Drug use exacts a heavy toll on the most vulnerable

Years later, a family still suffers the brutal fallout of addiction

The sad story of Cody Sanders elevated the spectre of gang activity in the Rogue Valley, but also should remind us of the incredible costs that drug and alcohol abuse can visit on a family and its most vulnerable members.

Cody, a 15-year-old Medford high school student, took his own life with a gun last month after years of problems and a more recent involvement with gangs. Many people, including his adoptive family, made repeated efforts to give him a fresh start, but he continually found his way back into trouble.

Something in Cody couldn't allow him to fully accept the helping hands offered to him. It was as if he couldn't really believe he was valued, even when he clearly was by family and friends. There's no specific evidence offered, but it seems obvious to observers that his problems were a legacy of his biological mother's addictions to drugs and alcohol.

A story in Sunday's Mail Tribune provided details of Cody's life, starting with the grim facts of his first encounter with authorities: When he was 6 months old, Cody was found crying in a stroller in a Klamath Falls alley, his mother passed out nearby.

His mother, Zetta Martinez, told the Mail Tribune in 2004 that her drug addiction had affected two of her children, a son who was severely disabled and a daughter who suffers from mental disabilities. Both of the children's afflictions were the result of her addiction to methamphetamine. She also acknowledged that she was an alcoholic.

Cody was twice removed from her home and ultimately adopted by his aunt's family in Medford. They worked to help Cody manage in schools, got him involved in youth sports and family activities and even sent him to a residential treatment center in the Portland area. But time and again he found his way back to trouble.

That trouble eventually led him to gang involvement. It appears, from his comments and writings, that he recognized the dead-end street he was heading down, but was unable to turn away, despite the efforts of those who loved him.

Cody exhibited some of the common symptoms of a drug-affected child: an attachment disorder that made him feel unloved, angry outbursts and emotions that seemed to be on a roller-coaster. He reached out for affection and then often rejected it when it was offered.

Drugs and alcohol ruined at least three — and likely four — lives in Cody's biological family. He started out life with the deck stacked against him, perhaps in ways more subtle than those faced by his two siblings, but ultimately with tragic results.

In a bit of irony, White House deputy drug czar Scott Burns visited the Rogue Valley this week and on Tuesday visited the OnTrack Home Program for mothers battling drugs. It was an apt recognition for an important program, but the more important recognition will come in the form of increased federal and state aid to efforts like OnTrack's.

Likewise, the community must recognize the importance not only of rehabilitation programs, but also of education and prevention. There are too many Cody Sanderses out there, kids who deserve a future, but who find themselves tied to mistakes of the past.

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