Anti-heroin campaign didn't save Hampstead man, 20, mother says 'Nothing I did helped for very long,' she recalls

October 13, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Hampstead mother who believes that her son died of a heroin overdose lamented yesterday that a high-profile crusade against the drug in Carroll County wasn't enough to save her son.

"I don't want any other parent to have to go through this," said Debi Curran, 44, alternately clenching a fist for emphasis or wiping away a tear.

Her son, Justin Lee Dalcin, 20, was found dead in Wyman Park in Baltimore on Sept. 9. Baltimore police believe he died of a heroin overdose, but the autopsy report has not been completed.

Justin would be the fourth Carroll resident, age 21 or younger, who has died of a heroin overdose in the past two years.

For the past nine months, "Heroin Kills" billboards, posters and bumper stickers have appeared on county highways and in storefronts. Police have held community meetings to educate parents about the drug problem in the county.

Statewide, the number of deaths from heroin overdose has more than doubled since 1990, and the most dramatic increases have occurred in the suburbs. In Harford County, authorities have investigated heroin overdose deaths of six young men since November, a county sheriff's spokesman said.

In Carroll County, officials say the number of heroin users in treatment has more than doubled within the past three years.

"We lived in Pikesville and wanted to come [about 10 years ago] to the cornfields of Carroll County to get away from drugs," said Curran. "It's just as bad here."

Curran believes Justin struggled with heroin addiction since he was 14 or 15. She said that as recently as August, he was happy, had gotten a job and was living with his girlfriend in Westminster.

Relatives in Pikesville saw him Sept. 6, Curran said, and he returned to Baltimore to be with friends.

Bill Ritz, a Baltimore homicide detective, said yesterday that police were called at 4: 45 p.m. Sept. 9 to the 100 block of W. 29th St., near the Johns Hopkins University campus, after a man walking his dog found the body.

Police believe the body had been there three or four days, he said.

Ritz said police found no indications that the body had been moved. He said it appeared the victim had been sitting upright and then slumped over to his left. No drugs or needles were found at the scene.

As recently as 1996, Carroll had no reported deaths from heroin, and Carroll County General Hospital had reported six heroin-related admissions.

Heroin-related admissions began soaring in January with eight admissions and hit a high of 15 in February, said Teresa Fletcher, a hospital spokeswoman. The average has remained constant -- about 13 a month.

Peter M. Tabatsko, juvenile master in Carroll County, believes drug and alcohol abuse is the underlying cause for charges against 85 percent of the teen-agers he sees in the courtroom.

Curran knew about Justin's addiction and said they spoke openly about it.

"We sought counseling at Junction, and he would go into remission, just like he had cancer and had gotten chemotherapy," she said, referring to the nonprofit substance abuse treatment and prevention center in Westminster.

Justin was not a bad youth, but he had a bad addiction, she said.

His best friend from Owings Mills died when he was about 13, and he "began going downhill after that," she said. "I could see it, and nothing I did helped for very long."

Justin did not have a lengthy record with the law, she said. He had a marijuana pipe in his locker at North Carroll Middle School and later, as an adult, he violated probation on another paraphernalia charge.

Justin dropped out of the Gateway Program, the county's alternative education school for students with severe behavioral problems, in 11th grade, Curran said.

"He was at Gateway because I refused to go pick him up after he got in trouble at school," she said. "I wanted [juvenile services] to get involved, hoping they could do something to help him."

Curran said she would like to form a support group among parents who have lost children to drugs, or fear losing children to drugs.

"I wanted to get involved in fighting drugs, but never did," she said.

"We'll just have to continue all efforts to fight against substance abuse, especially among teen-agers and young adults," said Jerry F. Barnes, state's attorney for Carroll County.

"This isn't just an issue of substance abuse," he said. "It's a matter of life and death, and we have to attack it from all angles, law enforcement, prosecution, education and public awareness."

Yesterday, 267 cars at North Carroll High School and 132 at Francis Scott Key High School were scanned by police dogs trained to sniff for the presence of narcotics.

No arrests were made, said Lt. Leonard Armstrong, barracks commander at Westminster.

On Thursday, improving parents' skills will be the focus of two public seminars scheduled for 7 p.m. at North Carroll High School and Sykesville Middle School.

Sgt. Michael College of the state police drug task force, who is also a parent and a Carroll resident, said: "It's getting to be an epidemic. We can't arrest away the problem. We've got to reach the kids and their families, that this drug kills."

Anyone who wishes to contact Debi Curran about a support group may call 410-239-2199.

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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