Straight Talk Advice

Jul 08, 2014

Heroin use at epidemic levels

Dear Straight Talk: My friend is smoking heroin. I tell her to stop before she gets addicted, but she denies the problem. Her parents hate me and will accuse me of being the cause, so I'm not going to tell them. I don't know how to get her to stop. She likes a boy in this crowd who uses. —Torie, 17, Stockton, Calif.

Oston 18, Sebastopol, Calif. Ask me a question

Two years ago I was heavily into drugs and smoked heroin a few times. Some friends used it regularly. Your first responsibility as a friend, is to be (with love) completely frank about your concerns. If she doesn't stop, you have a choice: You can stand by as a support system and hope she'll emerge from this path alive and well. OR, you can be brave and sit down with her parents. I had to face this choice myself, and unfortunately I chose to stand by because I was too afraid to speak to my friend's parents. Four months later, I lost her.

Marcy 17, Sonoma, Calif. Ask me a question

She's probably trying to feel better or forget something. Ask her if she's having a hard time lately. Addressing the reason behind the heroin, might reach her better. Next, show her the dangers of heroin: testimonials, research, pictures of addicts. You must destroy the notion that it's sexy or cool. If she doesn't stop right away, tell a teacher, school counselor or family friend. Catching this early is VERY important.

Michael 22, San Francisco, Calif. Ask me a question

I looked up to my cousin more than anyone. He was charismatic, smart, athletic, super good at everything. Following knee surgery, he was prescribed oxycontin and got hooked. At some point, he switched to heroin and by the time our family did an intervention, he had a $1000-a-day black tar addiction. I couldn't believe how bad he looked, his life sucked away. He's clean now, but not the same person. Every experience I know of with heroin or meth goes horribly wrong. The counselor leading my cousin's intervention said he'd been off heroin 15 years and thought about it every day. Drop the assumptions about your friend's parents. If you're this worried (and you should be), not telling them is wrong. (Besides, they already hate you, right?) Informed parents are a person's best chance of getting clean.

Dear Torie: Tragic stories abound regarding heroin. Just this weekend, another panelist phoned on the anniversary of her boyfriend's overdose, sobbing. There is so much $5-$10 heroin in every school right now — so pure it can be smoked or snorted. The cheap price and accessibility, combined with not needing a needle, is snaring many young people. It is currently the main drug treated in rehab — where the luckier ones end up. Sadly, the morgue and prison are the endgame for many more. It can be impossible to convince a user of danger, and a romantic entanglement makes things harder. But I hope we have convinced YOU to tell her parents — or other responsible adults who will. Parents don't know the clues, and they need friends like you! Don't delay another hour.

Readers: Straight Talk is a nonprofit that survives on the kindness of our readers and supporters. Please help us help more troubled youth by making a small tax-deductible donation through our website at www.straighttalkadvice.org, or send your check to Straight Talk Advice.org, PO Box 1974, Sebastopol, CA 95473. Your care is essential and deeply appreciated. —Lauren

WARNING SIGNS OF HEROIN USE:
• reduced bathing, not changing clothes
• hyper, then nodding off
• pinpoint pupils, puffy eyes
• itchy: sores on face, hands from scratching
• flu-like symptoms: achy, chilly, vomiting, constipation
• loss of old friends, new undesirable friends
• negative behavioral changes

Editor's Note: Heroin is made from the opium poppy — as are morphine, oxycontin, vicodin, codine, percoset, and other opiate pain-killers. While opiates are absolutely essential to modern pain-free medicine, their dark side is growing. My heart aches for all of you who have lost friends, family members, and lovers to this drug.

Michael mentions his cousin's introduction to heroin after first getting hooked on his oxycontin prescription following surgery. We wrote about the link between prescribed (or abused) opiates and heroin addiction a few years ago (JUL 15, 2009). That speculation is now backed by real data. The 2012 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey showed that people age 12-49 who abused prescription opiate pain killers abusers were 19 times more likely to have used heroine in the previous year than those who hadn't abused pain killers. Heroin is already one of the most addictive substances known, and from what I know about the brain, earlier opiate use "teaches" the brain receptors to recognize heroin, making addiction even more instant and persistent.

Enlightened drug-awareness education that speaks differently to boys and girls (who respond to different drug education styles), learning the warning signs of heroin, and convincing non-using kids on the front lines to tip parents off is our only chance against the cheap, pure heroin, so pure it doesn't require a needle, that is flooding our rural, suburban and urban streets. This problem isn't going away anytime soon and everyone needs to get on board. Afghanistan produced nearly $3 billion in opium plus its heroin and morphine derivatives in 2013 — up from the $2 billion produced in 2012. And even more fields in Afghanistan are planted in opium poppies this year.

Marcy's comment about asking this girl (Torie's friend) if she's having a hard time lately is valid. Girls tend to experiment with drugs because they are depressed or struggling emotionally with something. They often will respond to deep talks combined with warnings and scare tactics. Boys experiment with drugs to deal with trauma, too, however, they love risk. Warnings and scare tactics can actually draw them in more. Most needed for both sexes: parental love, attention, attunement —AND intervention with professional help at the earliest possible moment. —Lauren

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  1. By Gregg, age 23, from Los Angeles, CA on 07/08/2014

    Whenever I hear the saying, “I’ll try anything once,” I think, “What an idiot.” Heroin and meth are both something you DON’T try once. I rent a room and my landlord’s brother came by totally strung out. He’s been between meth and heroin since he was a teenager. He’s wanted by the law, goes in and out of jail, and she never knows when he might show up — not that she takes him in. He steals and is crazy. The rehab process is nonexistent at this point. You must tip her parents off while something can be done.

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  2. By J.R., age 23, from Northern CA on 07/08/2014

    Torie, please tell your friend’s parents. If they don’t believe you it isn’t your problem, but at least you will have done the single most important thing you can to save your friend’s life. Every day you wait is another 24 hours where your friend might OD or any other number of horrible things that can go wrong. Please do not wait. And again, if they don’t believe you, that is their loss. If you tell them and they do not act, it will be on their head not yours if your friend falls further down the hole.

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  3. By Lynne, age 16, from Huntington Beach, CA on 07/09/2014

    I’ve lost my big sister to heroin and it tears me apart.  It’s no excuse, but it was her boyfriend who is older who got her hooked on it, and I hate him so much I can’t describe it.  When we were growing up she was always there for me and I could confide in her about anything in our room and unlike many of my friends, I actually liked sharing a room with her and always having her there for me.  It was her, not our mom, who helped me deal with my sexuality when I reached puberty and helped me with things like bras and sanitary napkins and shaving and waxing.  Everything changed when she met this guy.  Our mom and I could see that he was no good, but she was infatuated with him, and our mom’s disapproval just drove her to him even further.  Once she got hooked on heroin, she became a totally different person and treated both me and our mom like dirt and it got so bad that our mom kicked her out and she went to live with him.  She no longer even speaks to us, but we know that she’s been in and out of jail.  I feel that I’ve lost her forever, and it makes me very, very sad, and her empty bed which still in our room is a constant reminder, but our mom doesn’t have the heart to get rid of it as she still holds out hope that she will kick the habit and come back to us.  However, I don’t think that’s really very realistic.

    Lynne

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  4. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 07/10/2014

    Lynne—How very sad. I am so sorry for your sister—and you and your mom, too. I’m with your mom: never give up. This doesn’t mean you let an addict walk all over you, because they will, and it doesn’t sound like anyone is tolerating that, but hope and memory of the once-clean person are good things. Prayer is good, too. Whether you are religious or not, holding the person in light can be very powerful for all involved. Your family may have already tried having an intervention with her, which can be done at any age, and a rehab center will help you with this. If you haven’t tried a formal intervention, I recommend it, or I recommend trying it again. Another way people can get clean is by going to jail. I know several former addicts whose parents constantly called the cops on them. It really made a difference in them shaping up. I wish the best possible outcome for you all.
    Love, Lauren

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  5. By S.J., age 16, from Santa Rosa, CA on 07/12/2014

    In my case, it’s my 19 year old stepsister who is hooked on heroin.  She keeps going in and out of rehab but always goes back to it.  Her mom couldn’t deal it with it any more and kicked her out since she’s legally an adult, so my stepdad forced us to take her in.  My sister and I have to share our room with her since there’s no extra space.  Our room’s too small for 3 beds so we had to get bunk beds and my sister and I have to take turns sleeping in the top bunk, but she always gets the nicest bed! Even though we’re all girls, she claims to need privacy when she gets undressed and demands that my sister and I leave the room which is very irritating, especially since she doesn’t leave the room when we undress, although we really don’t care when she sees us naked since we’re all girls. 

    She just got out of rehab for the third or fourth time and supposedly needs to be “stress free” to stay clean, so she doesn’t have to work or even look for a job and just lies around all day.  My sister and I are still in high school, but we both have jobs this summer and really resent it when we have to get up early in the morning to go to work there while she lays in bed in our room sleeping away.  I strongly suspect that she’s using again as she always goes back to it, and she exhibits many of the symptoms that Lauren described, but our stepdad is blind when it comes to her and believes that she’s finally clean this time.

    S.J.

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    1. By J.N., age 17, from Carmichael, CA on 07/12/2014

      I’m in a very similar situation to S.J., although it’s my own sister rather than my stepsister who is the drug addict.  It’s seems like all the sympathy goes to the “bad one” and those of us who do what we should get nothing.  That is the way with me and my sister just like with S.J. and her stepsister, and Lauren’s comments also give all the sympathy to the drug addicted stepsister.  Our parents had to spend most of the money in our college fund for my sister’s rehabs which now means that I will have to take out big loans, and I really resent having to suffer for her drug addiction!!!  Our parents say that they had no choice as they were trying to save her life.  She also just lays around in our room that we have to share while I’m working 2 jobs this summer to try to save money for college now that most of our college fund is gone.  We don’t have the undressing issue that S.J. describes, and it’s actually the exact opposite.  She just lies around our room in just her thong or even naked.  Even though we’re sisters, I still don’t like having to look at her this way all the time.  It also means I can’t have friends over, as it makes them uncomfortable and embarrassed.  Even though I talking about girl friends, I still don’t think it’s appropriate to expose oneself this way in front of company, and I would also be very uncomfortable if a friend’s sister did this.

      Why does all the compassion and sympathy (and money) go to the drug abusers while those of us who are straight and clean get nothing and have to suffer for it?!

      J.N.

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      1. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 07/14/2014

        J.N.—I really appreciate your comment. You’re really on to something. (S.J. this letter is for you, too.)  First off, I’m so sorry for all the loss that your sister’s (and stepsister’s) addiction is sowing. Addictions definitely take a toll on whole families, communities, nations, etc.,—the effects ripple way out from the addicted individual.

        I remember when I was a young child, 7 or 8, my little brother who was maybe 4 at the time, acted out a lot. I’ve never forgotten this particular incident, where I’d done something for hours that was deserving of reward, and my little brother was being his usual destructive self and she took him aside to do something nice with him. I remember giving her a look like WHAT? That is NO FAIR! And she looked at me and said, “The worst need the best”. That really sunk in over time. It IS unfair, and yet parents are faced with having to care for their “worst” kids, who do take a lot of the parent’s energy and resources. That said, I guarantee that your parents are SO grateful that you are on the right path! And you, yourself, would never want to trade places with that sibling even though they get “more” from the parents while you have to do with less.

        I do think, though, you’ve brought up an excellent point, because it doesn’t take much for a parent to take a few minutes of time to say thank you to that sibling who is doing well. Or to buy them a little treat now and then so they know it. For parents who are exhausted by the needy child, taking this time of gratitude to the other child/children is not only good for the deserving child, but gratitude is uplifting, giving the parent more energy to press forward and keep up hope and right relationship with the needy child.

        I’m going to run your letter as a full column because I think a lot of parents will benefit from this message. Thank you SO MUCH for bringing it to my attention! AND for being the productive person that you are! :)—Love, Lauren

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  6. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 07/12/2014

    S.J.—The hope of a parent is generally all a heroin addict has. So kudos to your stepfather for giving her a chance. Please have some compassion. Heroin addiction can and does happen to the nicest people—the DRUG is what changes them. Perhaps if you and your sister can hold her in your imagination as a beloved sister (I know, pretend hard) who has been put under a wicked spell (this is exactly what has happened) you will not resent having to leave the room for her or see her sleeping while you go to work. Maybe imagine you’re all in a movie together, and she’s your lost triplet (we are all One at core) who’s been attacked by evil forces. People are extremely sensitive to the thoughts of those near them. She desperately needs your loving or neutral energy, rather than one of hate and resentment to assist in her recovery.

    Now, if you really think she has relapsed, it’s part of supporting her to tell her father. If he senses you are telling him out of love and that you’re both on board to help her get better, he’s going to listen. If you tell him with hate and resentment in your mannerisms, he will just dig in to defend her and remain blind. I really hope your family has a meeting to get clear on the seriousness of this and how you all need to be working together in love and honesty. If she has relapsed, she needs to get back to rehab immediately. Love is different than coddling her or being co-dependent. Show him this column and the warning signs.  Let me know how it goes. Good luck and much love to all of you—Lauren

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