November 15, 1997 in Nation/World

Plain Talk About Heroin In Suburban Plano Experts Ask Parents For Help As Hard Drugs Reach Into Upper Middle-Class Community

Chris Newton Associated Press
 

When a friend offered 18-year-old Marshall Hampton some heroin, Hampton said no, not wanting to deal with a messy needle or run the risk of AIDS. He considered himself a “smart user.”

But when Hampton’s friend told him the latest heroin from across the border could be snorted like cocaine, he couldn’t wait to try it.

Within two weeks he was spending $200 a day on the drug. To support his habit, he started pawning electronics, breaking into houses and stealing money from friends.

“I couldn’t get away from it,” said Hampton, who is now in rehab. “It started to eat away at my soul. I’d do anything to get it and anything for it.”

Hampton’s hometown of Plano, a prosperous suburb of 188,000 people just north of Dallas, has seen 11 teenagers die of heroin overdoses in the past 12 months - all from inhaling the drug, a practice youngsters are convinced is safer than using a needle.

Similarly, in the well-to-do suburbs near Fort Worth, there have been four heroin-related deaths in the past year. The youngest victim was a 13-year-old boy.

Law enforcement officials are seeing a new kind of heroin user, bred not on the streets but in comfortable neighborhoods of soccer fields and good schools.

“These kids in the suburbs think they know all of the ins and outs of using drugs and they have a lot of money to spend,” said Jane Maxwell, chief of research for the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. “They hear stories about people dying in the inner city but they think, ‘They just didn’t know what they were doing. They must have used a needle.”’ The truth about the drug is that it is at least as deadly as cocaine, drug experts say.

Colombian dealers competing for the suburban market are increasing the purity of the drug to close to 90 percent, researchers say. They are also mixing it with other drugs to increase the bulk. Using the drug is like playing Russian roulette.

“Yesterday’s dose may bring a good high,” Maxwell said. “Tomorrow you could take the same amount and it will kill you. These kids really don’t know what they’re getting into.”

The high concentration allows the drug to be snorted, but in the end, most suburban addicts turn to needles, because “there is only so much you can get in through your nose,” Maxwell said. “And the use of needles will inevitably lead to an increase in AIDS in the suburbs.”

On Thursday night, about 1,500 parents, teachers and law enforcement officials packed a community center to discuss the outbreak of heroin use in Plano, an upper middle-class suburb that is home to a number of big corporations, including Frito-Lay, Dr Pepper/Seven Up, J.C. Penney, EDS, Texas Instruments and Kimberly-Clark.

“We were blindsided by this problem in our community,” Police Chief Bruce Glasscock said. “We didn’t see it coming.” But he added: “Now is the time to react and react swiftly.”

A panel that included a federal drug official and an expert on addiction took questions about heroin use. Parents anxiously grilled the panel about what to look for when they suspect a child is using heroin.

They were told that heroin users might be apathetic, suffer memory loss, receive poor grades and wear long sleeves to hide needle marks. Parents were also told to take note if kitchen utensils or coffee grinders - items that could be used to prepare heroin - are missing.

Some parents even asked about how to turn their child in to police.

“I’m not the only one here who has a child on heroin who wants him to go to jail but doesn’t know how to go about doing it,” said a woman who identified herself only as Mary.

Customs spokeswoman Judy Turner said heroin use in the United States has grown steadily in recent years, both in the cities and suburbs.

“The drug has been made popular by movies and models, and now people want it,” Maxwell said. “That shouldn’t be any surprise. Suburban youth also have plenty of money and sometimes not much supervision.”

Rick Moore, a Plano police officer who specializes in drug prevention, shifted much of the responsibility onto the parents at the town meeting.

“Don’t look to us to solve this problem,” Moore said. “We can’t do it. We can’t be in your home without a warrant. This is your problem.”

He added: “There is no room in this war for parents who won’t be honest with themselves. We all need to take an inventory of our situation.”

Plano is where eight teenagers committed suicide during a 18-month span beginning in February 1983. Some of the youths knew each other but not all of the suicides were linked.


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