Two stories, two endings: The impact of teenage drug abuse

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WAUSAU/GLEASON, Wis. (WSAW) -- Drug abuse commonly begins early in a person’s teenage years, setting off a timeline that if unchecked can be devastating. For Brandon Crum from Gleason, he battled drug addiction from the first time he tried marijuana at just 14 years old. He moved on to harder drugs by 16, and outside of a 3-year clean phase, was in and out of jail through his twenties as a result.

Brandon Crum pictured on left, MGN photo of meth on right. (WSAW/MGN Photo)

“Every time I relapsed, I went to jail. Literally every time,” he reflected. “I was miserable. Relationships were lost, friendships were lost—lifelong friendships were lost…things that can’t be replaced.” Among those things, he said, was missing most of his daughter’s ten birthdays.

It started when he switched friends in high school. He swapped football for marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol, moving later to meth and heroin. He lost his job.

“I wouldn’t go out of bed if I didn’t have drugs. I was miserable. I wasn’t happy.”

The friend-change that Brandon described is a common precursor to bigger issues, Wausau Police school resource officer Jeff Schremp explained to NewsChannel 7. Schremp serves Wausau West High School, alongside K-9 officer Theo.

When a good student starts skipping practice and slipping in grades, there’s a reason for it, he said. “Once you dive into it and realize—well yeah, they switched their friend group,” he noted. “The change in their schooling, their extracurricular activities—that really tips us off that something’s going on. Whether it might be drugs, it might be a family issue, it might be a girlfriend issue or boyfriend issue.”

In 2017, 16% of high school students in Wisconsin reported active marijuana use in the statewide Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Harder drugs like meth and heroin are far less common, but not every county—like Marathon and Portage—reports specific data on their use either. Lincoln County reported that 6% of high school students had used meth or heroin in the last 30 days before taking the survey.

Middle school rates are lower, with almost 2% saying they’ve tried marijuana, 1.4% having tried a different drug, and 3.5% saying they’ve taken prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription. And while children starting drug use as low as 12, as counselors and others who work with troubled children have told us, it’s encouraging to note that the trend of drug use in schools has been decreasing since the 1990s.

For Jeff Lindell, the director of student services for D. C. Everest School District, drug use as a teen is reflective of a bigger problem.

“We’re a microcosm of our society,” he explained. “It’s not really a school district issue. It’s not an Everest issue, it’s not a Wausau issue, it’s not a Mosinee issue…it’s a community issue.”

But ultimately, when either trauma or curiosity causes students to experiment with drugs, it can trigger a dangerous timeline.

The second story still haunts Jeff Schremp. A Wausau West teenager admitted to him he was using meth and heroin. Schremp tried to talk him through it.

“I remember meeting up with him in front of the school one day,” Schremp recalled. “I just talked to him and I said ‘Hey look, we’re here to help you, we want you to change.”

“I said, ‘If you don’t change your behavior, you’re gonna die. It’s not a matter of if you’re gonna die—it’s when. Because this continued behavior, this drug use—it’s gonna kill you.”

The student died from an overdose within two weeks of that conversation.

“He walked away from the school, and he never came back,” Schremp said. “It still hits me every day, when I deal with these kids and drug issues…I see the end result.”

But the timeline of drug abuse doesn’t have to end that way. Schremp is quick to note—there are students who make good decisions, choose to stop their bad decisions and get their lives turned around.

That happened for Brandon. With the help of Narcotics Anonymous, he’s now clean for more than a year—the longest time since shortly after high school—and he’s studying at Nicolet College in Rhinelander to be a substance abuse counselor.

“More people than I can even recall help me through my sobriety, and I want to give back,” he noted. “You can’t keep what you have without giving it away.”

Today, he wants to make amends to those he’s wronged—and be the father to his daughter he knows he can be. She just had her tenth birthday—and he was there.

“I haven’t heard one person tell me that life isn’t better after they’re done,” Brandon said.

Resources for youth

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Boys and Girls Club

Caring Tree, Child & Family Counseling

Peaceful Solutions Counseling

Marathon County Health Department

Woodson YMCA