Pubdate: Sun, 19 Feb 2012
Source: Fort Collins Coloradoan (CO)
Copyright: 2012 The Fort Collins Coloradoan
Author: Trevor Hughes


All his life, Austin Powers was surrounded by people who loved him.

His mother. His sister. His fiancee. His son. His friends.

But Austin Powers died alone in his Fort Collins
apartment, an empty heroin syringe next to his
body, a needle mark on his forearm.

In addition to being a beloved son, brother,
fiance, father and friend, Powers, 24, was an addict.

He abused prescription drugs such as Oxycontin.
Alcohol. Heroin. Cocaine. He went to rehab and
got clean. Relapsed. Got sober. Relapsed.

"I couldn't save him," said his mother, Kathleen
Kelly. "I know intellectually that I couldn't
have saved him, (but) you spend your whole life
nurturing, loving and comforting this child and ..."

Kelly, a Colorado State University professor,
agreed to share the story of her son's life and
death with the hope that other parents will learn
from her experiences, and that the community
begins a conversation about what it means to be
an addict - and what it means to love one.

Her struggles with her son's choices have cost
her tens of thousands of dollars in counseling
and rehabilitation fees. It's strained her
relationship with friends and her own family.

More than two months after Powers' death, his
mother still struggles to understand what
happened, what she could have done differently to
protect him from himself. In her head, she knows
she gave her son every chance: paid for
alternative high school, paid for rehab,
volunteered to be on a television show in hopes
that counselors paid by the network could make a difference.

But her heart wonders if she could have done
something else, should have done something else.
Could she have been tougher? Could she have been more supportive?

Those are common questions for family members of
an addict, said board-certified addiction
medicine specialist Dr. Jeremy Dubin of
Loveland's Healing Arts Family Medicine.

"It's still hard for people to get their heads
around the idea that this is a disease state,"
Dubin said. "They feel like they screwed up. They
wonder 'What did I do wrong in raising my kid?'"

Experts say there are few easy answers when it
comes to addiction. Users may change drugs, hide
their behavior, get clean and then relapse. They
lie. They manipulate. The reality, Dubin said, is
that addiction is a disease that usually can't
just be overcome through willpower alone.

"We're humans, and we can only do so much," Dubin said.

Setting boundaries

Every week, hundreds of people from across the
country complete an online form asking for their
loved ones to be included on the A&E television
show "Intervention." Only a handful of people are
selected to be featured on the show, which
depicts heartbreaking confrontations between
addicts and their loved ones. In return for
letting a television crew document the
confrontations, the show pays for addicts to get
detox and months of rehab and counseling.

"Every story is more tragic and heartbreaking
than the last," said Dan Partland, the show's executive producer.

Partland and his team of producers and counselors
put together the confrontations between addicts
and their loved ones. He said those interventions
are as much about the family and friends as they
are the addicts. He said the interventions aim to
help families set healthy boundaries for addicts.

Often, Partland said, family members are
desperately trying to help an addicted family
member but go about it in the wrong way.
Addiction, he said, isn't just a series of bad choices that someone makes.

"Addiction, when untreated, is a fatal disease,"
he said. "It's horribly tragic." Partland said
there are plenty of people who, for instance,
drink regularly. That doesn't make them an alcoholic.

There also are plenty of people who use other
drugs. An addict, he said, is someone who uses
drugs or alcohol to a point at which bad things
happen to them - and they still keep going. He
said it's particularly hard to reach young addicts.

"As much as it's impressed upon them that they're
not invincible and that bad things can happen,
there's still a measure of invincibility, of a
feeling that they can get clean later. That's the
hardest part about getting young people,"
Partland said. "Austin was not unlike a lot of
addicts we see of his age and profile."

A community problem

Throughout the years, Powers had regularly gotten
sober only to relapse again. He was attending
Rocky Mountain High School when he started
getting into serious trouble with drugs, his mother said.

While his friends were able to recreationally use
alcohol, cocaine or prescription medicines
without their mental or physical health suffering
significantly, Powers could not. His mother
recognized his problems with addiction at 14.

"Austin always took things to the max," Kelly said.

When Powers was 17, Kelly decided to send him to
a structured residential school in Utah. Less
strict than a boot-camp-style facility, but more
structured than a typical school, Kelly hoped the
facility could help keep her son sober while he
completed his high school diploma.

Watching two men come collect her son for the
long drive back to Utah was one of the toughest
days of her life. But Kelly had hope at the same time her heart was

"You know you need to do something, so you do
something drastic like that. But you' re a mess,"
Kelly said. "You're heartbroken."

Powers lasted four months at the Utah school
before persuading his mother to withdraw him. He
said he was better, and that he was committed to staying sober.

"I was afraid he was saying all the right things
just to get out of there," Kelly said.

Powers enrolled in Centennial High School. He got
A's. He stayed sober and graduated in 2006 at 18.

"You get all of these bright, amazing things back
about your child, and it's fabulous," Kelly said. "And then they relapse."

Powers got an apartment with his girlfriend. He
was bouncing between using and sobriety again,
leading AA meetings and inspiring other addicts
to quit. He got a job with Center Partners, where he excelled.

In 2010, Kelly's daughter Hauna, saw an episode
of "Intervention" and persuaded her mother to
investigate. The show offered significant
counseling and treatment, and Kelly thought it was worth a shot.

She said the costs of paying for her son's
treatment over the years had taken a toll, and
she worried about the impact her son' s decisions
were having on his younger sister.

"It's against every maternal instinct you have to
tell your child, you can't come into my house if
you're under the influence," Kelly said.

Kelly applied to "Intervention" and was accepted.
A camera crew came out to shoot the family, under
the guise of shooting a documentary about Kelly's work.

A professor of marketing and director of CSU's
Center for Marketing and Social Issues, Kelly's
work focuses on using commercial marketing
techniques to "sell" social causes, particularly
to combat drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse.

Throughout the years, she said, she even tested
anti-drug campaigns and messages on her son and
the people he met through sober living problems.

"It was particularly ironic and a difficult story
because his mother was a very conscientious, very
engaged mother," Partland said.

During the intervention, as cameras rolled,
Powers agreed to go to rehab. He was flown to a
treatment center in New Jersey, a few miles from where his mother had grown

Powers didn't like the facility he was sent to,
and he got kicked out shortly after he arrived.
He called his mother, and she refused to send him
money, and instead encouraged him to return to
the facility and beg to be readmitted.

"I tried to do the tough love things they wanted
me to do," she said. "And I also didn't sleep for
two days until he called again."

Powers was readmitted to rehab and was sent to
Rhode Island for a different program for a short
period. He then returned to New Jersey, and while
he was in treatment, the rest of his family went to counseling for a week.

Powers then got kicked out of the rehab program
for a second time after some other patients were caught drinking.

The episode of "Intervention" aired on Dec. 27,
2010. Powers' son, Wesley, was born six days
earlier. Powers declared that having his own son
- - his own father was absent - would keep him on the straight and narrow.

"I think that to some degree, Austin thought that
once he had that baby, he would never struggle
with addiction ever again," Kelly said. "He banked a lot on that."

Partland said older addicts often have an easier
time avoiding relapse after they've tasted
sobriety. But for young people, the temptation remains strong.

For Powers, the temptation was too strong. In
October 2011, he called his mother and admitted
he had relapsed again. His fiancee had moved out,
and he said he'd been using opiates, which Kelly
took to mean Oxycontin, which he'd abused repeatedly.

"He said that he needed help," Kelly said. "I
wish I'd handled it differently. I told him,
'Austin, you're going to have to figure this
out.' My last conversation with him, he said he
wasn't doing well, and I said, 'Well, you' ll have to figure it out.'"

Austin found an outpatient rehab program on his
own and told his mother he really needed a
medical detox first. Fort Collins lacks its own medical detox facility.

On Nov. 30, 2011, Powers' roommate found him dead
in his room of their shared apartment. Police
found a syringe, a spoon and packets of heroin
near his body. Toxicology testing confirmed Powers died of a heroin

Kelly believes her son had started using heroin
because it was significantly cheaper and easier to get.

At Powers' funeral, hundreds of mourners paid
their respects to the man they said filled their
lives with laughter and good cheer. They told
childhood stories and shared their own struggles
with addiction. Several said Powers was the reason they got clean.

In her heart, Kelly wishes she could have done
things differently. She said she struggled for
years to find the right combination of treatment,
support and tough love that could have helped
keep her son sober. But in her head, she knows
that ultimately she couldn't help him.

"Like most parents, I was willing to do anything
to save my son," she said. "I know intellectually
that I couldn't have saved him."

Partland said Kelly's emotional struggles are
common for family members of addicts. He said the
whole point of the interventions is to set final
boundaries for addicts - and for their families.

"The biggest tragedy is the survivors," he said.
"The intervention is designed to help the family
as well as the addict ... families walk around
day and night wondering if they've done enough to help their loved one."

Dubin said that guilt is incredibly destructive
for families, especially for families that fail
to understand addiction isn't a choice but a
disease. He said the tough-love approach of
setting boundaries and enforcing them runs
counter to parental instincts, but it works.

"Statistically, it's their kids' best shot. And
that's tough to swallow. These are little pieces
of my heart that are out there," Dubin said.
"It's really tough to get your head around that.
You have to create an atmosphere where the only option is to get better."

For her part, Kelly said she wants a broader
discussion of the role addiction plays in our
community. She said the reaction of many people
following the death of singer Whitney Houston,
apparently in connection with a drug overdose,
indicates there's a lot of work to be done.

"I would hope =85 that people can understand that
people with addiction problems have a mental
illness, but it doesn't make them any less worthy
than anyone else," Kelly said. "Austin gave much more than he took."

She said many families just want to pretend
there's nothing wrong because they're ashamed and
embarrassed. And she's not ashamed or embarrassed about her son.

"People don't want to be addicted. It's not
something they ask for," she said. "It's much
more than an individual's problem. It's a
community problem. And it's a community problem
that we don't seem interested in confronting."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart