Pubdate: Sun, 15 May 2011
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Page: Front Page
Copyright: 2011 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Author: Andria Simmons
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Jacob Samter had two ways of relieving anxiety: swimming and

Swimming led the energetic 22-year-old to coaching jobs at
Chattahoochee High School and the YMCA. Heroin led him to his grave.

On Feb. 4, Samter's parents woke to find him slumped on the floor
beside his bed in their Alpharetta home. A powdery white residue,
likely the dregs of his last heroin hit, was on the nightstand.

Samter's death was the culmination of 12 years of dabbling with drugs
that relatives said took a turn for the worse when he got hooked on
heroin in 2009. The family hired a psychiatrist and a social worker to
help him. It worked for a while, but he relapsed over the holidays.

"It's just been heartbreaking to watch Jacob struggle," said his
mother, Jeanne Samter. "It's like watching a train wreck and trying so
hard to fix it."

Samter is one of three young men from Atlanta's affluent northern
suburbs to die within a month of each other from a suspected heroin
overdose. Justin Shinholster, 21, was found dead in February after an
argument with his girlfriend in Roswell. Harry Siebold, 20, died in
early March in his family's home in Dunwoody.

Their deaths reinforced a creeping concern that the powerful opiate is
gaining a greater toehold in suburban Atlanta.

Ronald Loula, the head swim coach at Chattahoochee High, taught all
three young men at Taylor Road Middle School in Johns Creek. He also
worked alongside Samter. Loula was stunned when he learned all three
had overdosed on heroin.

"I'm not talking about people smoking a joint, I'm talking about kids
finding heroin, apparently readily available," Loula said. "Very
little shocks me nowadays about what kids will do. But this did."

As high-schoolers, all three experimented with marijuana, alcohol and
prescription drugs to relieve stress or to have what seemed like
harmless fun at parties. Later they graduated to harder drugs,
according to loved ones.

Samter's parents say the problem is more widespread than it

"We do think that kids like Jacob struggle to find help," said Jacob's
father, Felix Samter. "And to whatever extent that story can be told,
maybe it can save at least one other person."

A Cheaper High

Heroin has long trailed marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine in
popularity locally and nationally.

But a 2010 Atlanta drug market analysis published by the U.S.
Department of Justice found the highly addictive opiate is becoming
more prevalent in suburban areas where it used to be rare. Forty-six
of 62 metro area law enforcement agencies reported heroin was
available at moderate to low levels.

Police think part of the reason is economics. At about $15 a hit,
heroin is a cheaper alternative to prescription painkillers that can
cost $30 to $80 a pill. Both are opiates and have similar effects.

Some who regularly abuse prescription drugs -- and among teenagers,
such drugs are second only to marijuana use -- are switching to heroin
when maintaining that habit gets too costly, said Joseph Ranazzisi,
deputy assistant administrator of the Drug Enforcement
Administration's Office of Diversion Control.

Law enforcement and drug treatment professionals are alarmed about
what the trend could mean for Atlanta teenagers. Heroin is highly
addictive. And overdosing causes fatal respiratory arrest, especially
when combined with prescription drugs like Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication.

"My fear is we are going to see an uptick in heroin abuse, given the
potential crossover from prescription drug use," said Dr. Brian Dew, a
Georgia State University professor who recently served as the Atlanta
representative for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

'Twice the Effect'

Justin Shinholster, 21, was a casualty of that phenomenon. His
girlfriend, Paige Bland, 20, said he got hooked on Oxycodone
painkillers while living in Florida last year. Shinholster told her he
switched to heroin because it was cheaper but has "twice the effect
and it hits you faster," Bland said. She persuaded him to move home
and get off the drugs.

He was trying to do it through willpower alone when the pair moved
into a Roswell apartment in January. However, Bland noticed
Shinholster became bored and frustrated. He yearned to enroll in
college and marry. But Shinholster couldn't afford college, and Bland
felt too young to get married.

"He had actually proposed to me the night that he passed away," Bland
said. The proposal sparked an argument. "He was messed up and I knew
he was messed up. He got down on his knees and said, 'Will you marry
meUKP' And I said, 'Are you kidding right nowUKP'"

Shinholster stormed out and Bland left the apartment. Later that
evening, a friend found Shinholster in the bathroom of their home
collapsed from a drug overdose. It was the day after Valentine's Day.

Roswell police found a spoon with a grayish substance believed to be
heroin and hypodermic needles on the bathroom counter, along with a
small bag of the prescription anti-anxiety drug Xanax.

Shinholster died in a hospital three days later.

A Haunting Discovery

Three weeks later, one of Shinholster's former schoolmates, Harry
Siebold, also shot up for the last time.

Siebold led a charmed life among the residents of the Atlanta Athletic
Club in Johns Creek. He graduated from Northview High School before
his family settled in Dunwoody, his father, Rusty Siebold, said. He
grew up playing sports in school and golfing or boating on the weekends.

At age 18, he started experimenting with marijuana, pills and booze.
By age 20, he was a full-blown addict who sought inpatient treatment
in Phoenix, Ariz. He became a Christian there, and after returning
home he tried to straighten out by getting a job with a local sign
company, his father said.

His family supported him through several stints of rehab and his
father even drove him to addict support groups. The tools they gave
him seemed to work for a while. But Siebold also told his dad there
were still times he felt an overwhelming, unshakable urge to use heroin.

A drug dealer turned him onto the drug after the OxyContin he had been
using got too pricey.

On March 4, Rusty Siebold came inside from doing yard work to find the
bathroom door shut. He is haunted by what he found.

"It was locked, I was hollering and nobody was answering," Siebold
recalled. "I broke the door down and he was just sprawled on the
bathroom door. The needle was laying on his stomach."

'No One Wants to Believe'

Loula, the swim coach, had no idea that his assistant coach, Samter,
was battling a demon. He had missed only one practice since he took
the job in August. Family members said Samter had been clean for two
years. He was also on the dean's list at Georgia Perimeter College,
where he was studying to become a teacher. His parents clung to the
hope that he was finally on the right path.

Samter's parents now believe he relapsed on heroin again in the fall,
not long after he started taking Tylenol with codeine to treat painful
kidney stones. They noticed he was becoming more irritable and had
started biting his fingernails again -- a telltale sign, Jeanne Samter

Still, they thought he knew better. His best friend had died a year
prior from a heroin overdose. A month before his death, his mother
said, Samter had told her: "I've got to stay off drugs, because if I
don't, I'm going to die."

When Loula had to gather the 45 members of the Chattahoochee High swim
team to tell them about Samter's Feb. 4 death, the students were
devastated. It was just two weeks before they were to compete in the
state championships. Samter missed seeing them win second place.

"It was very difficult for the kids because I'm 44, he's 22," Loula
said. "He obviously had a little more connection with the kids,
because he was closer to them in age."

Chris Zollman, a 23-year-old Georgia State University student, was a
friend of Samter, Schinholster and Siebold. Like his friends, he once
used heroin, he said, and said he has witnessed at least 10 people

He says he quit using after he saw how it cut short his friends'
lives. He now attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings and counsels other
young people to avoid drugs. Zollman said he is disappointed nobody
has organized a response to the problem after his friends' deaths.

"All there has been is funerals," Zollman said. "That's

He thinks people are in denial.

"No one ... wants to believe that it's in the suburbs, but it is,"
Zollman said.  
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