Heroin in Greenwich? The Elephant in the Room

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 9.58.24 PMPart One in a Series on Heroin Addiction

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death on Feb. 2 sparked a national conversation about heroin addiction.

That may be the only positive to come from the talented actor’s death.

In report after report, a new face of heroin has emerged. Unlike its urban, back alley, dirty needle image from the 70s, the drug has found its way into suburbs and rural areas and become popular among young people.

At a Wilton Police briefing in October, Lt. Donald Wakeman said  that over the last several years there has been an upswing in heroin use and possession in his town.

“A lot of people don’t realize how lethal it has become. The purity of the heroin we see now can be deadly. It’s a very dangerous drug to get involved with,” Wakeman said. “It is not unheard of at the high school but it is more prevalent with the early 20s crowd.”

A New York Times feature, “Heroin’s Small-Town Toll” chronicles the grief of Karen Hale, whose 21-year old daughter Alysa died of a heroin overdose last May. Hale said her daughter’s habit began “at the pad of a doctor,” when, after high school graduation, Alysa had her wisdom teeth extracted and a dentist prescribed the narcotic Oxycontin.

To deal with her grief, Hale has reached out to young addicts, talking to them about revealing their problems to their parents, needle safety and Naloxone, a heroin overdose antidote.

Yet there is a reluctance among some to see heroin addiction as an illness, rather than a moral failing and a stigma prevails.

Recently on Sunday morning television program, The McLaughlin Group, Eleanor Clift and Pat Buchanan went head to head on the issue, with Clift arguing that heroin addiction is an “illness” and Buchanan disparaging addicts.

“He was taking an incredible risk with his life, which he knew all about, and yet he went ahead and did it,” Buchanan said of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

“We’ve got to treat heroin addiction as an illness, a relapsing illness, not a moral failing,” Clift replied, going on to assert that the gateway to heroin is not marijuana, but rather prescription drugs – painkillers, Oxycontin — and that heroin is often more accessible than marijuana.

Whether the stigma of heroin is fading or not, the rise in its use is undebatable. In 2012 heroin use was 669,000, which was up from 373,000 in 2007, according to a US Dept. of Health and Human Services national survey on drug use. The increase reflects a near doubling of the number who admit to using heroin.

On Jan. 8, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumin dedicated his state of the state address to the subject of heroin.

“The crisis that I’m talking about is the rising tide of drug addiction, and drug related crimes that is spreading across Vermont. In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate addiction threatens us,” Shumin said.

In Greenwich, Lt. Kraig Gray recommended the IFiles documentary, “Suburban Junkies” about prescription drug abuse and how it can lead to heroin addiction.


Screenshot from IFiles “Suburban Junkies” documentary.

Interviewed in 2012 I Files documentary, “Evan,” age 23, from Orange County reflects on heroin addiction in his wealthy community.

“I think it has to do with Orange County being a nice area and them trying to keep it lo-pro,” Evan said in the documentary. “No one wants to say, ‘Oh, we have this nice perfect family with the picket fence and the Lab in the front yard and my kids are addicted to drugs.’”

Evan said he connected with doctors willing to prescribe painkiller pills totaling 400 pills a month, but that after he found himself taking 6 or 7 pills a day, he decided to instead sell the pills and use the proceeds to buy heroin.

“The calculation was simple,” Evan said in the documentary. “A gram of heroin is the price of one pill. A gram can last three or four days. A pill can last an hour.”

According to a brief report by News Ch 12 Greenwich Police said heroin was to blame for the deaths of two young people here in Greenwich in the past month.

Local child therapist, Glenn Wolff of Greenwich, who has a private psychotherapy practice weighed in on the topic. “There is certainly individual and family shame about all substance abuse.  There is an acknowledged fear among parents that alcohol and marijuana abuse may potentially lead to other addictions, including heroin.  As tragic as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is, maybe his death will de-stigmatize heroin use.”

“All of us think it won’t happen to me,” said Ginger Katz of Norwalk whose son died of a heroin overdose. “My child would never do that. My child did and heroin killed him.  My son Ian was only 20 years old.”

Katz said that her son and three boys snorted heroin for the first time in college. “One got sick. The second got scared. Ian got hooked. Ian later called us, sobbing and pleading for us to help him kick the habit he couldn’t stop.” A few months later, Katz said her son died of a drug overdose.

“You don’t hear much from parents whose children overdose. There’s a shame that silences too many of us. That shame is misplaced – drug addiction is a disease.”

“Ian was a beautiful young man. He cared. He loved. He was so talented on the lacrosse field, so  disciplined he earned a black belt in Karate. But all those talents and skills weren’t enough to push drugs away,” added Katz.

As CEO and Founder of the Courage to Speak Foundation, Katz keeps a busy schedule visiting public schools where she speaks openly about her son Ian’s heroin addiction and death, though she has yet to be invited to speak in Greenwich.

Katz operates a support group for families who have lost children, offers a support group brochure.

Katz will visit West Rocks Middle School in Norwalk next month for the tenth anniversary of her “Courage To Speak Empowering Youth to Be Drug Free Family Night,” which Greenwich Free Press will cover.

Watch GFP for further reporting on the heroin addiction in and near Greenwich.

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