Hooked: Seattle High School Battles Heroin Addiction

Nearly 50 Students Addicted at Stanwood High School

October 19, 2010, 12:21 PM

Oct. 19, 2010 — -- Officials at Stanwood High School outside Seattle are fighting a bigger battle than just making sure their students graduate. They're battling heroin addiction.

Nearly 50 students at the school are hooked on heroin. Abigail Achison, 17, dropped out of Stanwood and gave into the drug.

"After the first time, I was completely hooked," Achison told ABC affiliate KOMO. "Some people start out slowly with other drugs. I just did heroin once and I couldn't stop."

School officials and community members organized a town hall meeting Monday to raise awareness and rally around their teens.

"It's all of our problem," Lloy Schaaf, assistant superintendent of the Stanwood-Camano School District, said. "We all need to own it and we all need to do something about it."

The problem of heroin addiction in Seattle is a growing one. A middle school janitor was found earlier this year with 60 bags of heroin. Two other dealers were arrested weeks later near a suburban soccer field in Seattle.

"When you start going to the schools and school events; you go back towards the bleachers ... you used to find little empty bags of marijuana," Drug Enforcement Administration agent Bradley Cheek told ABC News in March. "Now you are actually finding the glassine [bag] stamps on the ground."

The drug's affordable price and increasing accessibility help its popularity among teens, experts say.

Kids can buy a small bag of heroin for as little as $5. That's cheaper than a movie ticket or even a six pack of beer.

Suburban Heroin Use Spreading

Other U.S. suburbs are battling a growth in heroin abuse, as well. There have been more heroin overdose deaths in Ohio this year, for instance, than deaths on the highway. And there has been a five-fold increase in heroin overdoses and death in Charlotte, N.C.

The explosion of heroin use by suburban teens isn't by accident. Drug dealers are strategically marketing the drug using popular brand names such as Chevrolet or Prada. Dealers will even put the logos of blockbuster films such as "Twilight" on heroin bags.

A dealer might even distribute the drug for free, to get teens addicted.

Another reason for the rise in heroin use is that other drugs such as OxyContin have become harder to obtain as a result of stricter guidelines enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

What's more, today's heroin isn't just cheaper, it's stronger. Most heroin was about 3 percent pure in the 1970s, far less potent than today's 60 percent or higher. The more potent, the more addictive; something many teens don't realize.

Marsha Rosenbaum, a drug policy expert in San Francisco, said anti-drug programs often treat all drugs the same, making it difficult for kids to understand how addictive heroin is compared to other drugs.

"When we talk about other drugs like heroin, which really are addictive, the kids think, you know, we've heard that message before and didn't turn out to be real," Rosenbaum said. "So they discard the message and are willing to try drugs that are really dangerous."

Back in Seattle at Stanwood High School, parents know all too well the risks too many teens are taking.

In response, Therese Smith and other parents are forming a community coalition to try to save their children.

"To walk into your son's room and, you know, see him and his friends with needles, it's gut wrenching," Stanwood Parent Therese Smith told KOMO. "I don't even really know what to say."

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