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Guide for parents who are looking to help stop a child's drug addiction

A mother says more needs to be done to help families like hers, and she has a guide on what she wished she knew.

PHOENIX — Wherever you look around Kelsie Hughes McSparran's home you see the signs of a mother trying to save her teenager. 

"It’s sort of like living in your own created jail," Hughes-McSparran said. "Everything is locked up, keys to all the doors, Narcan at the ready, multiple doses."  

Hughes-McSparran's life changed earlier this year when her teenager failed a fentanyl drug test. 

"What do you do? Where did it come from? How did this happen?" Hughes-McSparran asked.

The drugs came from Snapchat and were bought through a drug dealer that sells through the app. 

"It’s being used to buy drugs, and they deliver,” Hughes-McSparran said. 

In 2021, fentanyl killed more than 70,000 people across America. Hughes-McSparran knows the danger and the fear. 

“It’s not even like walking on eggshells, it's like walking on ice on a frozen lake and waiting to fall in," Hughes-McSparran said. 

She then started doing what any mother would do; she tried to get help. 

She took away her child's phone, got Narcan, and added security cameras and new locks. 

However, while calling facilities to get inpatient care, she found no one had a spot. 

“She wasn’t bad enough yet. She had to have an arrest record or be in the hospital. Like what?” Hughes-McSparran exclaimed. 

RELATED: 'We can't tell how much is manufactured': How much fentanyl is not getting seized in Arizona?

What followed was the overdose on Easter eve. 

Hughes-McSparran got a call that her only child was unresponsive at a nearby home. Her teenager was lucky. First responders got there in time.

While sitting next to her child at the hospital, Hughes-McSparran thought she might finally be able to get some help. 

“Are we bad enough now? Have we made it to the point where we can get some help now? That someone cares now? Are they going to pay attention now?” Hughes-McSparran said. 

What she got was disappointing. Hughes-McSparran said she initially got five days at an inpatient facility focused on detox. 

“Five days, that’s not even long enough to get clean," Hughes-McSparran said. 

Her child left the facility with a drug problem. Hughes McSparran began to call inpatient facilities again but found long waiting lists or that her child didn't qualify.

“I'm sorry ma'am, we don’t take anybody in who isn’t fully detoxed,” Hughes-McSparran said she was told. 

RELATED: CDC releases 'truly staggering' overdose death toll for 2021

The problem, unfortunately, isn't unique. 

In Maricopa County, there are only a few hundred residential beds for teen care.

“A fraction of those, less than fifty, are really geared towards substance use,” explained Pattie O'Connor. She's the Crisis Operations Director with Crisis Preparation and Recovery. 

According to O'Connor, parents looking for residential beds often face going out of state or long wait lists.

“Wait lists can vary between days, weeks, and sometimes months,” O'Connor said. 

“We don’t know if you have a day left, or two weeks left. You just know the clock is ticking.“ Hughes-McSparran said. 

Hughes-McSparran said after spending more than $20,000 she got her teenager into a brand new facility in Apache Junction. 

It is a momentary break, but she hopes to have guidance when her child comes home. 

“I need help, I don’t know what I'm doing?” Hughes McSparran said. "I just want to save my child's life, I just want to have my child get a chance to become an adult."

McSparran believes a comprehensive approach is needed to save lives. She wants more action taken on the border to keep the drugs from entering the country. 

She said law enforcement needs to do more to crack down on dealers and more resources to be available for families dealing with this addiction. 

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First, O'Connor recommends educating yourself about potential warning signs. 

NotMyKid has training for parents. O'Connor said in most cases, an underlying issue proceeds the addiction. 

MIND 24-7 provides emergency and crisis mental and psychiatric health and substance abuse care. 

O'Connor recommends if a child or loved one has a fentanyl problem, get Narcan for your home. 

Narcan is a medication used to counter the effects of opioid overdose.

The Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) issued a standing order on November 11, 2017, that allows any Arizona-licensed pharmacist to dispense one of the three forms of naloxone to any individual without a prescription and can get picked up at all pharmacy locations across the state. 

O'Connor said while inpatient beds are in short supply, there are alternatives. 

O'Connor says there are usually options for intensive outpatient (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization programs (PHP) that provide care for up to 25 hours a week. 

RELATED: An Arizona man overcame addiction to inspire others and raise funds for charity


Hughes-McSparran said she always felt like she learned what to do too late. We asked her to create a step-by-step guide for those in a similar situation. 

Below are her words (slightly edited for clarity, personal information, and length):

  • Step 1: Get to a hospital for immediate care and detox, Banner Behavioral Health (480.448.7500). (Oasis and Aurora also provide care).  
  • Step 2: Clean your residence DesertDrugDog.com 602.908.2042 trained drug-sniffing dogs to search your house and vehicles, not the police but licensed by them.
  • Step 3: Get a residential treatment facility. Not many to choose from but call Lena w/Modern Recovery. She knows all the programs very well and was very kind.
  • Step 4: When your child is successful, move to PHP 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. [The program] comes with a sobriety coach. Modern Recovery offers a teen solution, but we did not make it this far.
  • Step 5: IOP is similar to PHP, just less time, 3 to 5 days a week, 3 hours a day. Modern Recovery also has a solution, we were interested in ASAPAZ.com due to location but again we did not make it this far.
  • If Step 3 doesn't work, consider therapeutic boarding school. Some options we found: RedHawkrtc.com or SedonaSky.org
  • Step 6: Find a good 12-step program and meetings for life. 

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