Heroin Use In Suburbs On The Rise

Suburban Teens Are Getting Addicted, Overdosing And Dying


March 29, 2010—

It's 7 a.m. and we're on an undercover surveillance operation with the Drug Enforcement Agency.

At a bus stop 35 miles outside of New York City, drug dealers from the city are dropping off heroin that will be sold in the suburbs later that day.

These are not the kinds of communities you'd imagine having drug issues. But the rolling hills and picturesque houses betray a rising problem. In suburbs like this across the country, heroin use is skyrocketing and teenagers are dying.

"The interesting part too is when you start going to the schools and school events. You go back towards the bleachers, areas, you used to find little empty bags of marijuana, now you are actually finding the glassine stamps on the ground," said DEA Agent Bradley Cheek. "Which means these kids have escalated from marijuana to heroin."

The Ones You'd Least Expect

Honor students and athletes, some not even old enough to drive, are overdosing on heroin.

Jeffrey Veatch's son Justin overdosed and died from his heroin addiction.

"The first reaction parents have -- 'I would never let my kids do this, this would never happen in my house,'" he says. "But we've learned a lot since then about substances and what's available."

"The signs weren't overt. They weren't always there and as parents you always look to the bright side and want to be optimistic that everything's going to be fine."

The Bigger Picture

The explosion of heroin in suburban America isn't by accident. Rather, it is the plan of drug lords from Mexico and Columbia, who strategically market the drug to middle America with new, sophisticated techniques.

Packets of heroin are now stamped with popular brand names like Chevrolet or Prada, or marketed using blockbuster movies aimed at young people, like the Twilight series.

"Those drug traffickers were marketing that Heroin directly towards teenagers," says John Gilbride of the DEA in New York.

Dealers even give it away for free in the suburbs at first. Once the kids are hooked, they sell it to them, dirt cheap.

In fact, kids can buy a small bag of heroin for as little as $5. It's cheaper than movie tickets or a six pack of beer.

And this stuff is more potent than any pill.

"I was paying $60 a pill for oxycontin," said one girl. "Heroin was a lot cheaper and the effects were a lot stronger."

Stories From Users

Our New York affiliate, WABC, spoke to former heroin users at a rehab center.

"It's euphoric," said one patient. "It's unexplainable."

They start by snorting it.

"Whenever you're having a bad day it makes you feel better," said another. "If bad things were to happen to you that would hurt you...you don't really care about it."

"You'll never get that same rush you got the first time you did it. That really warm sensation," said another patient. "It's unexplainable...you keep chasing it."

That chase is what leads many to start injecting the drug.

We met "Jake" and "Katie," two young users with similar stories.

"[I'm] definitely from the suburbs, pool in my backyard," says Katie, "A nice big house, lots of brothers and sisters, big family, you know went to a good school."

She says she first tried heroin for fun and instantly became addicted.

It's not surprising. Today's heroin isn't just cheaper, it's stronger. In the 70s, most heroin was about 3 percent pure. Today, it's upwards of 60 percent. And the more potent it is, the more deadly.

"Every day you shoot up, you could overdose," said Dr. Constantine Ioannou, vice chairman ofpsychiatry at Nassau University in East Meadow, N.Y.

We spoke to DEA agents across the country.

In Ohio, there were more heroin overdose deaths than deaths on the highway this year.

In the suburbs of Denver, Salt Lake City, even rural Wisconsin, heroin has taken its hold.

Charlotte, N.C., has seen a five-fold increase in heroin overdoses and death.

Back at the bus stop, we watch teens walk away with their fix for the day.

"I guess I'm surprised this is happening in broad daylight," said Cheek. "It's come out from the shadows. People need to realize it's not confined to the alleyways and dark, dingy rooms, the heroin dens.

It's here.