Teens expect heroin deaths Suburban youths say increased use makes fatalities inevitable

June 25, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Caitlin Francke and Erika D. Peterman contributed to this article.

Many in Howard County were shocked that a 17-year-old boy, a new graduate of Glenelg High, was found slumped near a boat ramp in Dayton, dead from a heroin overdose.

But others, including many high school students, said the tragedy was inevitable.

"Yeah, someone else will probably die," said Crystal Clevenger, 17, who also graduated this year from Glenelg and knows people who use heroin. "It was never like this."

The death of Damien Massella June 18 made real the warnings of police, who for months have been citing heroin's emergence in this suburban county.

Yet, for some, including five Glenelg students and alumni hanging out in a Woodbine parking lot the other afternoon, heroin had become a reality.

"Nope, I'm not surprised at all" that heroin has emerged here, said Lauren Harrell, 18, who also graduated from Glenelg last month. "Before, you never heard about it. Now, just this year, it's gotten bad."

Members of the group, and others interviewed, recalled seeing the drug at parties -- sniffed and injected by friends of friends. They also know of drug dealers who buy heroin on Baltimore streets, then hawk it to Howard County teen-agers.

One Glenelg graduate, recently arrested in Baltimore on cocaine possession charges, said he performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation to revive a friend who overdosed in his car recently.

Cheap, more powerful

Officials, guidance counselors and parents said they're concerned that abundant supplies of cheap heroin, which is being sold pure enough to sniff, will spur its spread among users who don't like needles. Decades ago, injected heroin was 4 percent to 10 percent pure; today, heroin that is 40 percent to 70 percent pure is available.

Schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said teachers probably will address the problem in next year's anti-drug programs.

"This is, I suspect, the leading edge of something we may see more of," Hickey said. "We're probably going to see increased instances."

Parents agree.

"People need to be aware that this is happening right here in the JTC beautiful suburbs," said Mike Smith, father of a Glenelg senior. "It's happening, and it can kill you. It's sad."

'Subculture' developing

Penny Gray, mother of a Glenelg junior, said she was shocked by the teen-ager's death. But she said she believes heroin use is confined to a small group of teen-agers.

"It's probably not widespread -- at least I hope it's not widespread," said Gray, 47. "We need to be aware of this. Evidently someone has infiltrated the area. I would really like to know where he got the stuff."

A Glenelg guidance counselor says a "subculture" of heroin abuse is growing. Another county official, who advises troubled students, said heroin is becoming more popular with small pockets of students.

Statistics show increase

"Obviously, there are drugs everywhere," said the Glenelg guidance counselor, who asked not to be identified. "I don't think it's much different than other places."

Statistics and anecdotal evidence indicate rising use across Howard County, with 211 heroin abusers seeking assistance in 1996, up from 139 two years earlier, according to state figures.

Statewide, the estimated number of heroin abusers has jumped about 30 percent since 1992, from 42,800 to 56,000 addicts.

In January, a Howard County kindergarten teacher -- who lived in Baltimore -- collapsed from an overdose in a school bathroom. Reverse stings in Baltimore this year have netted at least 15 Howard County residents accused of attempting to buy heroin and other drugs.

Teens blame boredom

Teen-agers say their friends are using drugs, including heroin, because they feel trapped and bored by life in western Howard County, where bucolic landscapes surround large suburban houses.

"They drive around, get drunk," said Christopher Lawrence, 18, another recent Glenelg graduate and friend of Damien Massella. "People are trying heroin. It could really be a problem in a few years, but it's moving out here. They try it because they don't have anything else to do."

Experts say the motivations behind drug use are more complex. Many teens like the risk. Others find it fun; others seek status.

"Even the kids in New York City say they're bored," said Teresa Daub, Howard's substance-abuse impact coordinator. "Heroin is increasing, but alcohol is still the drug of choice among young people, and tobacco is a close second."

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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