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Families tortured by their children's addictions

Money was missing from their safe. Drug dealers were calling their house. Police told the Manuszewskis to give up on their son.

Sitting in their living room recently, Bill and Millie Manuszewski described two years of hell when their son Nick, now 23, was in the throes of a drug addiction that progressed from pot to pills to heroin.

"I could not go through those couple years again without dying," Bill Manuszewski said. "I would have a stroke. It would kill me."

Millie Manuszewski, sitting across from her husband, seemed to be reliving some of the worst moments as she listened to her husband.

"It was bad," she said. "You feel, as a parent, you should be able to stop it."

"I would sit here, seeing her crying," Manuszewski said of his wife.

The Manuszewskis' story seems to have a happy ending.

Their son has been clean for more than a year now and appears to have taken control of his life.

He has finished Erie County College, works as a counselor at a local addiction clinic and is continuing his studies at the University at Buffalo.

But it's still hard. The worry doesn't go away. They fear that the past will regain control of their son.

"Life is fragile," Millie Manuszewski said. "There could be a relapse. There are no guarantees."

Drug addiction can be a horror for the person going through it.

But it's a hell that sucks in an entire family.

Millie Manuszewski has gotten some strength from support groups, listening to and talking with other parents who experienced what her family has gone through.

One such support group operates out of Renaissance House. The Buffalo News was invited to a recent session but was asked not to identify by name the participants who were there that night.

"My son was an honor student, in a leadership group, hanging out with the right people," one mother said. "Then senior year, he changed. I don't know what happened to him I found out my son was selling drugs. I didn't want to believe it."

"My son tried to kill himself," another mother recalled. "He took 72 [pills]. ECMC kept him for two weeks and said you need to come here [to rehab]."

"I am scared for him, but I can't let him back home," one mother said, her voice almost cracking as she talked about her son, who recently left drug rehab and was staying in a transitional house in Lackawanna.

"I don't trust him," she said. "He did a lot of damage the last time he was home."

One set of parents was attending the session for the first time. Their son had some surgeries recently, so they assumed that is why he needed pain pills. But the boy's mother said she had become suspicious, even before her husband's mother called to say that after the 19-year-old was at her house, some of her medications were missing -- including her hydrocodone and Xanax. Hydrocodone is a painkiller; Xanax is an antidepressant.

"He tested positive for hydrocodone and Xanax, which is what was missing, but he doesn't admit it," his mother said. "He said, 'I would never take it from Grandma, Mom.' "

Other parents in the room recognized the story as their own. They have been putting up for years with the lying, the stealing, the excuses from their own drug-addicted sons.

"They look you right in the eyes and lie," one parent said.

"What they are willing to do for this is frightening," said another.

Such stories are all too familiar to Millie and Bill Manuszewski, who told how their son became a thief and liar.
"There was one time he got arrested, [and] a police officer said you have to wash your hands of him. He's too far gone," Bill Manuszewski said.

They didn't.

"We never quit," the father said.

-- By Susan Schulman

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