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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's Snowing Heroin This Winter

What is the popular image of a heroin addict? Emaciated features -- pale skin, dark circles underneath the eyes, jutting bones? Most people see a heroin addict as someone in direct contradiction to anyone healthy and vibrant: a walking zombie surrounded by the "smell of death."

This is Merry Doerr.

"Merry Doerr has spent her whole life in the American farmbelt, a rural pocket of green tucked into the middle of Ohio. She’s close to her family, living with her mother and 4-year-old daughter.

"With her blond hair and blue eyes, Doerr embodies the classic American look — and says she grew up with classic American values.

“'When I grew up, my mom had raised me in Christian beliefs,' she said, 'and I knew … right from wrong based on the Bible. I was a cheerleader. I had a lot of friends.'

"But life is different now. Doerr, who is five months pregnant and preparing for her second child, is not like other young mothers. 

She’s a heroin addict.

“'I wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning, dope sick with my stomach in cramps and sweating,' she said, describing the symptoms of heroin withdrawal. 'I have to get up out of bed at 4 o’clock in the morning, and go and use. And then I go back to bed and I wake up a few hours later and have to go use again.' Doerr said she uses heroin to keep that pain at bay.

 "'This is what I need to be normal,' Doerr said. 'You know I have to do dope every day to be normal. If I didn’t have my dope this morning, I would be laying in bed right now thrashing around and vomiting. I wouldn’t be able to function. I need [heroin] to function every day.'

"... It turns out that in the rural heartland of Ohio, halfway between the big cities of Cleveland and Columbus, heroin is everywhere.

“'I would say it’s up to epidemic proportions as far as the heroin,' said Dane Howard of the Huron County Sheriff’s Office. 

'Everywhere you go, it’s like it’s snowing heroin.'

"People here say heroin is indeed blanketing the main streets of tiny towns such as Plymouth, Ohio, where Doerr grew up. 

"Doerr’s mother, Patti Case, a schoolteacher, said so many people in their town of 1,800 were addicted to heroin that she moved her family, hoping to distance her daughter from the problem. But they found that the problem stretched across the region." (, April 20 2009)

Read the entire article:

"Today, the average heroin addict 
a white, middle-class teenager." 

Reports say that the drug of choice for teens ages 13 to 15 is heroin. Phoenix House, a national not-for-profit drug and alcohol abuse center, claims heroin now is easier and cheaper to get than pills. The abuse center said oxycodone pills run from $40 to $75 while a bag of heroin can go for  $10. (Tom Brockman, "Heroin Use on the Rise in Central Ohio,", July 10 2010)

In 2009, 19 of 550 high-school students in Union County, Ohio, reported using heroin within the previous year, according to a poll conducted by the Council for Union County Families.

As the average heroin user's age has decreased, many teens now enter their teenage years already seasoned users of the substance, reports CBS News. In a study conducted by New York's Drug Enforcement Agency, officers found that an ever-increasing number of middle school students have reportedly experimented with heroin. (Erin Schreiner, "Teen Heroin Abuse,", January 4 2011)

Why Would Teens Use Heroin?

1. Heroin is cheaper than prescription opioids.

Heroin proves a cheap high for many teens. 

"As the CBS News reports, in 2009 a small bag of heroine was 
less expensive than a six-pack of beer
making heroin a drug that fits well 
into many teen's limited budgets."

2. Snorting heroin makes it more attractive to youth. 

While heroin was once almost always injected, the drug has been improved upon and made purer, allowing addicts to snort it, which is certainly much more appealing to many teens, reports (Anthony Brooks, "Heroin in America," NPR Series Examines Growing Drug Abuse Problem, February 23 2004)

3. Heroin is easier than ever to find.

Some teenagers reported finding heroin for sale alongside the designer drug Ecstasy at raves -- all-night underground dance parties.

4. The popularity of heroin has shifted into new, fertile geographic regions.   

Sociologists say heroin use has shifted from the inner city to the suburbs, where few teenagers have witnessed the damage that heroin can do.

Suburban adolescents, a predominantly white group, are now more likely to be seduced by heroin than urban teenagers, many of whom are black and have rejected heroin after witnessing the devastation it has wreaked among their elders, according to Travis Wendel, a sociologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. ''There's a whole lack of generational memory with the white kids,'' Mr. Wendel said.

The problem has produced overdoses and arrests in suburban pockets around the country, from New York to Delaware, Florida and Texas. (Christopher S. Wren, "Face of Heroin: It's Younger and Suburban; Cheaper Versions Reach Youths Who Haven't Seen the Drug's Damage," The New York Times, April 25 2000)

5. Heroin presently has the popularity of a fad.

Teenagers are still more likely to use alcohol and marijuana than heroin. ''It may have more the quality of a fad than anything else,'' said Dr. David F. Musto, a medical historian at Yale University. ''There isn't the atmosphere supporting heroin use that there was in the late 60's and early 70's.'' Heroin use has re-emerged with a renewed retro acceptance.

6. Popular culture makes heroin look attractive.

Although popular culture has been blamed for making heroin look glamorous to adolescents, drug treatment specialists call such an explanation simplistic; most of the recent initiates were still children in 1994, when Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, killed himself after struggling with heroin addiction.

7. Teens from broken or troubled homes (many who have low self-esteem, who are depressed, and who crave acceptance) turn to heroin to handle stress at home or at school.

8. Peer pressure causes teens to "do the cool thing" and experiment with heroin. 

Dr. Herbert D. Kleber, the medical director of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, estimated that at least half the sniffers wound up injecting their heroin as tolerance developed for the drug.

''There's a myth out there 
that you 
can't die 
you can't get addicted 
if you're snorting (heroin),'' Dr. Kleber said.

(Christopher S. Wren, "Face of Heroin: It's Younger and Suburban; Cheaper Versions Reach Youths Who Haven't Seen the Drug's Damage," The New York Times, April 25 2000) 

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
of Heroin Use
Short-Term Effects  Long-Term Effects

Depressed respiration

Clouded mental functioning

Nausea and vomiting

Suppression of

Spontaneous abortion

Infectious diseases (e.g., HIV/AIDS & Hepatitis B and C)

Collapsed veins

Bacterial infections

Infection of heart lining and valves

Arthritis and other rheumatologic problems
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