There were inklings of a heroin problem among Long Island teenagers. The local news channel showed up at a high school asking the principal about it. The Long Island Press ran a story on the subject. Parents were talking about it, quietly at PTA meetings and soccer games. But everyone said the same things. We have no problem here. Not my kid. Our kids are good kids. It wasn’t until a pretty 18-year-old named Natalie Ciappa made the front page of Newsday when she was found dead after a party. A few days after her death, it was revealed that she died from a heroin overdose. It was then that her parents came forward and said their daughter had a heroin problem. She was an honor student. A cheerleader. A good kid.
The death of Natalie Ciappa, a Plainedge High School honors student with a singing voice her mother says was too good for American Idol, has confirmed what police, prosecutors and federal narcotics agents say has been a growing problem on Long Island: Cheap, potent heroin available for sale in school hallways, malls, parks and just about anywhere young people congregate.
Long Island, we have a problem.
And so do a lot of other places around the country. You can’t take one overdose of one teenager and call it an epidemic, or even a widespread problem. But when you start to hear more stories about kids like Natalie, and when you research and find out that this is happening all over, your “they are creating a panic” radar dies down and you become horrified at the reality.
In Tuscon: “Oro Valley police officers noticed an alarming trend: more and more of the addicts they encountered were teens and young adults hooked on heroin.
In Oregon: “In the wake of Oregon’s crackdown on methamphetamine, police say, heroin has become a cheaper, more plentiful alternative..”
In Michigan: “Heroin is among several narcotic opiates, including some prescription drugs, that seem to be rising in popularity.”
There are stories like this in every state, and they are almost all about kids from white, middle/upper class communities. So many parents think of heroin as a drug for dropouts and rock musicians, or something people who have lives already thrown away take. Not their kids. Their kids may dabble in drinking or smoke some pot, but heroin? Heroin is for junkies. Heroin is for losers. Not for kids taking AP classes or their sons and daughters who are playing three sports and belong to the Key Club, who have just applied to 20 colleges.
Then why? Why is this addictive opiate making its way through the suburbs, taking down kid after kid while the parents remain naive and oblivious to its presence? Why are kids who seem to have it all reaching out for a drug that has more of a social stigma than methamphetamine and ecstasy, the drugs of choice of the teenagers before them? The answer might be found in looking at the effects of those drugs. While meth and ecstasy are stimulants and offer a user increased energy and heightened awareness, heroin is a depressant that blocks out pain, dulls the thought process and takes one away from life.