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Addicted Youth
Heroin Making Dangerous Comeback Among Teens

The following article includes the heart-wrenching true story of Mickey, a former Saguaro High School student who is now battling heroin addiction. Due to the serious and grave nature of her story, the decision on whether to run this article during the holiday season was debated. However, after thoughtful consideration, its importance could not be ignored, especially now. For those battling addiction and for their families, the holidays are an exceptionally painful time. And while some reports have suggested that the heroin problem in Scottsdale has been exaggerated, this drug and the dangerous comeback it has made knows no socioeconomic boundaries. Education has proven to be the only real defense against its powerful wrath.

Mickey sits on the toilet seat in the bathroom of a small Phoenix tract home holding her breath, hoping one of her veins will surface. As she melts the brown powder on a teaspoon with a lighter, it glazes into a brown syrup. Soon after injecting herself in the neck, this 19-year-old former Saguaro High student is nodding in and out of consciousness, and the compulsory numbness that has been her captor for the past two years takes over..

Four hours later Mickey will wake "dope sick" and begin the fateful pursuit of her next high.

This is Mickey today, a former Care Bear collector who once had lofty aspirations and dreamed of becoming lawyer. She now finds herself in the throws of heroin addiction.

Mickey is like a growing number of adolescents who find themselves battling heroin, an affliction she is well aware could eventually kill her.

"The first time I used I just went numb," Mickey says of her introduction to heroin, taken in a Barnes and Noble bathroom when she was 17. "I couldn't walk. My friend had to walk me out. I could barely stand up."

Mickey was one of about 100,000 adolescents who try heroin each year, more than double the number of teens who tried the drug in the early 1990s. Police reports and emergency room visits both confirm that the life-destroying drug is making a dangerous comeback nationwide, particularly for teens aged 12 to17.

Mickey's eyes are a deep sky blue, almost electric with energy, but they hide behind a nearly constant squinting. When she's not high, she endures the dope sickness, a physical and emotional illness that takes over when an addict goes several hours without a fix.

Experts say that as the highly addictive poppy-based opiate has become more accessible, it has moved noticeably toward the mainstream of drug culture.

"I was so scared," Mickey recalls of her first heroin high. "I never wanted to do it again." But three months later Mickey injected her second dose at a friend's house. "I got it again the next day," Mickey says, and she has found it nearly every day for the two years since.

Mickey says she weighed about 120 pounds when she began using heroin. She now estimates her weight at 98 pounds. Mickey's addiction has already taken a serious toll on her young body. Her pale skin, sunken eyes and collapsed veins are all signatures left by the cruel drug.

High School Beginnings

Mickey's drug use began with friends from Saguaro High, where she quickly graduated from marijuana to more aggressive party drugs. "Acid, Ecstasy, K, they were all part of that," she said.

Mickey believes her familiarity with party drugs made her more likely to try heroin. She had grown accustomed to jabbing a needle in the joint of her elbow. Now with the veins in her arms ruined, she shoots the drug directly into her neck, about an inch above her collarbone.

Heroin counselors are finding that more first-time heroin users begin by snorting or smoking the drug. "Most of these middle- to upper-class kids have an aversion from doing it intravenously," said Dr. Mary Mastrin, who runs the Naltrex Zone Detox Maintenance, a Glendale-based medical clinic for heroin addicts. Mastrin says the majority of her clients are young and often come from middle- to upper-class homes.

"It's just so easy to snort or smoke it, but they don't realize it's even more addictive in that form," Dr. Mastrin added. "Eventually they will go to mainlining it because they can get more and get it faster," she said.

Snorting is exactly how 28-year-old Isaac, who asked that his last name be withheld, got started. A Phoenix resident, he began using heroin nearly four years ago. Within months he was injecting the drug.

"Parents need to know there's a whole younger culture where it's not that big a deal to do Ecstasy, smoke pot, do a little cocaine now and then," Isaac said. "In that same culture doing a little heroin isn't a big deal."

Physical Craving

Sitting in a Jack in the Box restaurant at about 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, Mickey describes her sickness as misery. It's been just hours since her last high, and she's feeling nauseous. "I don't want to give you the details of the sickness. It's (agonizing)."

Mickey fumbles to pull a cigarette from her pack of Marlboros. "I can't get it," she finally admits, as a friend pulls it from the box for her.

Most of those living in the drug world are aware of the addictive powers of heroin, but the stigma seems to be fading as more young users experiment with opiates. Adding to the danger is the potency of the drug now available on the street, which has increased in recent years.

A Scottsdale Connection

Most of the heroin available in Scottsdale comes from Mexico or South America. Scottsdale's proximity to Mexico makes it an easy market for heroin sellers who know that Scottsdale teens can afford their product.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said that he's specifically concerned about illegal immigrants targeting Scottsdale students for heroin sales. Prior to his move to Arizona, Arpaio worked as the regional director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, where his jurisdiction covered the Mexican border of Texas and Arizona.

"In Scottsdale we did arrest several dope peddlers from Mexico," Sheriff Arpaio said of a recent highly-publicized investigation. Arpaio says that in his years monitoring the borders and prosecuting drug traffic, he's never seen anything quite like the Scottsdale heroin ring, which remains under investigation.

"That is something that hasn't surfaced in the past," he added. "They're destroying our youth. Heroin is the worst drug you can use. This is a wake up call."

The Kid Connection

Mickey says her heroin dealer is from Mexico. "He finds me," she adds. The dark brown heroin he sells goes by a number of street names, including black tar, brown sugar and mud. Black tar is cheaper than the "China white" that often surfaces on the East Coast.

"I do three or four balloons a day," Mickey says. Balloons cost $20. "Or you can get three for $50," she says. "You pull off the balloon, and it's wrapped in foil. Under that it's wrapped in plastic."

Mickey claims she buys her syringes at a local drug store. "I only share a rig with people I'm close to," she says. But Isaac and other recovering addicts agreed that a desperate heroin user will use any syringe available.

In Maricopa County, 118 adults died from heroin-related causes between Jan. 2001 and Nov. 2004. Roughly one third of those deaths were from mixed-drug overdoses, often cocaine and heroin. Another third died from straight heroin overdoses, and the remainder died from blood-borne diseases or respiratory and circulatory failure due to chronic heroin use.

The Sexist Nature of Heroin

While heroin discriminates against no one, prostitution makes the junkie lifestyle more accommodating to females.

"Most junkies are prostitutes," says Stephanie, a heroin addict who's been clean for six months and who also asked that her last name be withheld. Unfortunately, prostitution often pays just enough to keep a junkie trapped in the cycle of addiction and homelessness.

Lethal Danger

About a year ago, Mickey was shooting heroin in the bathroom of a friend's house when her vision began spinning. "I think I'm o.d.-ing," she recalls saying in slurred speech just before collapsing. Mickey begins to cry while relating the story. She remembers waking briefly in the front yard before being rushed to the hospital. Today she says she knows she would have died if paramedics hadn't rushed her to the hospital.

But Mickey rarely thinks about dying now-or living for that matter. "This is my escape," she says.

"All you can think about is heroin," explained Stephanie. "You don't realize the rest of the world exists."

When she answers questions, it becomes obvious that Mickey must focus intently to talk about anything other than heroin. Her mind wakes slowly as if from a nap, even to answer simple questions. Once awake, her mind is intelligent and inquisitive, but hazed.

Mickey says she rarely sings anymore -- one of her favorite pastimes. She hardly even listens to country music. "A heroin addict's full-time job is getting drugs, taking drugs and figuring out when they're going to get their next hit," Dr. Mastrin explained.

The good news, Dr. Mastrin added, is that heroin does not destroy mental capacity like some other drugs. "I have parents who tell me, 'Thank you. I have my child back.'"

For now, Mickey's not ready to come back. Her eyes cloud with tears when asked if she ever considers quitting. "I think about it all the time," she says. But 15 minutes later the worn 19-year-old can't bear the thought of life without other addicts.

Mickey knows she will likely die from using heroin. In 2003, when she narrowly escaped death by overdose, 54 other Maricopa County residents didn't. Five of them were under the age of 24.

Mickey's electric blue eyes are hazed over with opium. The one time they open wide and make eye contact is when she is asked if she thinks she is a lost cause.

"Sometimes I do," she says crying. "But then other times I think about all the dreams and hopes I had and all the people that care about me, love me and just want the best for me. That tells me that I'm going to be okay."

If you or someone you know might be suffering from heroin addiction, there are numerous resources available, including www.heroin-anonymous.org, www.soberrecovery.com and www.naltrexzone.com, or call (602) 322-1371 or (480) 496-9760.

 

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