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Centers help kids kick drugs

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Reynie Sandoval, a therapist at The Gathering Place, counsels with a patient. He said a mark of success is seeing parent-child relationships improve.

Reynie Sandoval, a therapist at The Gathering Place, counsels with a patient. He said a mark of success is seeing parent-child relationships improve.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

OREM — Mike's parents gave him two choices after they found him with drugs and syringes: start a six-month drug treatment program or talk to the police.

He chose the first option.

"Cocaine is why I'm here," the 18-year-old said. "I'm dependent upon it."

Monday through Thursday, Mike goes after school to the Gathering Place, where he learns how to overcome his substance abuse and addiction.

"I always told myself that I would never try cocaine and heroine," said the Springville High School senior, whose real name is not used for privacy reasons.

"But when you've seen all the movies there are to see, and you've already been bowling once that week, you do it because you're so bored."

Less than 25 percent of Utah teenagers use alcohol or other drugs — half the national average — according to the 2003 Utah Student Health and Risk Prevention Survey. However, the report also showed that inhalant use among Utah teens is higher than the national average.

But where can parents go for help if they find their child using illegal drugs?

Many private therapists specialize in treating drug addictions. Families also can turn to nonprofit groups or educational centers that also have programs for substance abusers.

Three such groups — The Gathering Place, the Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Heritage School — have contracts with the Utah County Health Department to provide programs.

Kay said her center treats 600 to 1,000 patients every year. About 160 of those patients are adolescents, Kay said.

Kicking a drug habit is a daily battle.

"Just because I come here doesn't mean I'll quit using," Mike said. "Sometimes I get scared because I don't see myself ever really quitting or never having another trigger. It all depends on the people I surround myself with."

Therapist Reynie Sandoval works with Mike to deal with his addictions.

"I see kids coming in with an attitude," Sandoval said. "And I see them leave with a desire to change. We don't measure success based on relapse. When kids have better relationships with their parents and start attending school more, then we know we've made a difference."

Sandoval said drug addiction is seen in all kinds of kids and from all types of homes. How a child is reared plays a large role in attitude toward drug use and abuse.

Mike said he found cocaine, heroin and marijuana through friends. But gradually those friends would disappear to another state or into rehabilitation programs. Soon, he would have to seek out the drugs on his own.

"I never got it from anywhere in Utah County," Mike said. "It was a business with a lot of money. I didn't know anything about the dealers except that I could get cocaine and heroin from them."

He said he obtained injection needles at practically any pharmacy. He would make up fake prescriptions or tell the pharmacist he needed the needles to give to friends to make sure they were using clean ones. If one pharmacy became too strict, he would go to another.

For Mike, his drug use became part of his routine. He would wake up, get ready for school, inject cocaine — and then not go to school because he couldn't stay away from it.

"I would tell my parents constantly that I wasn't addicted," he said. "But when they were begging me to quit, I knew something was wrong with me, and the problem was bigger than I realized."

Mike said he has gained a better outlook on life and drug use by talking to other teens about why they're using drugs and why he thought he had to use them to get through life.

"Hanging out with sober friends is safe," Mike said."If I could go back and do one thing over, I would have never used cocaine once. If my parents and the counselors didn't care so much about me, I don't know what I'd do."

E-mail: tsotomayor@desnews.com