Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jan 2003
Source: Meriden Record-Journal, The (CT)
Copyright: 2003, The Record-Journal Publishing Co.
Author: Evan Goodenow


WALLINGFORD - Everyone agrees that even one case of a child using heroin is 
one too many.

But there is uncertainty over the extent of heroin use among youths in town.

In an arrest affidavit for suspects in a heroin ring arrested two weeks 
ago, narcotics detective Todd Wilcox described the seven overdoses of young 
people from heroin since July as a "dramatic increase."

The youngest person to test positive for heroin was a 12-year-old girl, and 
at least two people died from heroin overdoses in Wallingford in 2002, the 
affidavit said.

Wilcox did not return requests to explain those numbers. Police Lt. Robert 
Flis did not provide any statistics on youth overdoses before July 2002, 
despite requests over a two-day period. Youth Officer Carol Prats-Alvarez, 
who often works with troubled youths, refused to comment.

School Superintendent Kenneth V. Henrici said he plans to discuss the 
matter with Youth and Social Services Bureau Director Craig Turner. He was 
skeptical whether there has been a dramatic increase.

"There is an increase in cases, but if you go from three to seven, or four 
to seven - that's cause for great concern, obviously - but whether that's a 
dramatic increase is open to interpretation," said Henrici. He said he has 
had numerous discussions with Police Chief Douglas L. Dortenzio on the subject.

Dortenzio said it is difficult to accurately estimate how many overdoses 
occur and determine the ages of the victims because many instances are not 
reported to police. There has been an upswing in youth heroin use in 
Wallingford over the past year, Dortenzio said, but he believes that a 
12-year-old taking heroin in Wallingford is an exception and not the rule.

Heroin is a highly addictive opiate that affects the brain and causes 
severe lethargy. In an overdose, heroin affects functions the body does 
unconsciously, such as breathing.

With an increase in purity of heroin over the last decade and the ability 
to snort it rather than inject it with a needle, overdoses are more common 
among youths who use heroin on a dare or through peer pressure.

"My concern is more what it could blossom into if the fad persists, not an 
overriding concern over what is presently in existence," Dortenzio said.

Dr. Fred F. Tilden, director of MidState Medical Center's emergency room, 
said he has not seen a surge of overdose patients among teenagers; most 
people who overdose are in their 20s or 30s. Tilden said he sees about 100 
youth overdoses a year, about two a week.

Henrici noted the police officers lecture in schools against the dangers of 
drugs as part of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program known as DARE. 
Program officials began revamping DARE in 2002 after studies showed 
students who participated in it at the elementary and middle school level 
were just as likely to use drugs in high school as those who hadn't.

Henrici also noted that an anti-drug message is taught in state-mandated 
health and physical education classes and as part of efforts to develop 
character and refusal skills.

Board of Education members, some of whom have teenage children, are 
disturbed about heroin dealing to, and use by, youths. But there is 
uncertainty about what they can do to prevent it. Board member Brian M. 
Doonan said the local increase mirrors a national trend.

"People think heroin can be used recreationally, but, unfortunately, it's 
as hard core as you get," said Doonan, the father of three children. 
"Obviously, good communication is important as a parent. ... Unfortunately, 
not everyone can spend as much time as they need to with their kids."

Turner is planning a community forum on the subject in the spring. In 
addition, heroin will be a topic on a show on the local cable access 
channel and will be discussed in a workshop involving high school students.

"The community has to admit there's a problem," added school board member 
Michael T. Spiteri.
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