Pubdate: Mon, 22 May 2006
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2006 The Dallas Morning News
Author: Jennifer Emily and Kim Breen
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Treatment)
Bookmark: (Youth)


PLANO - Heroin has a history here.

Ten years ago, the first of at least 20 young people died. 
Eventually, 72 people went to federal prison. Three hundred fifty 
were brought down on state drug charges.

Then the deaths stopped, and heroin seemed to hibernate.

Now many fear that the hard-core drug is making a comeback in a 
generation of teenagers too young to remember Plano's past.

"It's getting so bad," said Jim Savage, who runs Imagine Programs, a 
teen substance abuse program in Plano. "It's happening again, and 
it's getting serious."

Here is the evidence:

The Collin County medical examiner did not handle a school-age heroin 
overdose for five years. In the past 14 months, three Plano teens and 
one in Frisco have died from the drug. Another young person died last 
year from methadone, a drug used to treat heroin addiction.

An additional 15 teenagers in Plano have survived heroin overdoses 
since March 2004.

Police, counselors and other local groups that formed after Plano's 
problems in the mid-1990s agree that heroin is again a concern and 
have organized forums to demand attention from parents.

"We're not seeing the number of deaths of teenagers right now that we 
saw then. Clearly that was a really scary time," said Sabina Stern, 
Collin County substance abuse coordinator. "But our message is kids 
are still dying. ... These are our kids, and we're not taking it seriously."

'It's All Over'

Plano is not alone, narcotics officers say. Heroin flows through 
North Texas cities as easily as commuters. Most recently, Dallas 
schools reported the arrival of a low-purity form called "cheese."

"It's all over the metroplex," said Plano narcotics Detective 
Courtney Pero, the department's overdose investigator.

Tracing the path of heroin is difficult because most police 
departments don't track overdoses or deaths. Many times, the medical 
community, law enforcement and drug treatment agencies don't share information.

After Plano's heroin deaths in the 1990s, the Police Department 
created Detective Pero's position. He scrutinizes each drug overdose, 
searches for the drug dealers and visits the homes of youths he 
thinks are living on the edge.

He recently assisted Frisco police in investigating a teenage 
overdose that resulted in charges against a suspected heroin dealer. 
Such a step is unusual outside Plano.

In Coppell, the most popular drug changes week to week, officers say. 
But others in Dallas and McKinney report that heroin use is on the 
rise in their cities.

"It's across all socioeconomic boundaries," said McKinney police 
Capt. Randy Roland, who oversees criminal investigations. "We are 
seeing it in each corner of our community."

Dallas police Detective Steve Ledbetter, who has worked in the 
narcotics division for 14 years, said Plano's approach to battling 
drug problems by tracking and investigating overdoses is unique but 
not feasible for Dallas.

"It's simply because of manpower resources. It takes such an enormous 
amount of time with the size of our city," Detective Ledbetter said. 
"We are focusing our efforts on trying to go after the suppliers, the 
drug dealers. If we can eliminate the source of the drugs, then we 
don't have to worry about the overdoses."

More In Treatment

The recent spike in heroin overdoses in Plano troubles counselors and 
police alike.

In November 2004, Collin County formed a substance abuse coalition to 
better share information about trends. It has held several recent 
forums for parents. Only three people showed up for an event at the 
University of Texas at Dallas. In 1997, more than 1,500 people packed 
an auditorium for a similar program.

Heroin isn't the most prominent drug that teens abuse, local 
narcotics officers say. Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine 
and prescription drugs such as Xanax often come first.

Mr. Savage, of Imagine Programs, said he noticed the latest upswing 
last year when about eight youths using heroin sought help in a 
three-month period.

At the end of 2005, he saw about 12 youths during a similar time 
frame with heroin addictions. Previously, he'd gone as many as three 
years without seeing a teen in need of treatment.

Overall, drug incidents on Plano school campuses have fallen the past 
few years, but one student was caught twice this year with powder on 
campus, according to district records.

In September, the Plano Senior High student was hospitalized because 
he appeared intoxicated during class. School staffers found powder 
that the student said was heroin.

Tests on the drug were inconclusive, but Plano police listed the 
incident as a heroin overdose.

Although the school district educates students about drugs, illegal 
substances are readily available, a group of five Plano East Senior 
High students said during a recent lunch break.

These days they don't hear much about students using heroin. It's an 
unattractive drug, said senior Stuart Campbell, 18.

"I think there's a stigma with it," he said. "It's serious."

But, they said, some of the highest-achieving students use 
prescription drugs to stay up all night and study. Alcohol, 
"ecstacy," cocaine and marijuana are also hot in the Plano drug scene.

"You know the people who do it, the stoner kids," said Rachel Rose, 18.

Never Say Never

Emma Routh, 17, a junior at Plano Senior High, used heroin despite 
the shock of seeing 16-year-old friend Brenden Thayer "in that little 
box" at his funeral. The week the Vines High School student died was 
the first time Emma used heroin. She used three times that week.

After a stint in rehab, she said that she smokes pot and has an 
occasional beer, but she's now scared to touch harder drugs.

Emma is very aware of Plano's past. Heroin was at the top of her 
"I'll never do list."

All it took was a friend coming over with the drug for her to change 
her mind. She, like so many teens, thought she was immune to the 
toxic effects of heroin.

"No one thinks it's going to happen to them," she said.

Staff writers Linda Stewart Ball and Tiara M. Ellis contributed to this report.
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