Battling the beast
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org May 4, 2013 6:18PM
Dr. Mann Spitler III plays a recording of his 911 call from the evening his daughter died of a heroin overdose during an event sponsored by the Elgin Gang and Drug Task Force at Elgin High School Thursday, May 2, 2013 in Elgin. Dr. Spitler, a Certified Prevention Professional, narrated MandaÕs Story, an allegory of the risk factors of and the countermeasures to drug addiction and strategy. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 6, 2013 6:51AM
ELGIN — “The door flies open. / The gates give way. / In marches the beast. / He wants to play.”
Those are the opening lines of a poem written by Manda Spitler of Valparaiso, Ind., about a beast that hunted her by day and haunted her by night.
It was beast who couldn’t be seen or heard but whose power could be heard in the recording of the 911 call her father Mann Spitler III made two years later. That’s a call he listened to again Thursday night, his head bowed and hands gripping the edge of the stage in the auditorium at Elgin High School.
It was “a metaphorical beast of addiction,” and it was the beast that took Manda’s life with a lethal dose of heroin in 2002, when she was 20 year old, Spitler said.
The certified prevention specialist shared his daughter’s story with about two dozen people that night during a presentation by the Elgin Gang and Drug Task Force called “Heroin in our Community: Manda’s Story.”
That presentation comes as communication between the task force and area police departments and other anecdotal evidence suggests heroin use is on the rise in Elgin.
“We have overdoses happening all over our communities. Some of them are in touch with what’s happening. Some of them aren’t,” said John Heiderscheidt, safety coordinator in U46.
Ryan McSheffrey, a prevention specialist at the Renz Addiction Counseling Center in Elgin, said Elgin police recently told the task force the youngest heroin dealer they have arrested was 17 years old. And Sheffrey pointed to a CBS News report that said 25 deaths so far this year are linked to the illegal depressant in nearby Will County; 16 were linked to heroin in all of last year.
She said the Renz Center learned about the trend when police asked last summer what it was doing about the heroin problem in Elgin.
Part of the reason it’s become more popular, she said, is because it has become cheaper. It also has become more pure, meaning it can be snorted or smoked, rather than injected, making it “more attractive.”
“Because we’re so close to Rockford and Chicago, we’re a hub. We’re a big city, and they’re coming straight through here,” McSheffrey said.
Search for signs
Some people who attended the presentation Thursday said they were shocked to learn about heroin use in the suburbs.
Others, like Deborah Bockstahler of Genoa, already were painfully aware of it. Bockstahler’s son died of a heroin overdose in July, and she came to hear Spitler speak because she hopes to share his story one day, too, she said.
“I didn’t know the signs. I wish I had known the signs. If people were more aware of this, maybe it wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
Spitler said he began sharing Manda’s story nine months after her death. That’s because the only way he could think “to fight back against the beast was to try to reveal its tricks and how it works and what you can do to fight back against it,” he said.
It started with small bites that didn’t seem all that dangerous: cigarettes, then marijuana, he said.
Manda wasn’t a “perfect princess,” he said, but she was a good person, a sensitive person, a person with a big heart. She turned down college because she didn’t want to leave a boyfriend, he said. She was turned on to heroin by another boyfriend, he said.
Spitler and his wife didn’t realize Manda was using drugs until they opened one of her bank statements. Her bank account had dwindled over three weeks, sometimes in three withdrawals a day, from more than $2,000 to about $100, he said.
Sometimes parents need to be nosy, he said.
Parents need to make rules and consequences and stick to them. They need to take an interest in their children’s interests, and tell them they would be disappointed if they ever tried drugs. That would cut the probability of their children trying drugs by 50 percent, he said.
“To help prevent a child from succumbing to addiction, be a positive role model,” he said.
Manda admitted her addiction to her parents when her boyfriend, who also supplied her heroin, was arrested and jailed. They took her to the hospital when she suffered withdrawals. Spitler took her to be assessed for treatment.
Four days later, before she even could start treatment, he found her unconscious in a bathtub, a syringe floating near her arm, he said.
“Addiction is a family disease. One person may use. Everybody in the family suffers some way, some how,” Spitler said.
“The beast may no longer harm Manda, but it continues to haunt me.”