A 'monster' drug unleashed in Md.

Heroin: It's cheap, powerful, plentiful -- merciless. And more and more, teen-agers living far from the inner city are falling under its spell.

April 05, 1998|By Jay Apperson and Todd Richissin

Heroin, long the leading killer among drugs in Baltimore, has crept from the inner city, arriving violently at the tidy cul-de-sacs of Maryland's suburbs and the back-road burgs of the most far-flung parts of the state.

A new, cheaper, more potent brand of the drug is making the rounds. More and more, it is being snorted instead of injected, accounting in large part for the explosion in use. And it is killing more people in more parts of Maryland -- and at a younger age -- than ever.


A Carroll County teen-ager, his slight frame nearly lost in a cream-colored sweater, nervously rocks in his courtroom chair as he is accused of selling the heroin that killed a schoolmate.

In Cecil County, a teen-ager returns to the baseball field where he once was cheered, climbs into the announcer's booth and jabs a needle into his arm.

A beefy, enthusiastic keeper of the Eastern Shore tradition of waterfowl hunting hits the town for a couple of beers but runs into heroin and pays a price.

And in Allegany County, a woman who fled the temptations of Baltimore's open-air drug markets tries to escape to the mountains.

"Then, like man, it's right around the corner, and I'm not away from it anymore," says the addict, Lorrie Jenkins. "I knew I shouldn't, but I picked up the needle and unleashed the monster."

Statewide, the number of deaths from heroin overdose has more than doubled since 1990. The most dramatic increases have come outside of Baltimore.

In just the past three years, the number of heroin users in treatment has more than doubled in Carroll and Harford counties and increased by more than 40 percent in Anne Arundel and Howard counties. Many of the new addicts are not old enough to vote.

Says Sgt. Mike College, a state police detective leading a task force in Carroll County: "I feel like a priest, I've consoled so many parents."

The drug even is showing up -- in many cases for the first time -- in the remote mountain towns of Western Maryland, in the rippling farmlands of the southern part of the state and in the tiny fishing villages that hug the inlets of the Eastern Shore.

"If you want to see Garrett County in two or three years, if you want to see Kent or Somerset counties or any of those places, take a look at Carroll County now," says Lt. Terry Katz, an intelligence officer with the Maryland State Police. "We've been beating the drum, beating the drum, saying it's coming. Well, it's here. It's everywhere."

Carroll: 'scramble' and 'raw'

Carroll County, which as recently as 1996 reported a year with no deaths from heroin overdose, has seen three such fatalities already this year. Among them was Liam A. O'Hara, a 15-year-old Westminster High School student who died in January.

His death roused the community to fight back. It also has brought some very adult problems to Westminster High School junior Kristopher Olenginski.

Olenginski, 16, is a B student with a nearly perfect school-attendance record and no history of trouble in school. But on a recent Friday morning, he shifted uneasily in a Carroll courtroom. Accused of selling heroin to Liam the night before the boy's death, Olenginski was waiting to learn whether he would face adult charges of felony heroin distribution.

In court, his father, Lawrence Olenginski, described a wholesome family life, in which everyone in the household made a point to eat dinner together, in which he and his sons hunted, fished and skied together. Kristopher never gave him any trouble beyond "typical bickering" with his siblings, he said.

But prosecutor David P. Daggett urged the judge not to be deceived because the boy, all 130 pounds of him, looked to be no more than 14 years old.

The alleged crime -- driving to Baltimore to buy heroin and then selling it for profit -- suggested that Olenginski was "not a rookie" in his involvement in drugs, Daggett said. And the boy's claims of being drug-free were contradicted by a witness, who said Olenginski snorted heroin the night before Liam's death.

Hearing that, Judge Francis M. Arnold issued his ruling: The boy would be tried as an adult.

Authorities report no evidence of major heroin trafficking rings in suburban Baltimore. But young suburban heroin users often return from excursions to the city with extra heroin to sell to a small circle of acquaintances.

They drive to Edmondson Avenue or corners near North Avenue, where they find small packets of "raw" -- the potent strain of heroin that induces a euphoria through snorting. They buy $ 10 capsules of "scramble" -- the adulterated form favored by users trying to stretch their heroin stash and by the addicts who graduate to shooting the drug into their veins.

Jamie McCahan, a 17-year-old recovering heroin addict from Westminster, had no trouble persuading other heroin users to drive her to Baltimore's drug corners. "Give them money, hook them up with dope," she says. "They'll take you down."

The byproducts of this burgeoning cycle of heroin use are seen in police stations and hospital emergency rooms.

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