Silver lining seen in area drug arrests Publicity might deter teen-agers from using heroin, officials say

'Heroin chic' deplored

7 held as suppliers to youths in Carroll, Baltimore counties

November 09, 1997|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Anne Haddad and Kristi Swartz contributed to this article.

The arrests Wednesday of seven people police say were involved in a heroin ring that was supplying up to 100 high school students in northern Carroll and Baltimore counties may have shocked parents, but law enforcement and drug treatment officials in the area see a silver lining.

With evidence of increased heroin use obvious, they say, publicity about the arrests might help halt its spread among suburban teen-agers.

The drug has become fashionable among the young in the past two years, said John Bosley, clinical director of the Junction Inc. drug program in Carroll County, and Michael M. Gimbel, director of Baltimore County's Bureau of Substance Abuse.

"I was so glad to see the word come out, some documentation that this is happening in the suburbs," Gimbel said of the arrests. "The use of heroin has gotten popular."

An evaluation by his office for the state Department of Juvenile Justice in the summer of 1997 found that "10 out of the 50 kids had heroin problems."

In Anne Arundel County, the Pathways alcohol and drug treatment program also has seen an increase in the number of adult and teen-age heroin addicts seeking help, said its clinical director, Shirley Knelly.

"Right now, heroin is outstripping LSD and cocaine," said Bosley, although the abuse of marijuana and alcohol, alone or together, makes up about 85 percent of Junction's caseload.

Four years ago, teen-age use of heroin in Carroll was rare, Bosley said.

Bosley and Gimbel blamed musicians, movies -- beginning with "Pulp Fiction" -- and the gaunt "heroin chic" of some fashion advertising for glamorizing the drug.

Another key to heroin's growing popularity is clever marketing by the dealers -- setting lower prices for a purer product that can be sniffed rather than injected, the officials said. At the same time, interest in cocaine is waning.

Bosley said teens' belief that they won't become addicted by sniffing is "a myth." There is also a risk of overdosing, although not as great a risk as with intravenous use, he said.

A few heroin-related deaths have been reported in the area in the past year -- at least one in Carroll and one in Baltimore County.

"I had predicted last year that we were going to lose some kids to heroin this year," Gimbel said.

At a news conference announcing Wednesday's arrests, a Westminster woman fought back sobs as she told of finding her son dead of a heroin overdose last year, just before his 17th birthday.

Among those arrested was another 17-year-old Westminster boy accused of supplying heroin and other drugs to 80 to 100 teen-agers in Westminster and northern Carroll County, spilling over into northern Baltimore County, said state police, who were assisted by police from Baltimore and Baltimore County in a two-month investigation.

Charges will be filed against the youth this week in Carroll County, said Edward J. Puls Jr., a longtime Howard County narcotics officer who became an assistant state's attorney in April, handling juvenile cases.

Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said he would file a motion to try the juvenile as an adult.

"I've seen a 14-year-old in court here, detoxing from heroin" in the past six months, Puls said. "It's horrible. She was going into withdrawal while she was in the courtroom."

He said he also has seen youths "heading down [Route] 140 or Liberty Road, and first they stop at a pawnshop, and you see a stereo or whatever else they can steal -- en route to the next stop, which is the heroin-distribution point."

Barnes said Wednesday's arrests in Baltimore County had broken the heroin connection into the county.

"I truly believe it is in its infancy," Barnes said later when asked about heroin use by local teen-agers. "I believe this has broken its back before it gets a true foothold here."

Edwin Davis, Carroll County's director of pupil services, said state and local police with drug-sniffing dogs have been conducting random parking lot sweeps at high schools for about two years.

Students caught with drugs at schools are suspended, reported to police and usually arrested, he said. They must make at least one visit to a drug-abuse counselor before they are allowed to return to school.

Gimbel said heroin isn't likely to be used at school, but rather at weekend parties. "It's a nod-out kind of feeling. You don't want that sitting in class," he said.

Once parents get past the initial intense denial, they usually jump in to work out the problems, Gimbel said.

The two-month investigation stemmed from a parent's telling the state police at Westminster and the Carroll County state's attorney's office that a teen-ager was supplying local high school students with heroin and other drugs, police said.

Bosley said signs of heroin use include lethargy, "almost nodding off," seeming depressed, mumbling, a lack of energy, very relaxed muscles and "often a shuffle instead of a defined gait or stride."

White or brown residue found on small plastic bags, redness around the nostrils or nasal ulcerations are strong indicators.

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