To some neighbors in an area thick with prostitution and drugs, the 15-year-old boy appeared normal, even happy.

Police, however, have begun to unravel the story of a teenager who spent months with drug dealers and users - a world where, authorities say, his mother sold him to settle her $1,000 crack cocaine debt.Acting on an anonymous tip, police found the boy early Tuesday morning in a small, run-down house. A man found with him, described by police as a drug dealer with a long record, was arrested. Police said the mother gave her son to a different dealer, who was still at large.

"He's crying a lot," said the boy's grandmother, who saw her grandson Tuesday for the first time in months. She said he appeared addicted to crack. He had lost a lot of weight but seemed otherwise OK, she said.

Fifteen-year-old Jacqui Jones, who lives next door to the house where the boy was found, said she had talked to him a couple of times.

"He didn't seem like he was upset or down or nothing," she said. "He seemed happy."

The boy told TV station WKBD in suburban Southfield on Tuesday that he went willingly to work for a drug dealer, but left when the man mistreated him. He then went to work for another dealer, he said.

"It's hard out there," he said, adding that he was not forced to deal drugs to pay off his mother's debt. In fact, he said, his mother asked him not to go.

But Sgt. Shelley Foy of the police child-abuse unit said she was convinced the boy was sold and that he went along with it to protect his mother. She said his response was common in neglect cases involving drug-addicted parents.

The boy's grandmother said she talked to him for about 10 minutes at a juvenile detention center. She said he told her, "Mama, I need help."

"He's as sweet as he can be," the grandmother said. "He's got one hangup: It's his mother. He loves her."

The boy appeared in juvenile court and was charged with delivery of cocaine, possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and truancy. His next court appearance was scheduled for Dec. 13.

The boy had been living with his grandmother until he disappeared several months ago, but the mother had custody. The grandmother said she planned to ask the juvenile court to give custody to her. Foy said the whereabouts of the boy's father were unknown.

His 33-year-old mother was already in jail on an unrelated burglary charge and could face charges over her son.

Police said they could not confirm reports that the boy was forced to smoke crack when he was hungry so his captors could save on food and that he was used as a sex slave. Inspector Michael Hall said police were awaiting the results of a medical examination.

"He's definitely a victim, regardless of what the circumstances were," Hall said.

The grandmother said she reported the boy missing six months ago, but that police said they could not act because she was not his legal guardian.

Police began working on the case earlier this month when they got a tip that the boy was being kept in the house and forced to work, Foy said.