WAFD | Initiation to heroin use among teens up 80 percent

The number of young people dying from heroin has grown from 198 in 1999 to 510 in 2009.

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The number of young people dying from heroin has grown from 198 in 1999 to 510 in 2009.

KINGMAN – No parent wants to imagine his or her child as a heroin addict, or even dabbling in recreational drug use, but studies show use of heroin is on the rise among teens and adolescents.

Once deemed a “city drug,” heroin is now infiltrating rural hamlets, where more and more children are experimenting with this potentially deadly drug.

Teenagers often aspire to emulate their favorite stars, and recently Hollywood stars have done much to fuel public curiosity about heroin.

In 2013, “Glee” star Cory Monteith died of a heroin overdose, and acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman succumbed to his own heroin addiction in early 2014. Over the years, actors River Phoenix and Robert Downey, Jr. as well as musician Kurt Cobain were known to dabble in heroin, and drugs played a role in Cobain and Phoenix’s deaths.

According to the weekly opioid report from Arizona Department of Health Services, the highest age group for overdose deaths shifted from the 45-65 range to the 25-34 range. And in less than four months, 271 babies were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

Initiations to heroin have increased 80 percent among 12- to 17-year-olds since 2002, another report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed.

What’s more, young people are dying from heroin in greater numbers than in years past. In 1999, 198 Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 died from a heroin overdose. By 2009, that figure had risen to 510.

Parents may wonder why teens are turning to heroin. Some feel that prescription drug abuse has fueled the rise in heroin addiction, as adolescents who first experimented with prescription pain pills to get high are now switching to heroin, which is cheaper and more accessible.

Michelle Valandingham, drug program coordinator for Mohave County Health Department, said heroin addictions regrettably sometimes begin with a surgical procedure, a broken limb or even a sports injury.

“Society today feels they need to be completely free from pain and the doctors were forced to keep patients happy,” she said. “When children are in pain from a sports injury, fight or car accident, we want them to be medicated so we won’t see them suffering. I know because I’m a mom.”

That could be start of addiction. Parents don’t think about locking up their medications.

“Most parents feel that, ‘Oh, my child knows better,’ or ‘My child would never …’ Guess what? I was one of those parents. Now my son has been dragged through the deepest depth of addiction, and I supplied him with much of his habit because I was naïve and didn’t know the importance of locking up all medications,” Valandingham said.

The data shows that opioid prescriptions have dropped tremendously with tighter rules in place. It’s unfortunate that as those numbers fall, we’ll be seeing a rise in heroin use, the county health official said.

The cost of a pain pill on the street could be $20 to $40, whereas heroin is only a fraction of the cost.

“The unnerving issue is the flooding of fentanyl in our country and is rapidly moving to each state,” Valandingham said. “The addicted population has no idea what they’re buying on the street and most of the time the dealers don’t know what they’re selling.”

Heroin can be snorted, smoked or injected, but many teenagers begin by snorting or smoking the drug. After that, many move on to injecting heroin, which produces a more potent high.

It can be difficult for families to recognize heroin addiction, and confronting addicts can be both difficult and heartbreaking.

But intervention can help heroin addicts curtail their addiction before it quickly spirals out of control. Parents can seek more information from a drug treatment facility if they suspect their child has an addiction to heroin or another opiate.

“We as a community can stop this epidemic, but we have to remove the stigma of addiction, work together to educate each other and stop blaming others for addiction,” Valandingham said. “It is a brain disease, not a choice. There is help and there is hope.”

For information on prescription drugs and overdose prevention, contact the health official at michelle.valandingham@mohavecounty.us.