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Published: Saturday, 8/23/2008

Couple who lost son to drugs strive to keep teens sober

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Amy and Rick Marvin, with a portrait of their son, Rusty, with their daughter, Hailey Marvin, seated behind them, at Rusty s House. Mr. and Mrs. Marvin established the nonprofit center offering help to those with addictions after Rusty s death. Amy and Rick Marvin, with a portrait of their son, Rusty, with their daughter, Hailey Marvin, seated behind them, at Rusty s House. Mr. and Mrs. Marvin established the nonprofit center offering help to those with addictions after Rusty s death.
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After frantic attempts using CPR and prayer, Rick Marvin came to the shocking realization that there was nothing he could do to save the life of his 18-year-old son, Rusty.

Almost immediately, he said, he felt God calling him to help other young people caught up in drug and alcohol abuse.

"This is what I'm supposed to do. I'm not going to let my son die in vain," Mr. Marvin said in an interview this week at Rusty's House, a West Toledo office building that is the home of the nonprofit agency he runs with his wife, Amy.

His son was a smart kid who earned an academic scholarship to St. John's Jesuit High School, a "people person" who was going into a nursing career to help others, Mr. Marvin said.

He was a star football player at St. John's, where he started a morning Bible study.

"He was a perfect son," Mr. Marvin said. "Everybody loved him."

But Rusty had problems with cocaine, and his addiction grew worse in the last half of his senior year of high school.

After graduation, when his friends were spending the summer partying, Rusty tried desperately to stay clean and sober by staying home and watching movies in his parents' basement, his mother said.

"His friends would call and invite him to join them," Mrs. Marvin said. "They swore they wouldn't use in front of him, and they meant well, but they were addicts themselves."

On the morning of July 7, 2005, Mr. Marvin found Rusty slumped in the family's garage, dead from a cocaine overdose.

Today, Mr. and Mrs. Marvin devote all their time, energy, and resources to trying to steer young people between the ages of 15 and 25 away from the tragic fate of their son.

Rusty's House was founded a month after Rusty's death and meetings were held in a library and church until January, when the organization moved into a former dental office at 2428 West Sylvania Ave.

After extensive repairs and redecorating, the facility now serves between 150 and 200 people a week, including clients and their parents and relatives.

Mr. Marvin, 44, is an intense man with a shaved head, thick goatee, and multiple earrings, and his arms, back, neck, and hands are covered with tattoos.

A former motorcycle gang member, he knows firsthand about the pains of addiction and is himself a recovering drug and alcohol abuser. All 12 members of his volunteer staff also are in recovery, he said, because otherwise those who come for help won't take their advice seriously.

Even though he was snorting cocaine, Mr. Marvin said, he always warned Rusty not to do drugs. It was a classic case of "do as I say, not as I do." In May, 2005, when Rusty was getting help in a residential treatment program, Mr. Marvin went to visit him and was ambushed, so to speak, by his family, who had organized an intervention.

"I started to walk out, but I got five steps down the hall and felt God telling me to go back," Mr. Marvin said.

He has been sober ever since.

It was less than two months later that his son died from an overdose, ingesting 21 times the toxic level of cocaine, according to the coroner's report.

While cocaine remains a problem for teens today, Mr. Marvin said the prescription painkiller OxyContin is posing an ever-increasing threat. The drug can be so expensive that some users turn to heroin, the dangerously addictive drug that is cheaper than OxyContin but produces a similar high.

Many teenagers who come to Rusty's House appear to be model students from upper-middle-class or wealthy suburban families, Mr. Marvin said, and there are just as many girls as boys who are addicts.

The biggest problem the staff at Rusty's House faces is not with the young people themselves, Mrs. Marvin said, but with their parents, who are in denial and want to keep their children's addictions a secret.

If parents don't confront their kids and take a tough stand, their children too often slip back to the same routine, the same group of friends, and the same drug abuse, Mr. Marvin said.

"Anybody can stay clean and sober in a treatment center. The most important thing is after-care," Mr. Marvin said. "Some parents don't love their kids enough to let them hate them. The goal is to change their entire lives."

Mr. Marvin said he believes faith is one of the most important elements for overcoming addiction.

"God saved my life," he said flatly. And he has been taking more steps of faith lately.

He and Amy lived together for 23 years but got married in July. Mr. Marvin recently felt he needed to be baptized, as a testimony to his new spiritual life, so last Sunday he went to Toledo Gospel Church in Northwood and was immersed in a baptismal pool as the congregation sang loudly and prayed with Pentecostal power.

"I loved it, it was great," he said.

He also has new tattoos on the back of each hand - a portrait of Jesus with a crown of thorns and red drops of blood on his right hand, and, on his left, a peace symbol inside a heart - the Rusty's House logo representing peace and love.

"These are what separate me from the biker gangs," he said, holding his hands up. "I even have my chopper up for sale."

He said must "walk a fine line" when it comes to preaching to addicts. Some people just don't want to hear it, he said, and he doesn't want them to walk out or reject help.

But Rusty's House uses the 12 Step Program, as popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous, which acknowledges the existence of an unspecified "higher power."

He also holds meetings every Sunday morning and then walks with his group to CedarCreek Church's Toledo campus about a block away.

"I'm on a mission from God," Mr. Marvin said. "We push a higher power big time. When we teach the 12 Steps, we tell them to get on their knees and pray to whomever they want to pray to. And the ones that do, they're the ones who make it."

Rusty's House is holding a benefit concert, Sober Jamz 2008, tomorrow at Centennial Terrace, 5773 Centennial Ave., Sylvania, starring national Christian rock recording artists Seventh Day Slumber, local Christian rock bands Pawn and Keys 2 Eden, classic rock group All But One, and local band 30 Days to Live. Doors open at 3 p.m. and tickets are $10. Information: www.SoberJamz.ino or www.RustysHouse.org, or 888-44RUSTY.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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