Jeff Muelchi hasn't used cocaine in two years, but he still calls himself a recovering drug addict.
The 43-year-old from O'Fallon said his drug history gave him an open relationship with his son. He knew about most of his son's experimentations and with whom his son was doing drugs.
"I had more of an inside view than most parents," Muelchi said.
Muelchi was there the first time his son went to the Gateway Foundation Alcohol and Drug Treatment's center. His son was forced to get help that time after stealing from the son's grandfather.
Muelchi was there the second time, when his son went voluntarily.
In the end, it was not enough.
Michael Muelchi died March 4, 2010, at age 21.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Raj Nanduri, of the St. Clair County Coroner's office, categorized Muelchi's death as an overdose from multiple drugs. Toxicology reports showed he had ethanol, cocaine, marijuana, heroin and morphine in his system.
Though Michael successfully completed the three months of rehab for cocaine, he relapsed. He quit his second rehab try, for heroin, after about a week.
Muelchi said after you stop the drugs, it takes a while to heal.
"It took me a year to get my thought process back to where it was before I started using," Muelchi said.
Michael had been clean for three months before he overdosed, Muelchi said.
"He supposedly had quit using," Muelchi said. "I was with him the night before and he went out, and his sister got the call the next morning."
Michael was working in landscaping and living with relatives, finally with the grandfather from whom he had stolen. He died there.
Muelchi said he tried his best to be open and nonjudgmental. He didn't want to be hypocritical because of his own drug history.
"I, myself, had issues with cocaine. It devastated my life," Muelchi said. "Because of that, I'm not saying it was a good idea, I tried to be his friend and his dad. I walked that line down the middle in hopes I could maybe walk him along that point where he grew in life and didn't need it anymore."
Muelchi said he told his son about the highs and lows, pros and cons, of hard drugs -- especially cocaine and crack.
"I always tried to tell him, 'Look for this. Be careful of this. Don't do that.'"
Michael "was a drinker. He smoked pot. He did take pills to some extent. He dabbled in a lot of things. Him and his friends did. But mostly they would listen to a lot of music and act silly, basically."
"I was worried about him getting onto the coke or crack issue. Maybe too focused on that, and ignored everything else. I was so focused on it and maybe didn't pay attention to his heroin use."
When Muelchi started to notice a significant change in Michael's behavior, his son had already changed from a "cheerful, fun-loving Michael" to a "secretive, angry" heroin addict.
Parents need to learn what to look for, especially in heroin cases, Muelchi said.
"It's not like you're on acid, cocaine, crack, meth or something where you're bouncing off the walls, doing something weird," Muelchi said. "There's a lot of them you can't even tell they were doing heroin."
Here's Muelchi's hard-earned advice for other parents:
* Catch your child off guard and demand the kid take a drug test at home, which may be a more comfortable and discrete environment for them.
* Sending them to drug treatment is a good start, but the follow-up is crucial. There has to be an entire life overhaul outside of rehab and the creation of a whole support system.
* Parents should get outside help and get information from outpatient meetings or counseling.
* Parent have to help their child leave the environment where he was doing drugs and build a new circle of friends.
Parents need to be direct and persistent, Muelchi said.
"If they don't want to be like me and not have a kid anymore, they have to do what they got to do, to the best of their ability."