In this series we will look at the chemical affects of drug use, both long and short term, the legal issues of drug use, the approach by law enforcement, state and federal officials, the price paid by some who have made it through addiction and those who are still struggling, what parents can do and what help is available, and the ever present marijuana issue.
Heroin, Prescription Drugs
and the Rise of ‘Bath Salts’
By Mary O’KEEFE
Drugs used by youth are generally not one “drug of choice” the same year over and over, but a series of drugs that will see an increase in popularity, then fade to make way for another type of illicit substance.
In Crescenta Valley a few years ago, smoking heroin was the drug of choice among middle and high school aged local teenagers. The increase in heroin related arrests among local young people was so great that Glendale Police Chief Ron DePompa made a special presentation to the Glendale City Council to call attention to the problem.
Prior to the chief’s presentation, local law enforcement, including the two L.A. County Sheriff’s School Resources Officers that were assigned at that time to Rosemont Middle School and Crescenta Valley High School, had noticed a rising trend in heroin use.
Law enforcement worked to find those who were supplying the heroin to the area and the community formed the Crescenta Valley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition. Several arrests were made and with a growing acknowledgement in the community of a heroin problem taking hold in Crescenta Valley, the heroin trend began to fade, though it did not disappear entirely.
“We are seeing that heroin is not going away,” said Cary Quashen, founder and CEO of Action Family Counseling, Inc., an alcohol and drug treatment program. “Its use is [most prevalent] with 19-to-28 year olds.” Quashen works with students, and parents, in the Glendale Unified School District.
Prescription drugs are also a favorite of those in that age range, Quashen added.
These findings seem to be similar to those found by Charlie Ball, residential program manager at the Gooden Center in Pasadena, and Dr. Leo Berkenbile, director of the emergency room at Verdugo Hills Hospital.
Ball said that he sees more 18-year-old people addicted to prescription drugs and that at Gooden Center those with heroin addictions number about the same as last year.
“It is still popular,” he added.
However, the numbers are different at Verdugo Hills Hospital.
“We have seen a lot more heroin,” Berkenbile said of those entering the VHH emergency room.
The average age still seems to be between 18 and 28 years old, and the trend of smoking heroin that was so popular a few years ago has now progressed to using hypodermic needles to inject the drug.
Although heroin use at present seems to be geared toward older teens and young adults, it does not mean that it won’t cycle back to younger and younger kids in the future.
Those interviewed agreed on two trends: Marijuana is still widely used and increasingly popular, and there is a new and rapidly rising trend of synthetic drug use by all ages, including those younger than 18.
“The other thing [in addition to heroin] we see is ‘bath salts,’ that is synthetic amphetamine,” Berkenbile said. “It is bad stuff.”
He added that those he sees in the ER using bath salts are of all ages.
“Bath salts” and “plant food,” as well as other names, are how the drug is marketed. The drug is synthetic cathinones and had been sold in retail establishments like adult stores, independently owned convenient stores, gas stations and head shops, and online, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
California has banned the sale of bath salt-type drugs in October 2011, however many stores have been slow to take them off shelves and they are still available on the Internet.
Berkenbile said the effects of the drug could make users very depressed, paranoid and delusional.
“This [drug] has violent overtones,” he added.
Normal drug testing may not detect synthetic drug use. That is why Quashen has been educating parents about the use of bath salts and letting them know there is a testing kit available. Some parents who are concerned about their child’s drug use, or have evidence that they have used drugs in the past, can choose a urine test kit to monitor possible usage.
“A lot of kids thought, ‘My parents can’t test me for [bath salts],’ but there is a test,” Quashen said.
Like with any substance abuse, there are warning signs to alert parents that their kids are using.
“You see the same kind of thing you see with other drug use,” Quashen said. “Sleeping habits change, [there’s a] loss of motivation, they will be forgetful, their eating habits will change and grades will be affected. This can happen either rapidly or slowly.”
So what should parents do?
Watch your kids and talk to your kids, advises Quashen.
“The first thing is always go with your gut,” he tells parents.
“Parents need to be suspicious,” Berkenbile said.
For the National Institute on Drug Abuse full report, visit www.cvweekly.com and click on News, then NIDA Publication.