By Terry Rogers
According to Milford Police Department, heroin use is on the rise in the area not only among adults, but among young people as well. A recent incident at Selbyville Middle School brought the matter to light when a student ingested heroin at a school dance and needed emergency medical treatment. According to Detective Dwight Young of the Milford Police Department, the age groups where heroin use is growing is between 18 and 45 year olds.
“There have been a few instances of younger teenagers being involved, but it does not seem as widespread here as it is in other areas,” Detective Young said. “Four years ago, there were no heroin arrests in Milford and if there was it was extremely rare. A big reason for the epidemic is the fact that when prescription drugs became so easily available everyone was getting addicted to opiates or narcotics.” Detective Young explained that as this epidemic grew, addicts began ‘doctor shopping’ and pills such as Oxycodone and Percocet were everywhere.
According to Dr. Phyllis Kohel, Superintendent of Milford School District, the Wellness Center Advisory Board recently discussed heroin use at the district, and she was told that nurses had discussed the issue with several students who had visited the center seeking information about heroin use in the community.
“Through our nurse’s office and through the school’s Wellness Center, there has been an effort to offer information through hand-outs at lunch or in individual and small group meetings,” said Kohel.
Detective Young says that another reason for the increase in heroin use is that it is less costly than other illegal drugs. Oxycodone or Percocet have a street value per pill of between $5 and $50 per pill, while heroin costs an average of $50 to $80 for 10 to 13 hits, making it less costly. However, the drug is highly addictive and the body can begin craving heroin after just one or two hits. Withdrawal from heroin can be difficult as addicts suffer from muscle aches, sweating, agitation, vomiting and other symptoms that can be severe and uncomfortable, although they are not life threatening.
“Even though heroin is a powerful drug, it is also one of the easiest to obtain right now at a much cheaper price for the amount of hits than many other drugs,” Detective Young said. “It is somewhat rare or unusual, however, for a middle school aged child to use heroin. It typically takes one or two middle school aged kids to obtain the product from an older friend or relative and to tempt others their age to try it.” Dr. Kohel said that the district addresses drug issues among students on a regular basis.
Milford School District nursing and Wellness Center staff keep up-to-date about local trends as well as specific signs associated with drug abuse, depression and other issues that students may face. They attend professional development provided locally or by the State of Delaware and attend conferences when applicable.
According to a National Institute of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse report, approximately 669,000 people in the United States reported using heroin over the past year in 2012 and that use is growing among people aged 18 to 25. The number of people using heroin for the first time was unacceptably high in 2012, the agency reported. It is also a growing problem in rural and suburban communities like Milford, according to the NIH.
Detective Young and Dr. Kohel both strongly urge parents to look for signs of any type of drug abuse in their children. Detective Young says that heroin addiction is fueled by having to have the drug in the body to feel ‘normal’ and to fight off the sickness suffered if the addict does not have it.
“This brings what is known as ‘Chase the High,’”Detective Young explained. “Extreme weight loss, lack of appetite and needle marks on the skin are common, but the drug can also be snorted, usually with a straw. Lack of sleep is common. Heroin is usually packaged in small blue or white bags, or the bags may be clear. Parents should keep a look out for those bags and for straws or needles.”
In addition, Detective Young says that if your child suddenly has different friends or if they are repeatedly caught being dishonest about various things, this may be a sign of drug abuse. Detective Young says that heroin addicts often steal, even from their own family, in order to get the money to obtain the drug. They may take money or property that they can sell for cash. Shoplifting is very common among heroin addicts.
Dr. Kohel offered some specific signs to watch for from an article entitled Parenting Teens. Parents should watch for loss of interest in family activities, disrespect for rules and withdrawal from responsibilities at home. In addition, a child developing a drug addiction may be verbally or physically abusive, may ignore curfews or lie about where they are going or where they are. At school, the child’s grades may suddenly drop and they may develop truancy issues, such as arriving late or not going to school. They may lose interest in learning, stop doing homework or perform poorly on tests. They could develop defiant behaviors with teachers and school administration as well as in sports or other extra-curricular activities. Drug abuse can lead to reduced memory and attention spans as well.
Both Dr. Kohel and Detective Young say that any parent who suspects their child may be using drugs of any kind should reach out to school counselors, nurses or other administrators for assistance, even if the child denies using drugs. According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, when parents confront a child about drug use, they should expect anger and denial, but early intervention may be the key to helping the child end the addiction. Parents who need guidance can call the Milford School District Wellness Center at 302-424-6120.