updated 7/28/2005 8:02:27 PM ET 2005-07-29T00:02:27

For years, Thom and Dierdre Forbes have been consumed by a desperate struggle to save their daughter’s life: 19-year-old Carrick got started with drug addiction after she dropped out of high school.

Two summers ago, Carrick was living in a downtown New York apartment with her boyfriend,  40 minutes by train but a world away from her parents home in Hastings-on-Hudson, an affluent suburb of New York.

Her father, Thom Forbes and her mother, Deirdre, both 52, knew where their daughter was living. They knew she was an addict, but what they didn’t know was how to stop her.

Over the next year, they would confront the ugly truth that their precious little girl had turned into a hardened junkie.

And in the year to come, they would grapple with a heart-wrenching dilemma: To save Carrick, they might have to turn their backs on her at her most vulnerable moment , even if it meant she might die in the process.

There was much at stake for this family. Besides Carrick, the Forbes have a teenage boy named Duncan, and they were worried he might go the same route as his sister.

Carrick visits home
It was a hot summer afternoon in  2003 when "Dateline" first met Carrick Forbes. She had recently come up with a way to make some money— she needed to get a job. But in order to get one, Carrick needed an ID card and she needed her mother to vouch for her identity at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In mid-August, Carrick took the train from Manhattan to her parents home in Hastings.

Before Carrick arrived, Thom, who works at home as a freelance writer, took precautions and hid his money. He even urged his wife and son to do the same. It might seem shocking, but that had become routine for Thom. Carrick had repeatedly stolen money from her parents to buy drugs and he knew that she might try again when she stopped at home before her mother drove her to the DMV.

On that day, August 14th, the entire Northeast region plunged into a blackout.

The depths of her drug addiction were that day: Panic set in as she tried to figure out a way to get back to New York City where she knew she could buy heroin.

After a visit to the DMV, Deirdre drove Carrick back to their home in Hastings. Once there, she and Thom gently tried to explain to 14-year-old Duncan why his sister seemed so agitated.

“She’ll be away from her fix,” Thom explained.

By 6 p.m., Carrick had started to sweat and her breathing quickened — signaling the beginning of her body’s withdrawal from heroin. The effects of the drug last just a few hours, so addicts have to take the drug several times a day. Otherwise, they get sick.

While Carrick paced around the house, Thom, Deirdre, and Duncan appeared calm. They had been through this so many times before. By the time “Dateline” met them, Carrick had been in a dozen detox clinics and rehabilitation centers.

In the months to come, their strategy would change. But on that day, her parents simply let her go, not knowing how dangerous the lifestyle she was returning to really was.

With the power out and no lights, Deirdre recorded her thoughts for the camera that night:

"Today was a typical day that we have with Carrick very often. Emotions get out of hand. Impulsiveness. Does this have anything to do with being dope-sick? She said "yes." I just wish she could see that she deserves a lot more."

The Forbes' past with alcohol, and how Carrick slowly became a junkie
Thom and Deirdre Forbes were both journalists when they met 30 years ago at the Daily News, a New York tabloid, where she became a photographer, he an editor. They shared a passion for news and for booze.

Deirdre and Thom continued to drink heavily when they got married in 1977, and Dierdre only scaled back only when she was pregnant with Carrick.

Carrick Forbes was born six weeks early in August 1984.

Deirdre continued to drink after Carrick was born. And so did Thom, but Thom remembers a pivotal day when baby Carrick was about a year old and she forced him to take stock of his own drinking. "Carrick was crying and she wanted my attention. And I felt I had to go out and get a bottle of vodka," recalls Thom. "And I remember her holding on to my leg and I’m saying, ‘I’ll be right back. I’ll be right back, and we’ll play.'"

He bought the vodka that time, but he stopped drinking that very week — a development Deirdre didn’t like.

"It was real scary because he was my drinking buddy," says Deirdre. "But my real buddy was the booze."

About a year and a half later, with Thom’s support, Deirdre gave up alcohol as well.

When the two of them did give up drinking, through sober eyes, they finally saw little girl Carrick.

"Oh, she was beautiful, happy, entertaining, ingenious, creative, funny and a joy," says her mom. "She was always dancing and singing and getting on top of tables."

But when Carrick turned 5 years old and started school, her parents said all that life and energy seemed to drain out of her. School was crushing for Carrick as early as kindergarten.

The school suggested she had a learning disability, a condition that often contributes to feelings of low self-esteem. Experts say this can make children more at risk for trying drugs when they get older.

"She didn’t quite fit in. She had problems cutting paper," says Thom.

Throughout elementary school and middle school, Carrick struggled to keep up. Her parents tried to get her help, enlisting special education tutors and psychologists  — even changing schools, but nothing they did could keep Carrick interested in school. She felt like a failure.

"I think she struggled with trying to be part of the mainstream, yet feeling she couldn’t be," says Deirdre. "And then eventually, she thought, 'Well, I can’t be, so I’m not even going to try anymore.'"

By 7th grade, Carrick was cutting classes. Carrick began lying to her parents, piercing her body, and shoplifting— out of control behavior that her parents could not stop.

Deirdre started to feel helpless, and those feelings grew into a full scale depression. Deirdre was hospitalized for three weeks. Thom split his time between caring for his wife who became suicidal, and trying to help a daughter who was spiraling down.

By the time Carrick was 13, the Forbes were convinced she was smoking marijuana, and to prove it, they took her to a doctor for a drug test.

"On the way to have the test done, she breaks down and says, 'Yes I did. I’m was smoking.'"

But that confession didn’t stop Carrick from continuing to sneak drugs and alcohol into their house, the extent of which, the Forbes only pieced together later. Under their nose, Carrick and her friends were smoking pot, and drinking beer and wine.

In high school, Carrick continued to perform poorly and her drug use escalated to more and more potent drugs, a pattern experts say is typical.

Deirdre even remembers getting stuck with a needle one day. "I went into her room one day to just talk to her. And she was sitting there and she shoved something under the bed, and I said, 'What’d did you just put under there?' 'Nothing,' she said. And somehow I just put my hand down on something and I got stuck. And that’s when my heart kind of flipped."

Looking back, there were other clues that their daughter had a serious drug habit: Money was gone all the time. Carrick would take $20 at a time from her parents' wallets and they wouldn't even know it.

But the hundreds they lost to Carrick’s stealing was nothing compared to the tens of thousands of dollars they have spent sending her to rehabilitation programs.

When she goes in, the Forbes' hopes are raised — and then dashed again when she doesn’t stay clean.

"But I’ll tell you one thing about a rehab," says Thom. "You know she’s safe. You know she’s not getting high."

But after the programs, Carrick always turned back to drugs, causing her parents to long for more drastic measures.

"As a parent, you start praying the kid will get busted for something not too severe but enough that maybe they will be ordered to treatment or ordered to treatment in jail," says Deirdre. "It’s about keeping them alive. And sometimes that’s the best you can do for a while until they can reach the point where they want recovery for themselves."

But would Carrick ever want recovery for herself? It was her parent’s greatest hope. But a month after we met her, Carrick showed no interest in getting help for her addiction to heroin. Her only interest was getting a job to pay for her habit.

After she left her parents home on that August afternoon during the blackout, Carrick returned to her apartment in lower Manhattan… and the lifestyle of a junkie.

Her parents knew her life was in danger — she could overdose at any time. She had already contracted Hepatitis C, most likely from sharing needles with other junkies. What they didn’t know was that her boyfriend was dealing drugs, which put both of them at risk in the violent drug subculture. This also made them a target for law enforcement.

Back in Hastings, Carrick’s mother could only imagine her daughter’s lifestyle but she was determined to find out more. In September, one month after we met the family, Deirdre enrolled in classes to study substance abuse.

"This was my one last effort — learning as much as I could to save my kid," says Dierdre.

Deidre’s coursework demanded that she find an internship as a substance abuse counselor.

Her daughter was also looking for a job but for entirely different reasons: Money was tight, she was tired of stealing, and heroin was expensive. But her efforts to get a job were constantly interrupted by her  heroin habit which kept luring her back to her apartment for another fix.

Carrick told "Dateline" she was shooting two bags a day — that’s $ 20 worth of heroin. Her boyfriend’s habit was $150 a day. His minimum wage job as superintendent of an apartment building couldn’t support both their habits, but dealing drugs brought in extra money.

One day, as Carrick searched his discarded wax papers for traces of heroin, she tried to convince him to change their lifestyle and stop using heroin. It was a desire she would voice again and again over the year.

“Nothing is going to get better if neither of us do anything to try to get them to get better,” she told her boyfriend. But as much as she talked about stopping, the reality was that her addiction would only grow worse over the coming months.

After her boyfriend left the apartment that day to go back to work, and the heroin took effect, Carrick found it difficult to concentrate on the job application she had picked up.

The possibility of renewal
While Carrick was looking for a job, her father took "Dateline" to a place where he does volunteer work clearing garbage from a path along the Hudson river. He compared the garbage to Carrick's drug habit; the renewal of nature, to the possibility of renewal for her.

"Hope is always there. There is this intelligent, poetic, lovely young woman just waiting to emerge," says Thom.

But when Carrick finally got a job working in a clothing store, she still wasn’t willing to give up drugs. And if they couldn’t persuade Carrick to stop, the Forbes were going to make sure their teenage son didn’t start. They would watch Duncan like a hawk. But there was a major difference between Duncan and Carrick, and experts say that difference might decide Duncan’s future.

Two months after "Dateline" began following the Forbes’ story, the Hastings high school had a homecoming. Any homecoming is a cause for celebration, but any event where kids can find alcohol gives the Forbes cause for concern. Thom takes every opportunity to warn Duncan about risky behavior.

"If there is no parent at this party, there’s going to be beer at least," Thom tells Duncan.

Because of the choices Carrick made, Duncan doesn’t have as many. At the risk of seeming over-protective, Thom called other parents to tip them off about the possibility of under-age drinking that night.

The Forbes still worry even though there is a major difference between the two children. Duncan is adopted. He didn’t inherit his parent’s addictive tendencies. He’s a good student, a natural athlete, and he’s not a social outsider like his sister. Duncan is involved in school activities.

It hurt Duncan that his sister missed his achievements — like his role in the school play, Romeo and Juliet. "If she came [to see my play,  I’d be confused, because I thought that there’s no place in her heart that had me in it," says Duncan.

His parents knew they too were neglecting Duncan, but  they felt they had no choice. Carrick’s drug habit was their priority. Until they could get her off drugs, almost every hour was  consumed with her. The emotional wear and tear was ravaging.

In mid-October, they found out Carrick had lost the job in the clothing store, after just two weeks. Her boyfriend called them threatening to throw her out because she was stealing from him. And they heard from Carrick herself — they thought they heard an emotional plea in a garbled message left on their answering machine.

It was something about detox, and it was something they wanted to hear. Detox was what she needed to cleanse her body of heroin.

But they’d heard it before. In the last two years, Carrick had been in detox clinics for heroin half a dozen times.

Deirdre immediately tried to find an open bed in a local detox clinic.

Later that day, Deirdre and Thom dropped Carrick off at a detox clinic, but Carrick doesn't stay.

Thom was angry but resolved not to let her come into the house unless she was ready to go into detox. He put a sleeping bag in his car for her. Later that night, he was relieved to see her sleeping in the front seat of the family station wagon parked outside the house.

In the middle of the night, Carrick found a way into the house. By morning, after another round of phone calls, her mother once again located a hospital bed for her at a detox clinic.

Later that day, Carrick agreed to let Deirdre take her to the detox clinic. Carrick didn’t bolt. She completed three days in detox and then went home to Hastings.

A few weeks later, to her parents delight, she agreed to admit herself to a two year program in upstate New York to get the crucial rehabilitation her father believed she needed. As her father drove her there, he was hopeful that this, at last, was her turning point.

But on the drive to the facility, Thom had inklings that Carrick wasn’t quite ready to commit herself.

When Carrick arrived at the rehab center, the administrators immediately sent her to another detox clinic, because her vital signs were so low. After five days there, Carrick refused to return to the rehabilitation program and checked herself out. She was back on the streets.

When her parents found out, they were devastated. They realized that once again, she had been lying to them — saying she wanted to get clean while still wanting to get high. 

"That’s the insidious thing about heroin," says Thom.  "I mean, once you become addicted, you’re not normal unless you’re on it.  So, when we thought she was normal, normal had become a junkie."

The Forbes had reached a decisive moment in their struggle to save their daughter. Everything they had done to help Carrick in the last five years hadn’t worked.

"We are living testimony to the fact that 'Just say no' does not work in and of itself," says Thom.

It was time to change their strategy: Thom and Deirdre made the commitment to each other that if Carrick called and wasn't in a rehab, or on her way, they weren't going to talk to her.

"We’ll help her recover, we’ll help her get sobriety.  But we’re not going help her remain an addict," says Deirdre.

The Forbes cut Carrick out of their lives
In November, three months after we met the family, Deirdre and Thom agreed not to let their daughter come back into their lives until she was serious about giving up drugs - knowing full well that she could die in the meantime.

In November, two weeks after they had made this decision, Carrick showed up at their front door. They didn’t let her in. The Forbes kept to their word and had Thanksgiving without their daughter.

Her parents had no idea that Carrick spent that holiday in a tough New York jail, Riker's Island,  serving two weeks for stealing pain killers and using a tampered identification card.

At Christmas, it was Duncan who received the most gifts... the parents had focused on Carrick for so long. Now it was his turn.

"This is so sad but when she finally left— and that insanity and those tornadoes kind of went away— he started to blossom," says Deirdre.

While Duncan was opening his gifts in Hastings, unbeknownst to her family, Carrick was living in a  basement apartment with no running water on the lower east side of Manhattan. Four months after "Dateline" met her, Carrick had started to speedball— using a dangerous combination of cocaine and heroin at the same time.

After a month of no word from Carrick, she called home in early January to ask her mother to take care of her and her boyfriend’s sick dog. Her mother was softening but her father was resolute.

"I was the one who you know kept wanting to take her back," says Deirdre. "Or I wanted to go meet her and he wouldn’t even go see her. And the reason I kept wanting to do that was the fear that, well, what if something happens to her? And I never made that last reach out? But then there really came a point where I remember that she’s gone. This is it. I’ve really lost her.'”

In February, six months after "Dateline" met the family, the Forbes agreed to let Duncan move into Carrick’s  bedroom which was bigger than his.  While Thom was cleaning it out, he made a sickening discovery: Used packets of heroin. Thom was used to finding a dozen or so around her room, but this was substantially more.

That same afternoon, all his disgust was swept away when he found something that reminded him of the little girl he loves so much. “I see things like  she collects, odd shaped rocks —it really brings it home, we are so much alike,” says Thom.

During the period when her parents didn’t allow Carrick, Deirdre blossomed as well. She began working at an organization that helped women deal with addiction.

In March, four months since her mother had seen her, Carrick called and asked Deirdre to meet her for lunch.  Deirdre brought a garbage bag filled with Carrick’s clothing, and later told Thom how disturbing it was to watch her essentially homeless daughter rummage through it.

“I was just seeing in front of me this real street person desperately looking for clothes that they found on the street. It was really hard watching her do this,” says Dierdre.

That day, the most important news Carrick had for her mother was almost ignored: Carrick told her she was getting methadone, a treatment for heroin, from New York City’s Mt. Sinai hospital.

But she had lied to her parents so many times about rehab and recovery that they hesitated to believe her.

In May, nine months after we met the family, Deirdre graduated with honors from the local community college with a certificate in substance abuse counseling, an ironic achievement for the mother of an addict. Carrick did not see her mother’s ceremony, and she missed Duncan’s big day in the school play as well.

But that month, there was a breakthrough. Her parents found out that Carrick had indeed been going to Mt. Sinai hospital where she was getting counseling as well as methadone.

Six months after her parents turned her away, her father asked Carrick to finally come home and surprise her mother for mother’s day.

It is impossible to say whether Carrick will stay clean and live a life of sobriety but when she turned 20 in August, it was clear that things were moving in the right direction.

In September, a little more than a year after we started this story, the family went camping —together again after so many years apart.

This fall, Carrick registered for English classes at a New York college.

But perhaps the biggest step in her recovery was her willingness to join her mother and speak to other addicts, parents, and families, about her own drug addiction.

"I haven’t felt this satisfied and happy and proud of myself possibly ever, and really at peace with who I am as a person ever," Carrick said. "This is like a whole new life for me."

And her parents say they will always be there for her little girl.

"I’m just happy that she’s at where she’s at right now. That’s all I can hope for. I can’t control what’s going to happen tomorrow. I’m just happy to see the space she’s in today," says Thom.

Deirdre agrees: "She’s sober today— so that’s wonderful. She’s got today. That’s all we’ve got."

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