for a period of at least 2 yrs. their chances are good for staying that way. Oh, about my son he is in jail, my son is Gerald Szakal....unfortunately he'll never enjoy the clean life outside.

Christeen said...

Yes all of you are right,unfortunately when they are chasing their high no one or anything matters. They do not stop to think about consequences,only the high. You can put them in a detox but they are sure to sign out. My son has been clean for 35 days,no smoking,no drugs of any kind.He takes all of his prescribed meds for hypertension,deppression and asthma. He is actually eating meals again, Well Brant- you may have something there because statistics say that if they can stay clean for at least 2 yrs. they are out of the woods. You can't sign out of jail. Oh,about my son,he is in jail,my son is Gerald Szakal..........working to get out of the woods only to be put under ground. I wish I had the option of putting him in jail to become clean,maybe than this really would be just a dream.