Pubdate: Wed, 12 Mar 2003
Source: Kentucky Post (KY)
Copyright: 2003 Kentucky Post
Authors: Shelly Whitehead and David Wecker, Post staff reporters
Cited: Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Megan has the same dream every night.

She's at a friend's house. Someone walks into the room and offers her
heroin. Without even thinking, she pushes the needle into her arm.

Then she wakes up, covered with sweat.

Megan hasn't used heroin since December. Before that, she was clean
for seven months.

But the craving never stops.

"Heroin eats your soul," she said. "You stop having values. You lie,
cheat, steal. When you're an addict, you'll do anything to get a buzz.
You don't care who you hurt. Including yourself. Or maybe especially

Megan -- whose last name isn't being used because she's 17 -- lives in
an Alexandria subdivision. Pretty and petite, she doesn't fit the
image of a drug associated with dirty needles, "smack junkies" and
skid row.

But heroin has undergone an image makeover of sorts. The dangerously
addictive drug is cheaper to buy, easier to find, more pure than it
used to be and used differently -- often snorted instead of shot into
veins or the skin, experts say.

The result is a different breed of users who see it as a glamorous
drug instead of the choice of the most desperate of junkies. Police,
prosecutors and doctors say that increasingly, addicts are clean-cut
high school students who don't realize that one in four become
addicted after one use.

Recently, that trend has erupted like a flash fire in rural Campbell
and Kenton counties, with deadly results.

Accidental overdoses of heroin killed five people in the two counties
- -- and is suspected in the deaths of three others -- in a one-year
period from roughly January 2002 to January 2003, coroners say.

Parents, police and others have met three times recently in Alexandria
to talk about the issue. About 450 people attended the first meeting
Feb. 5, during which a half-dozen parents told of their teen-agers'
struggles with heroin.

"If we had three or four kids die of homicides, we'd be up in arms,"
Alexandria Police Chief Mike Ward said, explaining the urgency. "In
essence that's what did happen -- the drug killed them. That's a homicide."

Ward hopes the meetings were the first step in tackling a broad and
complicated problem.

While experts say numbers don't always tell the whole story, numerous
statistics and reports show more people are being treated and arrested
for using heroin -- and at a younger age.

More than 160 adults have been treated for heroin addiction in a
recent six-month period at the St. Luke Alcohol and Drug Treatment in
Falmouth, said its medical director, Dr. Mike Kalfas. In the mid-to
late-90s, it was unusual to see even one heroin addict, he said. Of
the 160, more than half were younger than 25.

The Campbell County court system had four heroin cases in the fiscal
year ending June 30, 2000, and 25 in the fiscal year ending June 30,
2002, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

The Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force arrested seven people on
heroin trafficking charges in all of 2002. "This year in January we've
already had five," said its director, Jim Paine.

Statewide, the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction
increased 120 percent from 1997 to 2001; for heroin addiction the
increase was nearly three times that rate, according to the U.S. Drug
and Alcohol Services Information System. In 2001, for the first time,
addicts included those as young as 12.

"We're seeing a lot of teen use," said Dr. Jan Scaglione, an expert on
teen drug use and senior drug and poison information specialist at the
Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center.

"You're looking at (age) 14 and above, into early 20s. -- Mostly they
get it in powder form and snort it, because the heroin we find now is
more pure than what you used to find in the '60s, so they don't have
to inject it to get high.

"Teens don't necessarily like to play with needles, but they don't
mind snorting something," she said.

Police say they can't explain exactly how or why heroin has taken hold
in southern Campbell and Kenton counties. One theory is that it
arrived with one or two people, who then shared it with their friends
in an ever-spreading circle of users.

One person who died of an overdose in January -- 18-year-old Adam
Messmer of Alexandria -- was close friends with one who died in
October, 20-year-old Mark DeMarrero of Melbourne. An overdose also
claimed Casey Wethington, 23, of Morning View last August.

The age of the three shocked many in the community. But experts warn
parents not to take anything for granted when it comes to their kids,
or to heroin.

"These were all accidental overdoses and that's the danger of heroin,"
Campbell County Coroner Mark Schweitzer said. "These were all very
physically -- anatomically healthy kids and healthy looking

"We often think (heroin users) are very sickly looking, down-trodden
people. But these were all-American kids. These were good kids. --
They were not doing it to get buzzed or drunk. They were doing it
because after a couple of times of getting that calming feeling --
they are physically and emotionally addicted."

Last December, two Campbell County police officers began working as
resource officers at Campbell County High School -- where one teen
recently described seeing another student shoot up in class -- to try
to produce better rapport with teens about drug and crime problems.

Police also have just about run out of the 50 urine test kits they'd
been passing out for the last year and a half to parents who wanted to
see if their children were using opiates, a drug category that
includes heroin and OxyContin, said Lt. David Fickenscher. Police used
to peddle the kits door to door, but recently parents have been coming
to them, he said.

Parental concern in Campbell County since the first of the year has
been phenomenal, he said. "The groups that are coming together blew
everybody's mind," he said.

For many, the meetings are an education, or re-education, about a drug
whose increasing popularity and availability are wrapped up in
national trends.

Some speculate that heroin use has grown because of the publicity and
police crackdown on OxyContin, another opiate.

While local police and medical professionals said they saw an influx
of heroin in the last few years, the trend began nationally a decade
ago. The U.S. Department of Justice says opium poppy production in
Asia, Afghanistan and particularly in South America has skyrocketed
and drug suppliers are flooding the U.S. market with large quantities
of extremely pure heroin.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimated that half a metric
ton of heroin was used nationally in 1988; by 2000, it was nearly 13
metric tons. Over the same period, cocaine use nationally dropped from
401 metric tons to 269 metric tons.

The drug for sale on the street is purer and cheaper, making it more
accessible to younger users, police say. Programs monitoring the
percent of pure heroin sold on the street nationally indicate heroin
today is at least 12 times more potent than the heroin sold on the
street in 1980. Over that same period, the price of a milligram of
heroin has dropped to 85 cents, a mere fraction of its 1980 price of

A report this January from Cincinnati police to the Office of National
Drug Control Policy says high-quality Mexican heroin is available
throughout the city at a street sale price of $20 a bindle, which is a
small folded paper with powdered heroin inside.

Although drug arrests overall were down in Cincinnati from 12,049 in
2000 to 8,681 last year, arrests for heroin possession or trafficking
soared from 19 in 1990 to 464 in 1999, the report says. It
specifically notes a two-block section of Over-the-Rhine "notorious
for open-air heroin sales."

Parents and police in Kentucky say that's where users here are buying
the drug. Years ago, a lower level of dealers brought drugs across the
river to Campbell County, but many of them were arrested, and
"customers began going direct," Fickenscher said.

That makes traditional law enforcement difficult, he said. The typical
heroin buy fits on the head of a penny, he said, and users often
snort, smoke or inject the drug minutes after buying it.

"What we have is a bunch of little people tripping out of our
jurisdiction to bring back their own and some for a friend. -- And
usually that's gone within 10 minutes of the buy."

Fickenscher said efforts are under way to address some of the
interstate issues relevant to heroin and other trafficking; he
declined to elaborate.

Drug traffickers know how to get repeat customers, police said. Savvy
to heroin's quickly addictive nature, they often offer "free samples"
of the drug to those buying other products like marijuana or cocaine.

Addiction isn't the only danger, police say. The wide range in purity
in street buys -- particularly as opposed to something like OxyContin,
a pharmaceutical drug whose strength is predictable -- puts addicts at

"If you go to one street corner and make a buy and then you cross to
the other street corner and buy from a different dealer, the purity
will be completely different," said Paine, from the Drug Strike Force.
"It all depends on who you're buying from, how many times it's been
stepped on -- and what they're cutting it with."

Interviews with people who've overdosed bear that out, he said. "The
reason they overdosed is not that they were using more than in the
past, it was because they got a 'hot shot' or a 'hot load,' meaning
the purity level was a lot higher than what their body was used to,"
Paine said. "Of course, some don't die, but others are not so
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