The Signs of Heroin Use

Heroin use on Long Island is worse than you think. It is not merely a serious social problem; it is a serious social crisis. A major variable of the crisis is people's denial, especially parents ...

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Heroin use on Long Island is worse than you think. It is not merely a serious social problem; it is a serious social crisis. A major variable of the crisis is people's denial, especially parents of teenagers. Another unaddressed issue is the lack of competent, affordable and accessible treatment.

Overdosing on heroin is escalating across the country. In Suffolk County more than 60 overdosed deaths occurred this past year. The abuse of prescription opiate painkillers such as Oxycontin, and vicodin has greatly increased. Many believe that the abuse of these drugs is behind heroin s growth in popularity. Many authorities describe these pills as the doorway to heroin abuse. According to Newsday, between 2004 and 2008 at least 1068 people on Long Island died in overdoses of heroin or prescription opiates.

Local law enforcement has doubled its effort to track and shut down the heroin traffic on Long Island. Even with their doubled effort, they seem to be only scratching the surface regarding this very difficult and complex issue.

Since the tragic deaths of two promising high school students this past year, schools and community groups have tried to educate parents and students about the signs of heroin use and the ultimate destruction that can take place.

Unfortunately, parental denial is fueling this life crisis. Too many parents are blind to the signs because of a lack of education and/or because they choose to deny their son or daughter s use, even when they are confronted with it.

Most of us only think of heroin use when we think of people shooting up with needles. We think of it as a very expensive drug and a very lethal drug. A decade ago, that was true, but not any longer. Today young people have limitless access to this lethal drug on all of our high school campuses. It is affordable, and very accessible. Dealers are marketing it as much safer, because more and more high school students are snorting it and not shooting up. Heroine is never safe. It can kill during one s first time using it.

Who is vulnerable to trying heroin? Everyone! It is available at most teenage parties, especially where alcohol is being served. Kids drink, their defenses are down, and someone talks them into trying it for the first time. It only takes once and someone can become hooked. It is happening to our honor students, our athletes and our student leaders.

What are the signs? The most tangible signs are the drug paraphernalia left behind. Unfortunately, kids are expert at hiding that stuff. Way before they get sloppy with physical evidence, they exhibit changes in behavior. Their school grades may drop. They change their core group of friends. They stop participating in extracurricular activities. If they were close to their parents, they usually subtly allow social distance to develop.

The painful part in all of this-is if you confront your son or daughter on these behaviors, they will have many plausible excuses to explain the shift and change in behavior. By the time you're finished with this conversation, they may have convinced you that you are nuts!

As parents, we need to be vigilant and never subscribe to the perspective "not my child," no matter how brilliant and wonderful your son or daughter might be. Remember, you are the parents-especially if your kids are dependent on you and living at home. You have an obligation to hold them accountable and responsible for their social behaviors and social choices.

A. J. was a senior in a prestigious private boarding high school in an up- state County. He grew up on Long Island. As a senior, he was a scholar athlete. He was well-liked by his teachers, and his peers. In senior year, he had open-end campus privileges. He could go into town when he didn't have class, hang out and socialize. All the seniors had that privilege.

In late March, his teachers started to notice a change in AJ. He was more withdrawn. He was not as involved in school life like he once was. Those observations were passed on to his parents. They became very defensive of their son.

One of his coaches mentioned to the Headmaster that AJ s circle of friends had changed. He was hanging out with a lot of kids from town. One day after lunch, his coach saw him outside the gym. He did not look right, and gave a small baggie to another student. The coach confiscated the baggie from the student. The student was asked what was in it. Initially, the confronted student lied. After some pressure he admitted that it was a small bag of heroin. He asked where he got it. He told the coach that he got it from A.J.

The headmaster and the coach confronted AJ. At first, he said, no; but then admitted to giving the student a bag of heroin. He was immediately suspended. His parents were notified and they were requested for a meeting the next day. The next day, the parents came in for the meeting. They were very indignant as they were adamant that their son was innocent of the allegation against him. They accused the coach of coercing their son into admitting that he was guilty. AJ confirmed his parents position before the Headmaster.

The Headmaster felt that his hands were tied. He lifted the suspension. AJ went home with his parents after the meeting. The next morning they found their son on the bathroom floor. He died the night before of a heroin overdose!