SAGINAW (WJRT) - (07/11/19) - If your child was abusing drugs would you see the telltale signs before it's too late?
The Families Against Narcotics Great Lakes Bay Region chapter has a new tool to help parents recognize signs of substance use which may be hiding in plain sight.
"It blows my mind how much they can hide in such a small area, and right underneath your eyes, you wouldn't even know it," said Krystal, the mother of a teenager currently struggling with addiction.
Krystal stopped by the Saginaw Police Department to see FAN's new trailer, which is set up to look like a teen's bedroom.
"This isn't good right here, these are all red flags. This is a red flag," Krystal said as she noticed tinfoil on a computer desk.
Krystal never thought her daughter would be in this position.
"It can happen to anybody's child. It doesn't matter race, how you were raised, where you come from. My daughter, highly educated, beautiful," Krystal said.
Krystal's daughter was an all-around good kid, but a year ago life changed. "Within a very short period of time lead down a wrong road and, yeah, that's how we learned about all these red flags," she said.
As she made her way through FAN's Hidden in Plain Sight trailer Krystal pointed out a tin box. "They try to disguise it with stickers or memory box or photos, so mom and dad just thinks that's what it is. You open it up and find something very unusual like straws."
Straw could be used for snorting a drug.
Other items Krystal noticed that seemed out of place included a can of Pam cooking spray and several spoons. The cooking spray could be used for huffing, while the spoons could be used to cook a drug.
She also pointed out a book that had been hallowed out to hide drug paraphernilia, and many other seemingly common items with other uses.
The FAN Great Lakes Bay Region chapter used a $20,000 grant from Midstate Health Network to customize the Hidden in Plain Sight trailer.
AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) Nick Kastros, who is assigned to FAN at Delta College, carefully placed each item in the makeshift bedroom using personal experience.
"It was like a walk down memory lane, you know going back through my experience and thinking about all the places I used to stash stuff," Kastros said.
Kastros has been clean for five years. He started using at age 15.
"My first drug dealer was my grandmother. She gave me Vicodin when I had a migraine thinking she was helping me," Kastros explained.
Kastros shared that in 2014 he overdosed several times. His stepmother found him face down in water on what turned out to be his last overdose.
Kastros was in the hospital for 14 days. "And the doctors said if she found me five minutes later I would have had permanent brain damage, and ten minutes later I wouldn't have made it."
He said the name of the trailer, Hidden in Plain Sight, is fitting. "They could have 15, 20 different stash spots in books and DVDs, you know in shoes, and in any different places and you wouldn't think to look twice if you didn't know what to look for."
FAN Great Lakes Bay chapter Vice President Lori Ziolkowski saw one of these trailers in another community and had to bring it here. "This is to help educate parents who would think their kid would never in a million years do this. We thought that too," she said.
Ziolkowski's daughter has been in recovery for more than three years.
She remembers finding strange items in her daughter's room.
"Pieces of cotton I thought were for makeup or a strange obsession with tinfoil for art projects," Ziolkowski said. "Things that I look back on now and go, 'oh my gosh I was so dumb, how did I not know that that was a red flag?'"
She said seeing the trailer put together is emotional because it brings back memories, but she knows it will be eye opening for other parents.
"'There's a roll of toilet paper with a dryer sheet. That's weird, what is that?' And we can help educate them on what those things mean," Ziolkowski said.
"And then they'll smoke whatever they're smoking and they'll blow it through this so you don't get the scent, the parent won't smell it, it will smell like fresh cotton in their room," Krystal explained about a toilet paper roll with a dryer sheet.
Krystal has spent the last year educating herself so she can help her daughter.
It lead her to FAN and the monthly support meetings at Delta College.
Now, she's giving back by helping educate other parents about what to look for, and where to look for it.
"Helps educating the community and others who don't know. Erase that stigma so these children feel comfortable enough to ask for help," Krystal said. "This is a wonderful way to teach parents the hiding spots that you would never think of until you experience it first hand. You come across somethings and you, it feels odd, looks odd. You should look into, just to make sure."
Krystal said other popular hiding spots are in shoes, dresser drawers, and backpacks. "You want to see these red flags so it's not too late, cause there's always hope."
Police departments in Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties which partner with FAN to offer the 'Hope Not Handcuffs' program will have priority to use the trailer, but other community groups will have access too.
Ziolkowski said touring the Hidden in Plain Sight trailer isn't the end. If someone needs help, those services will be offered too. "What we want to do after that is to help open up a conversation of what if you do suspect that somebody you love is using drugs and how do you talk about that and how can you get them help? So it's educational but then it's also to help get people the services that they need if they think they might need them," she said.
The trailer will soon have some finishing touches added.
Ziolkowski said families connected to FAN will be adding personal items to the room in honor of their loved ones.
"It's real people and real stories and real losses within our community and we need to do more and we need to do it faster in order to change this," Ziolkowski said.
Click on the 'Related Link' with this story to be connected with the FAN Great Lakes Bay Region chapter. To inquire about the Hidden in Plain Sight trailer contact Kastros. His phone number is 989-392-2992 and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.