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.

Image

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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  • LorraineWatcke

    My son Brian also died of a Heroin overdose 4 1/2 years ago at 19 years old. His drug addiction also started at the pad of a Dr. Brian was a high honor student who was studying Meteorology at WestConn. I also thought my son would never do drugs. I was wrong. He became addicted to xanax which was prescribed by a Dr.and died one year later of a heroin overdose. Parents need to educate themselves with as much information they can and also make sure their children are well educated about drugs. The Courage to Speak Foundation is a great place for families to get all the information they need. Unfortunately I din’t know about the Courage to Speak Foundation until it was too late for our family, but I now volunteer for them and attend the Grief support group that Ginger offers. It has given me so much strength to go on after losing my son.

  • Lorraine, your courage and heart are appreciated.
    Many of us lost friends during the 60’s to the horrors of addiction here in Greenwich.
    We should all take responsibility to revive a sense of place and purpose by helping people like you.
    Blame game lost then, let’s learn from then and give the young a sense of how special each is, now.
    We are all responsible.

  • I strongly believe now the question about whether drug addiction is a “choice” or a “disease” was best put in perspective by the following comments I read recently:

    (1) The FIRST time one abuses a drug, it may indeed be that a [poor] “choice” was being made; however:

    (2) in EVERY instance after that first time, you are now taking a drug following changes in a brain which has been and continues to be re-wired; consequently, you will now be dealing with cravings from a physical “disease.” It is no longer a first-time free “choice.”

    In addition to the above, those who are prescribed drugs due to injury have an entirely different entry into addiction, as their prescription drug use initially, to treat a real injury, is not by any means a “choice.”

  • See below, as this 14-year old research study contains very surprising findings about suburban youth that still seem applicable today (from Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC):
    ————
    http://www.tc.columbia.edu/news.htm?articleId=2923
    Professor Luthar Finds Suburban Teens Prone to Substance Abuse and Stress

    Do prosperous, manicured suburbs of the Northeast belie a sense of insecurity for teens who live there? A study suggests that they go through more personal trials than their inner-city counterparts.

    Upper-middle class adolescents have a greater propensity for drug and alcohol use, depression and bouts of misbehavior, says one of the first studies to focus on specifically affluent suburban teens. “Contextual Factors in Substance Abuse: A Study of Suburban and Inner-city Adolescents,” conducted by Suniya S. Luthar, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education and her colleague Karen D’Avanzo, Associate Research Scientist at Yale University, was published in the journal, Development and Psychopathology in December, 1999.

    The study involved almost 500 10th grade high school students in the Northeast. About half of the students were from upper-middle class, suburban families, and half from low socioeconomic status families, living in inner-city settings. The researchers received assessments of the students’ behavior from the teenagers’ themselves as well as from their peers and teachers.

    The researchers talked to students and teachers and found:

    — Suburban youth reported significantly higher levels of substance use than did their inner-city counterparts. These differences were consistent across gender and across different types of substances, that is, alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes. Among suburban girls, 46 percent admitted using an illicit drug at least once in the past year, compared with 26 percent of inner-city females. And 59 percent of suburban boys used an illicit drug once, compared to 33 percent of boys in the inner city.

    — Substance use was linked to high personal distress among suburban youth, but not inner-city youth. The researchers suggest that suburban teens may often use drugs and alcohol in attempts to alleviate feelings of anxiety that may be caused partly by the high expectations of family and school officials.

    — Overall, levels of self-reported anxiety were significantly higher among suburban teens than among those in the inner city. While 22 percent of suburban boys felt anxious, 17 percent of the inner-city girls and 18 percent of the inner-city boys did. Levels of self-reported delinquency, and of depressive symptoms, were no different between the two cohorts. This, despite the fact that inner-city teens experienced higher levels of environmental stressors such as exposure to violence in the neighborhood, and uncontrollable negative life events (death in the family, a parent’s loss of a job).

    — Some male suburban peer groups and cliques seemed to give drug use and misbehavior, such as disruptive classroom antics, a high status that endorses the behavior.

    — One in five of the suburban girls reported clinically significant depressive problems; 18 percent of inner-city girls in the study suffered from some type of depression. Symptoms of depression were found among five percent of the suburban boys, compared with one percent of inner-city boys.

    Luthar and D’Avanzo considered a range of explanations for the elevated substance use among suburban youth. Given their greater financial resources, suburban youngsters may simply have had more cash available to purchase drugs.

    Second, suburban youth may have been less afraid to experiment with drugs than inner-city teens, who are surrounded by many poignant illustrations of the perils of drug use in their everyday lives.

    A third possibility is that elevated substance use reflects a syndrome of adjustment difficulties among many suburban teens. This conjecture derives from the fact that adjustment problems themselves were surprisingly high among the affluent teens. Levels of worry and physiological anxiety were significantly higher among suburban than low socioeconomic counterparts.

    What makes these findings particularly striking is the nature of the group to which suburban teens were compared: low socioeconomic adolescents who routinely encounter potent environmental adversity. Despite the material resources ostensibly available to them, suburban youth reported at least as much personal maladjustment as did teens who contend with serious economic deprivation and limited opportunity.

    Findings of comparable distress in the two groups suggest that that suburban youth may have struggled with a set of unique life stressors. For many of these teens, gaining admission to stellar colleges is emphasized as a top priority. As a consequence, most feel highly driven to excel not only at academic but also at multiple extra-curricular activities.

    Sarah Pennington, 16, says drug, cigarette and alcohol use by students is common in her suburban hometown of Terryville, Connecticut. She says some students try alcohol or drugs at parties, and some sneak puffs on cigarettes at street corners near her 500-student school.

    “The comfortable environment of a middle or upper class home can lull some parents into thinking that their children are sheltered from certain risks,” says Luthar. She adds, “Complacency can lead some parents not to pick up on signs of distress until something major happens.”

  • In thinking more about the 1999 research I posted above, I find myself also thinking the following:

    (1) Greenwich High School (and the Greenwich Public School District) is indeed subject to the doctrine of “in loco parentis.” If you are unfamiliar with the meaning of that concept, see these links:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_loco_parentis
    http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/In+loco+parentis

    (2) That 1999 research summary I posted was published in 2000 by Teachers College at Columbia University in NYC; however, that research was done by two professors at a Connecticut institute of higher learning, Yale University.

    (3) These Yale professors published their research in a journal widely available to educators, “Development and Psychopathology.”

    (4) I think Greenwich High School and the Greenwich CT public school district — being located near Yale University, in Connecticut, and, being a district of affluent suburban teens — either knew or should have known about this research back when in was published, either in the above journal in1999 or online in 2000 by Teachers College.

    (5) I also think Greenwich Public Schools had a duty to act upon the information and findings in that research — but failed to do so because of negligence by Greenwich Public Schools.

    (6) As a result of this negligence, for more than a decade, the findings of this research pertaining to affluent suburban students — a group which comprises the vast majority of the school population of Greenwich Public Schools — I believe Greenwich Public Schools failed to adequately fulfill its legal obligation of acting “in loco parentis.”

    (7) And, as a result, students, parents and families are now suffering.

    That is what I do think. Note: I am not a lawyer.

    But I can tell you this: the subject research is also not part of any accredited public university’s teacher training program known to me. I found this research just very recently, on my own, surfing the web.

  • In thinking more about the 1999 research I posted above, I find myself also thinking the following:

    (1) Greenwich High School (and the Greenwich Public School District) is indeed subject to the doctrine of “in loco parentis.” If you are unfamiliar with the meaning of that concept, see these links:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_loco_parentis
    http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/In+loco+parentis

    (2) That 1999 research summary I posted was published in 2000 by Teachers College at Columbia University in NYC; however, that research was done by two professors at a Connecticut institute of higher learning, Yale University.

    (3) These Yale professors published their research in a journal widely available to educators, “Development and Psychopathology.”

    (4) I think Greenwich High School and the Greenwich CT public school district — being located near Yale University, in Connecticut, and, being a district of affluent suburban teens — either knew or should have known about this research back when in was published, either in the above journal in1999 or online in 2000 by Teachers College.

    (5) I also think Greenwich Public Schools had a duty to act upon the information and findings in that research — but failed to do so because of negligence by Greenwich Public Schools.

    (6) As a result of this negligence, for more than a decade, the findings of this research pertaining to affluent suburban students — a group which comprises the vast majority of the school population of Greenwich Public Schools — were ignored. Consequently, I believe Greenwich Public Schools failed to adequately fulfill its legal obligation of acting “in loco parentis.”

    (7) And, as a result, students, parents and families are now suffering.

    That is what I do think. Note: I am not a lawyer.

    But I can tell you this: the subject research is also not part of any accredited public university’s teacher training program known to me. I found this research just very recently, on my own, surfing the web.

  • Here is some interesting news today from the US Attorney’s Office in CT:

    http://www.justice.gov/usao/ct/Press2014/20140224-2.html

    February 24, 2014

    SOUTHEASTERN CONNECTICUT HEROIN
    DEALER SENTENCED TO 46 MONTHS IN FEDERAL PRISON

    Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that EFRAIN HERNANDEZ VASQUEZ, known as “Frao,” 38, of Groton, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven to 46 months of imprisonment, followed by four years of supervised release, for distributing heroin.

    In early 2012, Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), the U.S. Secret Service and the New London Police Department initiated an investigation to combat the large-scale trafficking of heroin and cocaine from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico into and around southeastern Connecticut.

    According to court documents and statements made in court, on multiple occasions in early 2013, HERNANDEZ VASQUEZ was intercepted over a court-authorized wiretap ordering five-gram quantities of heroin from his drug supplier, Luis Ariel Capellan Maldonado, for distribution purposes.

    HERNANDEZ VASQUEZ has been incarcerated since February 2013. On December 2, 2013, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute heroin.

    More than 100 individuals have been charged with federal and state offenses as a result of this investigation.

    Capellan Maldonado has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

    This matter is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Air and Marine; Connecticut State Police; New London Police Department, Norwich Police Department, Waterford Police Department, Groton Town Police Department, East Lyme Police Department and Putnam Police Department. The United States Marshals Service; ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations; Drug Enforcement Administration; HSI Assistant Attaché, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; HSI Arecibo, Puerto Rico Resident Office; Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation; Connecticut Department of Correction, Parole and Community Services; and the Groton City, Willimantic, New Haven and Bristol Police Departments have provided valuable assistance to the investigation.

    The federal case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alina P. Reynolds, Sarah P. Karwan and Henry K. Kopel. The state cases are being prosecuted by the State’s Attorney for the New London Judicial District and Senior Assistant State’s Attorneys Paul Narducci and Stephen Carney.

    PUBLIC AFFAIRS CONTACT:

    U.S. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
    Tom Carson
    (203) 821-3722
    thomas.carson@usdoj.gov

  • Susan A

    For those who only watch “FOX News,” here is a 27-minute special posted on you tube that a local FOX station in Milwaukee produced:

    “Heroin in the Suburbs.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzcUd5kgt0Y

    Here is a comment someone posted a week ago on you tube about this video, showing parents and teens and their experiences with heroin in the suburbs of Milwaukee:
    ——————-
    whynotthis77
    1 week ago

    Bullshit! This is just to scare old white people.
    —————–

    About 17 minutes into this video, there is a remarkable story told by a kid who’s still in jail, doing time as a result of crimes re his heroin addiction, and his effort to fulfill the community service part of his sentence.

    He said he wrote a letter and sent it out to high schools, offering to speak to high school students about the dangers of heroin. Of the 14 (fourteen) high schools he wrote to, only 2 (two) responded. One of the two said “no thanks.” A dozen schools did not bother to respond.

  • The median household wealth of Hunterdon County, New Jersey ranks #4 (four) nationwide, according to a 2012 American Community Survey, prepared by the US Census Bureau, for counties over 65,000 people —

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highest-income_counties_in_the_United_States

    This Dec 2013 news video from NJNews is less than 3 minutes long, and interviews the Hunterdon County Prosecutor, a pharmacist and a county drug official.

    The title of the video is: “Heroin Addictions are Hitting Suburbs Hard”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXZxWmIca3A

  • One opioid death a day in CT —

    In this “Announcement” from the CT Dept of Mental Health and Addiction Services:

    “In Connecticut, on average, one person dies every day from an opioid overdose…opioids, whether street drugs like Heroin or prescription drugs like Percocet or Oxycontin.”

    Opioid Overdose Prevention/Naloxone (Narcan) Initiative
    http://www.ct.gov/dmhas/cwp/view.asp?q=509650
    ———–

  • As you may have guessed, there are a lot of videos on this topic of heroin, teens, addiction and the suburbs.

    Katie Couric’s 4-minute chat in June 2013 with a Boston suburb teen heroin addiction and his mom is very chilling, as this kid went to prep school, had a scholarship for college to play lacrosse, and has been in out of so many treatment centers; he thinks death is the only way out.
    The comments this boy’s mother makes are just heartbreaking; you realize this family must be going through hell.

    In the last few seconds of this video a specialist briefly states the teen’s difficulty results from the fact the “Rewards Pathway” in this teen’s brain has now been “re-wired.”

    http://katiecouric.com/2013/06/10/dirty-little-secret-in-the-suburbs/

  • I think this is the last video I will post here.

    This 7-minute video was one of the most fascinating I found, because it actually explains in easy to understand terms what is happening in the brain of a teen heroin addict in terms of the changes to the “Rewards Pathway” in the brain. It was made by a university medical center, Walgreens, and a Chicago health foundation, and others.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8stlvG9AXY

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