"The allure of drugs is very tempting and anybody can fall, even someone that's older, supposedly educated, professional.
                                   -- Rep. Ron Corbett

A painful lesson on peril of drugs


    Crack cocaine can overpower anyone.  Even a middle-age nurse.  Even a grandmother.  Even the mother of one of Iowa's top legislative leaders.
    Just ask Ron Corbett, speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives.
    "The allure of drugs is very tempting and anybody can fall, even someone that's older, supposedly educated, professional," Corbett said Thursday.   "It just isn't a problem that faces the inner city."
    Corbett's mother, Mary, a hospital nurse, fell hard for the highly addictive drug.
    "After several months of heavy using, going to crack cocaine parties and running out of money, she finally hit rock bottom," Corbett, a Cedar Rapids Republican said in an interview Thursday.
    "Her boyfriend found her in a bathroom, lying on the floor and aspirin all over the place.  I don't think she was trying to commit suicide.  I think she was trying to relieve some of the pain that she was having."
    But this story, which Corbett shared this week with reporters, lawmakers and others, has a happy ending.
    His mother, now 57, was treated for her addiction and has recovered.   She is again working as a nurse in the Washington, D.C., area.
    "She's back to her old self and the mother I've always known her to be, but there was that time that she wasn't.  Drugs changed her," he said.
    Mary Corbett could not be reached for comment.
    Ron Corbett's House colleagues said it just goes to show that members of the Legislature are no different from the people they represent; they come face to face with the same family crises.
    "Everybody has problems, and that's reflected in this place," said Rep. Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City.  "I think people's hearts go out to Ron and are supportive of him."
    Rep. Teresa Garman, R-Ames, said: "I know this can happen in any family. ... Ron has a great deal of strength."
    Corbett already had plenty on his mind five years ago as the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.  He was trying to get a grip on the state budget when his mother started calling him at the Statehouse, asking for money to buy food.
    "I had numerous phone calls from her begging me for money, and I gave into her once.  When I refused to give into her (again), the phone calls turned vicious ... like, 'Why aren't you helping your mother out?  I've helped you out all your life.  Why don't you help me out in my time of need?'"
    Corbett, who learned his mother used the money to buy drugs, conferred with family members.  "We felt the only way to help her was by not helping her, that she's got to get to the point that she's going to decide she's going to fight this addiction and seek help," said Corbett, who has two sisters.
    "We talked all the time: 'What can we do?  What can we do?'   We looked into ways to get her committed.  All we could do was hope and pray that, she would eventually seek treatment before she completely destroyed her life and died from it."
    Mary Corbett was divorced from Ron Corbett's father nearly two decades ago.  Ron Corbett, who has four children, said his mother had met a hospital patient, with a history of drug abuse and he later became her boyfriend.
    "She started using crack cocaine on the weekends, and then it turned to every evening, and then it turned into all the time," Corbett said.
    Mary Corbett finally got treatment and started back on the road to recovery.  But, her son said, "it's not an easy journey for anyone.  She was facing a lot of difficulty.  She had to go through bankruptcy, she had maxed out her credit cards and put everything she had in hock. ...
    "She made it.  She's one of the few that have been able to kick the habit, and she's back working as a nurse and she's got her life back in order."
    His mother's ordeal has taught Corbett as much about drug abuse as all the debates he's heard about the problem in six House terms.
    "We need to do everything we can to educate not just young people but all of our citizens.  We need to help those that are addicted to seek treatment," he said.  "But most of all, we need to punish those that prey on people and entice them into using drugs."

corbett.jpg (30877 bytes)
Ron Corbett, speaker of the Iowa
House, says his mother is "back to her
old self" after a battle with crack cocaine.

Jonathan Roos can be reached at
roosj@news.dmreg.com or (515) 284-8443.

The Des Moines Register
Friday, February 20, 1998, Page 1M