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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Someone in Georgia," the mother of a child who had died from an overdose of drugs, prompts this letter. She asked why no one had warned her about her child's drug problem while he/she could be saved. Perhaps this is the reason why:

The mothers in our community have often discussed the necessity for openness and sharing information about each other's kids. Sadly, this commitment came crashing down on my family.

My son (I'll call him "Mike") spoke to school counselors about his friend "John's" drug experimentation, which he had both heard about and witnessed. Mike wasn't the first to reveal it to school staff. But he was the only one who agreed to tell John's parents about it while in a protected school setting, in the presence of professional counseling staff. Mike was sure that John's parents would believe him and appreciate his honesty if they heard it straight from him. My husband and I naively agreed.

The response was devastating. John's parents called Mike a "traitor," a "narc," and many names that are unprintable. John has predictably denied everything. His parents cried "conspiracy, competition, vindictiveness," and continue to claim that Mike had ulterior motives. They blamed the accuser and became aggressors instead of listeners, criticizing and questioning the motives of my entire family. Is making Mike the enemy and a scapegoat a twisted way to deflect attention away from their own son?

I now regret that I didn't tell Mike, "You don't tell on friends." But the knowledge had burdened him for months. I assumed that personal integrity, mutual respect and honest evaluation would prevail. But John's parents have remained in vehement denial, fueled by their child's accomplished lying.

The school principal tells me that it can take from 20 to 30 incidents -- even up to 60 -- for some parents to look objectively at a child's drug problem, and that the substance abuse is most likely still continuing or will return.

This has been awful. Our household is still reeling. We thought of John's parents as friends, fair people. Mike still feels threatened, and even I feel threatened.

Now I ask myself, if the situation had been reversed, would my husband and I have been any more objective? Parents want to believe their children; we need to believe them. Nobody wants to face the darker possibilities. No parent wants to think that perhaps their parenting skills or their family's communication system has failed.

"Someone in Georgia" stated that she would have listened. Ideally that would have been true. But when someone tried to reach her, perhaps she was steadfastly believing something else. -- SADDER AND WISER NOW

DEAR SADDER AND WISER: Your theory that the reaction of John's parents was an attempt to divert attention from their son by focusing their anger on yours is perceptive. Their protective instincts prevented them from keeping an open mind, and they went on the attack. It is possible that they would have been less hostile and defensive if you and your son had approached them privately, instead of involving school authorities in the intervention.

Please don't second-guess your own judgment. Your son did the right thing by speaking out. It showed courage and a sense of responsibility. No one does a friend a favor by remaining silent when friends engage in self-destructive and possibly life-threatening behavior.

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