Pubdate: Sat, 04 Jun 2011
Source: Journal News, The (NY)
Copyright: 2011 The Gannett Company, Inc.
Author: Marcela Rojas
Bookmark: (Heroin Overdose)

The Damage Done:


It was a Tuesday in March when college student Gwendolyn Farrell 
texted her parents and older sister to let them know she had gotten a 
90 on her math test.

The grade was significant, her mother, Christina Farrell, said, 
because math had always been her most difficult subject.

"That represented to me that she was feeling good, feeling proud," 
said Farrell, of Yorktown. "She wasn't going down the road to destruction."

But just four days later, the 21-year-old whom friends and family 
described as smart, creative and outgoing was found dead of an 
apparent heroin overdose in her bedroom in her parents' home. Thomas 
Plant, 22, also was found dead at the scene. Two syringes and six 
glassine envelopes that toxicology results later revealed to contain 
heroin were also discovered, Yorktown Lt. Kevin Soravella said.

Farrell's and Plant's deaths follow a rash of arrests and overdoses 
in the region involving heroin, a drug once associated with only the 
most hardcore users. Even more troubling, law enforcement and 
substance abuse experts say, is the alarming rate at which suburban 
teens and young adults are falling victim to a high they may not 
perceive as deadly.

A little more than a month after her daughter's passing, Christina 
Farrell still cannot understand what happened that night. The family 
had never met Plant, she said, and she didn't think he and her 
daughter were friends.

Gwendolyn, she said, was a talented cellist who had received music 
scholarships, had a great sense of humor, tremendous verve and looked 
ahead to a bright future. She was attending Westchester Community 
College and planned to enroll at the State University of New York at 
Purchase in the fall, her mother said. Gwendolyn had gone to the 
Hartt School -- a performing arts conservatory at the University of 
Hartford -- and to Manhattanville College.

"If she had been in and out of rehab, a junkie, we could put the 
pieces together. But she wasn't. I did her laundry, I cleaned her 
room. There was no evidence of drug use," Christina Farrell said. "It 
truly was an accident, an experiment gone bad. She tumbled down the 
rabbit hole."

About a week before the Yorktown incident, William Clark, 22, of 
Croton succumbed to an apparent heroin overdose, police said. The 
following night, responders revived a 23-year-old Croton man who had 
allegedly overdosed on heroin.

In late April, Carmel police said they responded to a Mahopac home 
where they found Michael Piccolo, 26, unresponsive but breathing, 
along with two syringes and what was believed to be five decks of 
heroin. Piccolo was transported to a hospital for treatment.

Last July, Alyssa Zingaro, 16, of Mahopac died after partying with 
friends at a Kent residence. Zingaro had heroin in her system, Kent 
Lt. Alex DiVernieri said.

"We've seen a dramatic increase in heroin usage among young people in 
the last couple of years," DiVernieri said. "I think every local 
police department would say the same thing."

Indeed, the 9-year-old Greenburgh Drug Task Force started seeing an 
uptick in heroin cases in recent years. In the past four years, the 
task force has made 200 heroin arrests and confiscated $100,000 worth 
of the drug, Sgt. Harold Young said.

But perhaps even more telling, Young said, are the types of users seen today.

"I'm getting beautiful, blond girls from Somers. I'm not getting the 
old junkies," Young said. "We're getting young kids."

Authorities attribute the rise in heroin use among youths, in part, 
to the rampant abuse of prescription pills among this population.

"There's too much out there," Young said. "Kids take it from their 
parents' medicine cabinets and then they get hooked."

Nationally, one in four teens reported taking a prescription drug not 
prescribed to them at least once in their lives, according to a 2010 
study by the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

In New York, 664,000 residents age 12 and older were found to use 
prescription pain relievers non-medically, with the highest rate 
being among those ages 18 to 25, at 218,000, according to the 2006-07 
National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Locally, Student Assistant Services, a substance abuse prevention 
agency in schools and communities throughout Westchester and 
Rockland, found that in 2006-07, 188 teenagers in the 30 high schools 
they served reported using stimulants, prescription and 
non-prescription drugs at least once. In 2009-10, that figure more 
than doubled to 403, said the agency's executive director, Ellen Morehouse.

"The huge abuse of prescription opiates in Westchester has become a 
significant problem for adolescents and young adults in the county," 
said Raymond Griffin, an addiction expert and president of the 
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Westchester. 
"They start with that and move on to heroin for a more potent high. 
Prescription pills are really the gateway to heroin."

The abuse of the painkillers oxycodone and Oxycontin have 
specifically been linked to a surge in heroin use.

Users may graduate to heroin because it is cheaper than pills, more 
readily available than before and no longer carries the stigma it 
once did, said James Flaherty, resident agent-in-charge of the White 
Plains-based federal Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force.

"No one wanted to use heroin because they didn't want to shoot it 
up," Flaherty said. "Now that you can smoke it or snort it, it's more 
socially acceptable. You don't have to worry about track marks."

A bag of heroin can be purchased on the street for as little as $5, 
whereas oxycodone can cost $20 per pill or more, DEA spokeswoman Erin 
Mulvey said. In the past two years, she said, there has been more of 
a push by mid-level drug trafficking organizations to deal heroin in 
the suburbs as opposed to cities.

Last year, the DEA, in conjunction with state and local police 
departments, hosted the first national "Prescription Drug Take Back 
Day," offering the public a place to dispose of their unused 
prescription drugs. In late April, the DEA held its second take-back 
initiative. The task force in Westchester collected 1,420 pounds of 
unused or expired prescription drugs from 33 sites, Flaherty said.

"This is a multi-prong approach," he said. "We have seen that 
prescription pill drug use has led to other drug usage, particularly 
heroin. It's not that big of a leap from taking a pill to snorting something."

The DEA Task Force covers six counties, including Westchester, Putnam 
and Rockland. Flaherty said the heroin found in these areas is mostly 
brown-or white-colored and is coming from Mexico. Heroin mills, he 
said, are set up locally in apartments, houses or trailers, where the 
narcotic --usually 1 to 3 kilos worth -- is processed and bagged.

In the early spring, the DEA seized 2 kilos of heroin from a mill in 
a Yonkers apartment, Flaherty said.

About two years ago, heroin coming out of Paterson, N.J., contributed 
to two deaths and two overdoses in Rockland, Flaherty said. The 
heroin was cut with fentanyl, an analgesic 100 times more potent than morphine.

"The stuff you try these days, you really don't know what's in 
there," Flaherty said. "It could be laced."

Authorities also claim the potency of today's heroin is contributing 
to more overdoses and fatalities. During the heroin epidemic of the 
1970s, heroin was reportedly as low as 5 percent pure. Now, it is as 
high as 80 percent pure.

Lt. Soravella of Yorktown said the heroin discovered with Farrell and 
Plant may have been "black tar" because that was the "word on the street."

Black tar, so named for its gooey consistency, is a potent and 
inexpensive form of Mexican heroin. It has, in recent years, spread 
across the nation due to the business savvy of Mexican dealers. Last 
year, the Los Angeles Times ran a series on black tar heroin and how 
immigrants from Xalisco, Mexico, have made inroads into the U.S. 
market. Their success, according to the series, is based on promoting 
their product as a cheap, powerful alternative to pills, and 
targeting young white people.

Soravella could not confirm if the heroin with Farrell and Plant was 
black tar and he said lab results only detect the presence of heroin 
and not what kind.

Another marketing technique seen in the area is stamping heroin bags 
with enticing brand names and pop culture references like "King of 
the Jungle" and "Hustler." Some of the labels Peekskill Lt. Eric 
Johansen said he has seen include "Untouchable" and "Meathead."

In Peekskill, heroin has replaced crack cocaine, Johansen said. Not 
only are arrests for possession up, but dealers who used to 
exclusively sell crack cocaine are now pushing heroin. Since 1999, 
there have been some 256 heroin arrests in Peekskill, with more than 
200 of them occurring since 2006, Johansen said. There were seven 
heroin-related fatalities in the city between 2007 and 2010, he said.

"For heroin to make the comeback that it has is disturbing," Johansen 
said, "especially since people know how powerful and addictive it is."

Jeffrey Veatch said it wasn't a heroin addiction that claimed his 
teenage son's life but rather experimentation. Justin Veatch, 17, was 
a senior at Yorktown High School in September 2008 when he was found 
dead in his bed from "acute drug intoxication." It was heroin, his 
father said, that took him down. He described his son as a gifted 
musician and a good kid who was a "best friend" and a "gentleman."

"Kids these days are trusting. They are willing to experiment and 
take chances," he said. "They will continue to experiment until they 
get a wake-up call. But in our case, there was no wake-up call."

Justin's journey is similar to what substance abuse experts are 
seeing. He started smoking marijuana in high school and by 11th grade 
had graduated to pills, Veatch said. After spending 30 days in a 
Pennsylvania treatment center, Justin appeared to be doing well, 
Veatch said. Days before Justin's death, father and son took a 
weeklong trip to Arizona where, Veatch maintained, his son did not do 
any drugs.

"If it can happen to Justin, a very smart and talented kid, it can 
happen to anyone," Veatch said. "It's not about being good or bad."
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