Pubdate: Sun, 09 Jul 2006
Source: Daily Record, The (Parsippany, NJ)
Copyright: 2006 The Daily Record
Author: Abbott Koloff
Bookmark: (Heroin)


The young people kept coming at all times of the day during the past 
week, sitting around a table at the Gillis home to share photographs 
and stories. The parents took all of this in at a time when you might 
expect them to be unable to hold back tears. They were grieving in 
their own way.

Joan and Philip Gillis didn't shut the door to their Hanover home 
after their daughter, Holly, a 21-year-old woman described as 
beautiful, shy and sensitive, died of a heroin overdose one week ago. 
They opened it and were surrounded by their daughter's friends.

They listened to young people talk about how tough it is to be a 
teenager, to feel out of place at school, to be picked on by kids who 
are part of the so-called "in" crowd, to feel terrible pain and be 
unable to squelch it. They listened to some of them talk about the 
attraction of drugs, the sometimes fatal attraction of heroin. They 
listened to others who said they tried to talk Holly out of using 
drugs. They said they always held on to hope that Holly would stop 
using drugs, but the girl they raised died long ago, so by last week 
they seemed beyond tears.

"Two years ago, we mentally buried her, thinking we couldn't deal 
with it anymore," Joan Gillis said.

They had been grieving for years, sending their daughter to detox and 
drug rehab programs over and over, about 40 times by their 
recollection. They say many people in town don't seem to know there 
is a drug problem, and certainly not a heroin problem, in local 
schools. Most people sure don't talk about it.

That is why the Gillis family wanted to talk about it last week. They 
want people to know heroin is a big problem.

Their daughter had been using heroin since she was 16 and gave it to 
two younger brothers. A group of young people sitting at the Gillis 
home last week were asked how many ever used heroin.

Four raised their hands.

Morris County Prosecutor Michael Rubbinaccio last week acknowledged 
that Holly Gillis was one of two young women to die of apparent drug 
overdoses in Hanover in recent weeks. He said another apparent 
overdose death occurred in Wharton last month.

Authorities said they are waiting for toxicology reports on all three 
recent deaths. They report that, in addition to those three suspected 
drug deaths, there have been 15 confirmed overdose deaths in the 
county this year, including a teenager from East Hanover, with eight 
involving heroin.

That appears to be a record-setting pace, ahead of last year's 22 
overdose deaths for the entire year and the 24 deaths recorded in 
2000, which authorities said was a record at the time.

Yet, Rubbinaccio was saying last week that there is no heroin epidemic.

Reporting deaths

John Dangler, his predecessor, made a point of publicizing every 
heroin death starting in the late 1990s because, he said, he wanted 
Morris County residents to know the drug had made its way to the 
suburbs. His office reported 19 heroin-related deaths in 1998 and the 
same number in 2000 when law enforcement authorities were saying 
heroin was a huge problem. Now, without that kind of publicity, it 
appears that some people have been lulled into believing heroin has gone away.

Some people posting on a Hanover Township Web site last week seemed 
surprised that drugs are such a big problem. It seemed few heard 
about the first death in Hanover last month, at least not until a 
week ago, after Holly Gillis was found lying on her basement floor.

Gillis' parents have made a point of talking about their daughter. 
They don't want her death to be forgotten. They want people to read 
about it, to ask questions, to talk to their children.

"We want something to happen," said Philip Gillis.

Rubbinaccio did not fully explain why he doesn't make a point of 
publicizing heroin deaths, as Dangler had. He said he doesn't want to 
release information about drug deaths until after he gets toxicology 
reports. But even then, the prosecutor's office hasn't exactly been 
going out of its way to let people know how many people are dying 
from overdoses.

Rubbinaccio did make a point of announcing last week that heroin 
containing a painkiller called fentanyl, a potentially lethal 
additive, has been found in Morris County.

"I like to put out specific information when we have a public health 
threat," he explained.

So why not publicize all drug overdoses?

Rubbinaccio said there is no evidence of a growing epidemic. He may 
not want to frighten people. But you could argue that people should 
be frightened when two young women die in the same town weeks apart, 
and when a teenager from the same area died not long ago.

Decade-long problem

Not that the problem is focused on any one part of Morris County. 
Rubbinaccio pointed out that the 22 deaths last year occurred in 15 
towns. He may be right when he says the problem is not growing, even 
if the number of deaths appear to be this year. But heroin has been a 
big suburban problem for about a decade, and Rubbinaccio said last 
week that he would consider doing more to make drug deaths public.

Joe Hennen, who runs Daytop, a Mendham drug treatment center for 
young people, said this past week that the heroin problem peaked 
about four years ago in Morris County and has not been getting worse. 
But he added that almost half the young people in his treatment 
program have used heroin, and the number of female addicts has been growing.

The problem isn't a sudden surge in heroin use, he said. The problem 
is that heroin use hasn't subsided.

"It peaked and leveled off at a very high level," Hennen, who was in 
Canada on vacation, said by phone.

'Still an epidemic'

"It is still an epidemic. ...Heroin is no longer on the front page, 
and people would like to believe it's not there. But it's a major issue."

Hennen pointed out that most parents do not want the death of a child 
publicized, and that law enforcement officials have to weigh public 
awareness against being sensitive to grieving parents. The result has 
been that heroin seemed to disappear from the front pages, and people 
seemed to forget that it is a problem, even while young people have been dying.

Joan Gillis was saying last week that she didn't know about heroin a 
few years ago, when she learned that her daughter was using the drug. 
She said she didn't know how often her daughter used heroin, and 
didn't understand the nature of the addiction.

Intense high

Kids who use heroin have said they always chase a more intense high, 
always look for a more potent drug, and it doesn't matter that using 
heroin makes them throw up. Joan Gillis said she thought people who 
used heroin simply were able to quit using.

"That's funny," one of the young people sitting in her living room said.

Holly Gillis' parents talked about their daughter's chaotic life, how 
she was banned from three psychiatric hospitals, how she was 
diagnosed as bipolar but no one ever seemed able to treat her mental 
health and drug problems at the same time. They dragged her to 
hospitals that couldn't keep her against her will.

Her friends talked about her wild side, and about her gentle side, 
about how she would go to Newark to buy drugs and bring ice cream to 
hand out to the neighborhood children. Some of her friends said they 
stopped coming around because it was too painful to deal with her 
addiction. They said she wanted to stop doing drugs, that she didn't 
want to hurt her parents. She overdosed so many times that her 
friends and relatives lost count.

"She died a lot," said Tom Gillis, 18, her brother.

At age 14

Tom Gillis said he started using heroin, which he got from his 
sister, when he was 14. He once told a close female friend that drugs 
were more important to him than she was. Yet he said he was able to 
stop using after about a year, replacing drugs with intensive reading 
of classic literature. He now attends CCM and is considering becoming 
a psychologist because he wants the world to understand "how hard it 
is to live as a teenager."

He said his sister was born different, that she was ultra-sensitive, 
and Joan Gillis said her daughter lived life intensely. Holly Gillis' 
friends say she thought she was ugly, although she was beautiful. She 
thought she was fat, even when she was thin. She loved Boy George 
because she related to the pain, and loved Marilyn Monroe for the 
same reason. She was smart, they said, and able to read and play 
chess before she went to kindergarten. She had high SAT scores, they 
said, and so much promise.

"She was heaven and hell, intensity beyond belief," Joan Gillis said.

Her parents were still trying to understand her pain last week. They 
were talking to young people about what it is like to be young. They 
were talking to newspaper reporters because they were wondering where 
all the headlines about heroin had gone. They wanted their daughter's 
death to be public. They wanted people to know who she was, how she 
died, and that heroin has been in the suburbs for years, killing 
young people, even if you haven't been reading about it.
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