A mother’s story: Addicted son ‘was actually a person I really did not know’

What’s it like having a son addicted to heroin, a good-looking, pleasant boy who never gave his mother a worry suddenly losing weight, appearing gaunt and stealing from his family?

“He was actually a person I really did not know,” his mother said.

“My health, my mental health, my marriage. It divided our family. Mentally, financially and everything in between was just torn apart,” Sherri Cox said about her son, Derrick, as she shared the horror story written by drugs.

The Parsonsburg resident unveiled her feelings in an essay she titled “Nobody Told Me.” Nobody told her the drug “would consume my every waking moment,” teach her son to be “a liar, a master manipulator and a thief.”

Now, 27-year-old Derrick is in prison at Eastern Shore Correctional Institute in Westover, serving a six and one-half year sentence. He could be awarded early probation, but if he is, he’ll have to go before a judge in Delaware for a violation of parole charge.

He has pawned his family’s treasured valuables and gotten involved in a counterfeiting ring.

When Cox talks about the three or four years of the nightmare, it’s with detail and honesty, and a hint of disbelief, even now.

“He was an all-around good kid. He graduated from high school in ’05, and I never had problems with him. He was active in sports, he coached basketball. Over the last four years, maybe not that long, I noticed little changes,” Cox recalled.

He worked as a consultant for AT&T, then as store manager for a clothing store at the Centre at Salisbury mall. Once business oriented, he started disliking working. Although earning a salary, he borrowed money from his mother.

He would stay awake all night, keep odd hours, use the phone at times he normally didn’t.

“His whole demeanor changed,” Cox said.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 160-pound young man, blond with blue eyes, always good-natured, was thinner, had dark circles under his eyes, looked sick.

“One night he called me into the garage and he said, ‘I have a problem.’ The last thing I expected him to say was he was addicted and needed help. At that time he was addicted to the pain pill Percocet. He was crushing them and snorting them. He was using any kind of pain pills he could get hold of. He was buying them illegally because, you know, everybody has pain pills for one reason or another,” she recalled.

The problem escalated until her son, three days before Christmas one year, broke into her and her husband’s house and stole loaded handguns, jewelry, laptops, a flat screen TV, all to be pawned  for money to buy drugs.

“When we were robbed, the last thing I expected was for it to be my son who did it,” Cox said.

He spent eight days in jail and her Christmas went dark. For the first time, she couldn’t bring herself to celebrate with family.

Derrick went for detoxification at a center in Baltimore. After one month, he called his mother to take him home, but she refused, reminding him that wasn’t the original arrangement. His girlfriend took him home. Later, he went to another detox center.

“In between times, my mother and I sat with him as he detoxed. That’s how we spent one Thanksgiving, watching him go through detox. It was so horrible. He was sicker than anything,” she said.

“It almost broke up my marriage. This family was close to being divided. The only one who stuck by me was my mother. In six months he went from pills to heroin,” his mother said, explaining it’s easily available and fairly inexpensive.

Derrick wasn’t working, and money he managed to get was exchanged for drugs.

“At first I was an enabler. I gave him money,” she said. Eventually, she told him to leave.

He became involved with a counterfeiting ring and faced dozens of charges in Wicomico and Worcester counties, and Delaware, then was sentenced to jail. He has been there two years, still a surprise to his mother, since he was raised largely by his father, a detective, in what she called “a police environment.”

After the most recent detoxification, “he’s my old Derrick again,” his mother said.

They’ve talked about why drugs appealed to him and he blamed depression. “It runs in my family. I dealt with it in my early 20s. He didn’t like the way the medication made him feel. He decided to start self-medicating. He liked the way the drugs made him feel,” his mother said.

“I think all of this, it’s made me a stronger person. I used to break down when I talked about it. He’s my only child. I felt I did something wrong, trying to teach him. I felt like a complete failure. Every day I worried. Every day I waited for that phone call telling me he was dead. Every day,” she said.

“I asked him if he still craves heroin and he said he’s had it in his face every day in jail and the thought of heroin and of pills makes him sick to his stomach,” she said.

“I’m hoping once he’s out of jail that it isn’t going to happen again but I know deep down he’s probably going to relapse,” Cox said. One of his counselors confided he was drawn back to drugs 26 times before finally staying away, and he now has runs a successful private practice.

The plan is for Derrick, once released from jail, to move out of the area and live with his grandmother, who firmly vowed to call police if he uses drugs again.

“He’s my son and I love him. He was a wonderful kid. He always did well in school. He was a big Yankees fan. From the time he could walk he started playing T-ball. He is outgoing. Athletic. An all-around good person,” his mother said.

“But if he decides to start using again, I cannot, and will not, be a part of it.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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