Pubdate: Sun, 27 Sep 2009
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: MB1
Copyright: 2009 The New York Times Company
Author: Cara Buckley
Bookmark: (Heroin Overdose)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


THE kids weren't all right. They lived in the same comfortable Long 
Island town and were barely in their teens when they took their first 
hit of marijuana or sip of alcohol, propelling them on dark journeys 
they couldn't seem to escape. Within a couple of years, they were in 
heroin's grip.

"My parents had no idea," said one of them, a 17-year-old girl who, 
like other formerly addicted youths interviewed, spoke on the 
condition of anonymity because of her past drug use. "My mom thought 
I was smoking a lot of weed and taking diet pills, because who 
would've thought that such a bad drug could be so easily accessible to me?"

The girl grew up in western Suffolk County, in a town where, she 
said, "everything is perfect," with white picket fences and two cars 
in each driveway; for her birthday last October, she received a black 
Jeep, and she went to a wealthy, high-performing public school. 
"Growing up, everything is pushed on you," she said. "You're trying 
to be the smartest, trying to compete with everyone."

Heroin, she said, was an escape. The girl said that she had not used 
drugs since entering rehabilitation in January, but that many of her 
former friends were still hooked on heroin, and at least two had 
fatally overdosed.

They are part of a new wave of heroin abuse that officials across the 
New York region are grappling to understand. During the first six 
months of 2009, 25 people in Nassau County died of heroin overdoses 
- -- more than from homicide and drunken driving combined; in 2008, 46 
people fatally overdosed on heroin, up from 27 in 2007, according to 
Nassau officials.

In New York City, recent drug raids of so-called heroin mills have 
yielded hundreds of thousands of bags at a time, up from several 
hundred bags a year ago, according to Bridget G. Brennan, the city's 
special narcotics prosecutor. What is especially worrisome to law 
enforcement officials and treatment experts is the fact that many of 
heroin's newest addicts are in their teens or early 20s; many also 
come from middle- or upper-middle-class suburban families.

At Blue Hills Substance Abuse Services, a treatment center at 
Cedarcrest Regional Hospital in Hartford, about 10 percent of young 
adults had cited heroin addiction during admission in recent years; 
this year, it's closer to 30 percent. At the Mendham site of Daytop 
New Jersey, an adolescent substance abuse center, the portion of 
teenagers entering treatment for heroin addiction has doubled to 40 
percent in the past year.

"The problem is the kids are using younger and younger," said Howard 
Riesel, coordinator of the adolescent-services unit at Glen Cove 
Hospital on Long Island. "It's cheap. It's accessible."

Experts trace the spike in heroin use to its widespread availability 
and low cost. A bag of heroin can sell for $5 to $25 and induce a 
six- to eight-hour high, according to officials and former users. 
Cocaine, by comparison, can cost $40 to $60 for a 30-minute high, 
while prescription painkillers like Vicodin or OxyContin sell for 
upward of $40 a pill on the street.

"It's becoming cooler," said Dr. Carlos Hernandez-Avila, a medical 
director at Blue Hills.

Long Island residents were brutally awakened to the heroin problem in 
June 2008, when Natalie Ciappa, 18, an honors student from 
Massapequa, fatally overdosed. Suffolk and Nassau Counties passed 
laws in her name to build Web sites tracking heroin arrests. The 
Nassau County executive, Thomas R. Suozzi, put together heroin 
summits to raise awareness, and last week police in Suffolk county 
began making anti-heroin presentations to eighth graders, an 
initiative that will soon extend to other grades.

Still, in the past eight years, the number of young people entering 
the county's detoxification centers and withdrawal programs has 
mushroomed. In 2000, 59 people ages 19 to 25 entered Nassau's 
detoxification and rehabilitation centers for heroin abuse, according 
to Arlene Sanchez, the county's commissioner of mental health, 
chemical dependency and developmental disabilities services. In 2008, 458 did.

Jonathan, 19, a former addict who attended Mr. Riesel's program on 
Long Island, said he took his first puff of marijuana at 13, and it 
made him feel gloriously liberated from the awkward, chunky boy he 
had been. Within two months, he was popping Vicodin pills, 
dextromethorphan (a cough medicine that can have psychedelic effects) 
and, eventually, Xanax and OxyContin. He made much older friends, 
began selling drugs and prided himself on his high drug intake.

"People almost gave me praise for it," Jonathan said. He said he 
tried heroin shortly after he turned 15, while high on Ecstasy and 
cocaine. It blew him away.

"It hits you so hard, but it's so smooth and enticing at the same 
time," he said. "It hits you like a train of false love."

The heroin available in the Northeast these days is purer than the 
kind that ravaged New York City in the 1970s, experts say, and almost 
certainly as lethal, if not more. Dealers often mark the bags with 
words like "Red Bull," "Lexus," "Kiss of Death" and "R.I.P.," or a 
skull and crossbones.

"It's part of the attraction of the drug, to get so close to dying 
but come back," Ms. Brennan said. "The results can be tragic."

One of Jonathan's friends, a 21-year-old former addict from Long 
Island named Brian, said heroin was cheaper, and often more 
available, than marijuana or ecstasy.

"Believe it or not, as a high school teenager, it was easier for us 
to get than alcohol," he said. "It's cheaper than anything out there."

The 17-year-old girl from western Suffolk said she moved to heroin 
after she could no longer support her two-pill-a-day OxyContin habit, 
which she had financed by stealing from her parents. Her first drive 
in her new black Jeep was to a heroin dealer. She grew thin and 
listless, stopped showering and began sleeping at all hours, but said 
that her parents did not suspect the worst.

"Parents are working hard out here and giving their kids all this 
stuff, and still kids are getting hooked," she said. "I think parents 
put a blinder over their faces."

Another friend of Jonathan's, a high-achieving student named Alex, 
passed under the radar until he was arrested for possession at 16. "I 
had a 98 percent average," he said. "I was in honor societies. I was 
a peer mediator." Now 20 and in college, Alex said he had been drug- 
and alcohol-free for two and a half years.

For all four former addicts, it took being arrested, often several 
times and nearly always for drug-related offenses like stealing or 
possession, before their addictions came to light.

All four said they also witnessed friends overdosing, sometimes 
fatally, or had overdosed themselves. Brian knew young people who 
gave unconscious friends CPR until the ambulance arrived. Last 
October, Jonathan overdosed and was shocked back to life by 
defibrillator paddles in a hospital emergency room. The first thing 
he did after waking up, he said, was reach into his pants' pocket to 
locate his drugs.

He eventually got clean, earlier this year, after spending time at 
St. Christopher's Inn, a friary, rehabilitation center and homeless 
shelter in Garrison, N.Y. He is healthy now and stands tall in his 
6-foot-1 frame.

When local officials began focusing on heroin last year, Jonathan 
said his friends all had the same thought.

"This has been a problem for a while," he said. "We all wondered, 
'Where have you been?'"
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