Growing up with addiction, Part 1 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Growing up with addiction, Part 1

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A generation of Vermont children is growing up in homes where opiate addiction is part of their every day lives.

For every thousand babies born in Vermont, 22 are born opiate exposed -- that's seven times the national average. And, for the first time last year, DCF had more babies and young children in custody than older kids. State officials say opiate addiction is the primary reason. Those growing numbers have led one Vermont teenager to make the brave decision to come forward and tell her story, so other children may suffer less than she has. 

Most high school students like to blend into the crowd -- stepping outside that comfort zone isn't easy. 

Reporter Julie Kelley: Was there any fear about sort of exposing yourself or your family? 

Sadie Tilden: Yeah, absolutely.

Seventeen year-old Sadie Tilden has a lot going for her. She has a good group of friends, and she's a top student at St. Johnsbury Academy. When she started her senior year in Steve Jolliffe's Advanced Placement Research and Literature class, she never would have guessed that one of her first assignments would change the course of her final year.  

"Probably the best college essay in 21 years of teaching I've ever read," Jolliffe said. And Jolliffe has read a lot of them. 

"There was an eviction notice that I remember," Tilden said.

Tilden put on paper what she had lived through for so long without almost anyone at school knowing. "There were times where we wouldn't have hot water and we'd have to boil water to take a bath, or our electricity would be shut off," Tilden said.

It was in the 6th grade that Sadie realized something wasn't right. By 8th grade she knew her mother had an opiate addiction.

"I have a lot of guilt.  I have a lot of guilt -- what I put my children through as an addict," said Nicole Ling, Sadie's Mom.

It's hard for Ling to think about the choices she made back then. "When you have to struggle to buy a gallon of milk because you've spent the last 15 or 20 dollars you had on a drug -- that was the day, that was the day -- every day was where to come up with the money to get what I needed, and then afterwards maybe worry about getting what the kids needed," Ling said.

She hit rock bottom when Sadie's little brother was killed in a car crash. A friend was driving him to school. Sadie and her older brother were in the truck too. After the crash,Ling slipped deeper into her addiction and broke the law for the first time. "It was at a probation call-in that I had to give a urinalysis, and my urine was dirty for five different substances. My probation officer said to me, 'You're going to call Valley Vista from my office, and you're not leaving until you do,'" Ling said. Six days later she was in rehab.

"It was definitely probably one of the loneliest times in my life," Tilden said. She says she only saw her mom twice during that month. "I remember our biggest concern was that our mom wouldn't be there the morning that we went to our first day of school."

It was her own strength of character, and the love of her older brother, that helped get her through. Two years later Sadie found herself in Jolliffe's class. And like all seniors at the Academy challenged with coming up with a Capstone project, she had to identify an issue that she was passionate about and add to the professional conversation. "I was very nervous to have people see a different side of me," Tilden said.

"I chose to study substance abuse rehabilitation because one of the people closest to me battled with substance abuse for a very long time," Tilden said, addressing an audience of classmates and community members at her recent Capstone presentation. Her mother was watching from the back of the room. "The main goal of my project was to identify a treatment strategy that would ultimately have the lowest level of disruption on the life of a child already impacted by parental opiate abuse."

Tilden researched looked at three -- drug courts, abstinence-based treatment, and integrated treatment. The first two focus on the addict. The third is the only one that allows children to go to a treatment center with their parent and receive help as a family. "Should an integrated treatment program be established in the NEK, parents struggling with addiction would have one more alternative at their disposal that would allow them to remain in residence with their child," Tilden said.

That's a choice Tilden's family didn't have. "Today my relationship with my mother -- a recovered addict -- is healthy and steadfast," she said. Tilden said she hopes by coming forward, state leaders will hear her story and consider a less life-altering approach for the children of Vermont.  
Sadie Tilden: What did you think? 

Nicole Ling: I got so emotional. 

Sadie Tilden: Really? 

Nicole Ling: You did a good job. 

Sadie Tilden: Thank you mom. I love you so much. I'm so proud of you.

Integrated treatment programs are more expensive than other traditional treatments. There is one in Burlington. Tuesday on the Channel 3 News at 6, we'll see what life is like in one of these centers, and talk with a mom and her young daughter who went through the program.

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