Survey and anecdotal evidence suggest more heroin use among high school kids
By Hayley Mitchell
ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Experts have detected a slight but troubling increase in heroin use among teens in New Mexico.
The Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey, administered by the New Mexico Department of Health, gathers data every couple of years through an anonymous survey of high school students. In 2011, 1.5 percent of high school students admitted to using heroin 1-2 times in the last 30 days. Two years later, in 2013, that percentage topped 4.0 percent, according to epidemiologist Dan Green of the YRRS.
The 2013 survey has not yet been made public.
For the Albuquerque metro area, the NM Dept of Health reports an increase from 2.8 percent in 2011 to 3.0 percent in 2013.
Earlier data indicated New Mexico teenagers were twice as likely to experiment with heroin as teens in any other state, according to the Albuquerque based non-profit group Healing Addiction in Our Community.
Data gathered via Albuquerque-based substance abuse treatment facilities show that young people under 21 years of age comprised 11 percent of all admissions for heroin abuse in 2012 (the last year for which data are available). The largest cohort of heroin abusers seeking treatment was 21-30 years old — comprising 48 percent of all heroin admissions in Albuquerque.
Lives Affected by Heroin
Albuquerque has seen the devastating effects of heroin abuse by teenagers.
In 2010, 16-year-old Haley Paternoster lost her life to heroin. In 2011, 18-year-old Cameron Weiss also died from heroin abuse. Both were high school students in Albuquerque Public Schools (APS).
Vaughn Bishop lost his sister to a drug overdose. Bishop is now a member of Healing Addiction in Our Community. He started using drugs regularly by age 13.
“Drugs were OK in my household,” Bishop said. “My parents were drug addicts, so I wanted to use drugs because all the people I looked up to did it.”
Bishop said he believes heroin use is increasing among local youth. He said he believes kids graduate to heroin after abusing prescription drugs.
“A lot of kids are getting drugs from home,” Bishop said. “All they’re doing is looking in the medicine cabinet and finding an old painkiller prescription from mom or dad or grandma.”
Bishop said these teenagers discover heroin partly because it is cheaper and more readily available than other drugs.
According to the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey, in 2011 some 10.2 percent of high school students reported having used painkillers to get high.
Bishop said educating teens and showing examples of the effects these drugs could have might help decrease this issue.
Crossroads is a program in seven high schools across Albuquerque Public Schools.
Its focus is to prevent drug use and educate teens about the dangers of drugs before it is too late.
Debbie Medina is one of nine Crossroads counselors. She is based at Rio Grande High School.
“It’s a wonderful program,” Medina said. “I wish it were available to every high school in APS. We’ve seen lots of successes and lots of great results.”
Medina said the program has received numerous thank you letters. She said people say that if the program didn’t exist they don’t know where they would be and that now they know where to go for help.
“If we save one kid a year is it worth it? I think so.”
— Debbie Medina
The Crossroads counselors see kids individually to help them through any issues they may have relating to drugs.
Crossroads also provides a parent-involvement program, which is for students who are caught on school property with drugs. It involves after school sessions where they stress the importance of communication between parents and students and teach problem-solving techniques.
Each counselor has a unique way of spreading the word. At Rio Grande High School, Medina does a 30-second morning announcement discussing different drugs. Each month she educates the students on a different drug – most recently it was spice, which is synthetic cannabis.
Another way Medina makes their program known on campus is by doing a “prom promise.” Students who want to make this promise sign a piece of paper that promises they will make good decisions for prom and they get prizes.
Medina has worked with students who have struggled with a variety of different drugs – including heroin.
Medina said sadly she believes heroin is increasing among the youth.
“They are starting out with pills and graduating to heroin because heroin is cheaper,” Medina said.
“Parents are thankful,” Medina said. “If we save one kid a year is it worth it? I think so.”
A mother steps up
Suzanne Frazier is the mother of a son and daughter who struggled with heroin addiction.
Frazier said her Vicodin “disappeared” when her daughter was just 14.
A few years later spoons were disappearing and she started noticing black things on the wall which was from smoking black tar heroin.
Frazier said she discarded any thought of it being from her kids because it was too hard for her to believe.
“I saw a lot of signs, but it was so foreign to me,” Frazier said.
“I put my head in the sand and ignored everything that was going on.”
She said her biggest regret was enabling it and wishes she could have been stronger.
Frazier said during the time her kids were using, her house was broken into four times by her kids’ friends and her kids knew but remained silent.
Frazier said both her kids have attended a handful of funerals of friends who have died from drug overdose.
Frazier said as soon as she joined Healing Addiction in Our Community she gained the confidence to practice tough love on her kids in order to save their lives.
Both her kids went to a rehab facility in Michigan and are in recovery. She said their relationships are great now.
“It makes me want to do more and more work, just the fact that my kids could have died from it,” Frazier said.
Video: Interview with Barkoff and Bishop
This video discusses the dangers of heroin use via the personal experiences of Deborah Barkoff and Vaughn Bishop.
Hayley Mitchell is in her junior year at the University of New Mexico and is an aspiring multimedia journalist.