EDITOR'S NOTE: In the Fargo-Moorhead area, overdoses and drug deaths have become too common. As the death toll rises, stigma and misconception fuel the fire. In this three-part series, we explore the faces of addiction behind the headlines. A recovering addict, a mother of addicts and two authorities who work with addicts tell their stories.
Monday: A family's seven years of "epic terror"
FARGO - Tragedy doesn't strike stable families. If surrounded by support, children will flourish. Positivity trumps reality. Dana Chase once believed those things. She now knows they were misconceptions.
As a mother of 24-year-old identical twins and author of "In Spite of Heroin," a book about her family's struggle, she knows the truth: addiction can touch anyone, including her two sons.
"When it broke loose in our family, it was summer 2012. There weren't headlines. I didn't know this was going on everywhere," she says. "It was far more shocking at that point in time than if I were to encounter it now."
With opiate addiction on the rise, no one is left untouched. Chase's family is a living example and the message is clear in her book.
"The book is part about reflecting back to their childhood so people see just how endearing they were and how normal their childhood was - how it can happen to anybody," says Chase, which is her pen name.
Chase, 58, describes what her family went through as seven years of "epic terror."
Both Chase and her husband were flight attendants, so when their twins were born, the couple moved to Fargo to be near family. Growing up, their boys - Chase refers to them as Avery and Ryder in the book - lived less than a mile from their grandparents' home. So when their grandparents passed away 14 weeks apart in 2008, the loss was devastating.
"That's when things started happening," Chase says. "At that same time, they got their driver's license and that controlled where they went. Once they were out of high school, they always had jobs that were graveyard shifts, and they were just flying under the radar."
Chase walked the fine line of optimism and denial. "I know how they were raised," she says. "I wasn't concerned that my kids were tracking to be drug addicts. There was always a reason why - they could explain away any signs that I saw."
But eventually the signs were undeniable.
What started with marijuana for both of them shifted to painkillers and eventually heroin.
In 2011, Ryder went into treatment for pain killers. "It's not only what was happening, but what wasn't," she says. "Everyone else was planning graduation receptions and sending out college applications - all the stuff parents do. None of it happened (for us)."
It would be years later before Avery came forward. "We didn't know Avery was addicted, too. All the attention was on Ryder, trying to save him," Chase says. Had the intervention been just 24 hours earlier, Avery may have avoided an alleged carjacking incident that led to federal prison for heroin charges
The effects of addiction rippled. College funds were cashed out to pay for attorneys, emergency room bills, rehab and damage control. Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided their home, and Chase visited her kids in jail. She witnessed suicide attempts and overdoses, but she refused to watch her children die.
"I had to call around begging law officials to arrest my son," she says. "(Ryder) was getting out of detox, but they didn't have a bed for him in rehab. I knew he would be on the streets and he would die," Chase says, alluding to a string of fentanyl overdoses that were prevalent at that time. "In March, there was about five days where I thought Ryder was dead."
In today's society, stigma and misconception surround addiction. Some people think "it's a character defect - that addicts are weak-willed people," Chase says. "If you're not an addict, you can't possibly understand what they experience."
The hardest part of her journey has been "getting acquainted with the notion that you might be outliving your children," she says. "It's still really hard because they're addicts, and it's kind of like cancer, you can come out of remission at any time and take over your body."
Though Chase began writing her book in November 2013, the chapters continue through April of the following year. "There was four to five months that I was writing the book but I was still living the final chapters ... which are horrible," she says.
Today, Chase's twins continue to seek help in recovery. Chase herself is still managing despair. But she often reminds herself that it's all finite and eventually the pain will pass. "Unfortunately, when this started happening, it was the first time in my life that I was grateful that death was guaranteed, because I knew I wouldn't suffer forever," she says.
Read Part 3 of this series Tuesday to see addiction through the eyes of the law enforcement officers and counselors who deal with the situation on a daily basis.