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Utahn Quits Job To Help Teen Addicts

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Melissa Allison
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The James Mason Center for Treatment works to fill the gap teens 12 to 18 have fallen into.

"You know in the bible it says that we’re all created in God’s image and I see that in all of you. I see that higher potential, that higher power in all of you. I know that all of you are capable of great things."

That’s James Mason – a young man who struggled with addiction. That was his graduation speech from a residential treatment program in Utah and after years of self-medication he lost his battle to his final addiction, heroine, on Oct. 25, 2014 at the young age of 23.

But this story doesn’t end there.

Upon arrival to the James Mason Center for Recovery, I found Trisa McBride, Mason’s mother who is the founder and CEO of the center sitting on the floor, barefoot, with a group of teens sharing music.

“I’m not normally barefoot," McBride said. 

"There is a really good energy here, it feels very peaceful and very loving and very accepting and you can feel it when you walk in," McBride said. "I think it’s why, when the kids walk in, they actually ask their parents to put them in the program."

McBride said the center was her son’s vision. He believed that his suffering was not in vain and that he believed in people. But addiction was not his only challenge.

"James had chronic depression and anxiety," she said. "He experienced a lot of despair and it made it very difficult for him to really function in a world he was just a very sensitive person and so he did turn to drugs as a way to medicate himself. His belief that over time be would be able to beat this addiction and be able to use that experience to help people."

She said she was determined to fulfill Mason’s biggest wish – to use his experience to help others overcome their own addiction. Nine months after the loss of her son, McBride gave birth to the dream her son inspired, the James Mason Center for Recover in Salt Lake City.

"You know when you’re on a path that you’re meant to take - things do tend to fall into place," she said. "It’s just the courage to take that path."

McBride said that after losing her son she couldn’t return to the life she had led.

"I don’t know how I would have done in that life, without him, and so I created one, a new one, and I had to hurry because I didn’t have money," McBride said. "So I had to quit my job because I knew that it took everything that I had."

The center treats addicts 12 to 18 years old. McBride is convinced that had Mason received treatment in his formative years – he may have had a better chance.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah reports that 13 percent of youth aged 8 to 15 live with mental illness severe enough to cause significant impairment in their day-to-day lives.

Holly Willard is a social worker and the clinical director of the center.

"Utah usually falls short of the national average for child and family services with mental health," Willard said. "I think as a society as a whole, we don’t give adolescents the credit and the services that they need or families dealing with adolescents, I mean it’s very difficult to be a parent."

In a study done by the University of Utah it reports that nearly 14 percent of sixth graders in Utah have had some form of a drug and by twelfth grade that number reaches up to almost 34 percent.

While Utah has many residential treatment centers to treat teens, representatives of the center said there is a group of teens whose needs are not being met.

Kamryn Carver is the therapist at the center.

"The kids themselves, even our teens, have said to us, 'Do I have to be trying to kill myself to get help?'" Carver said. "It’s like there you either have to be in extreme residential need so that you’re actively suicidal or you know, in some sort of detox situation or you get nothing. And so that’s where this is going to really fill a gap and provide a service that people have been hungering for a very long time."

Mason often wrote about the pain and suffering that he and other like him experienced from addiction. McBride shared part of one such poem.

"...Perpetual confusion pervades every word out of this dry mouth. My soul begs from this gilded cage, to release the prisoner from this morbid toxic stage. These pleading words fall on deaf ears, my demons laugh maliciously..."

Click here to read part one of this two part feature.