Doubt cast on report that heroin use is down among Carroll County teens

State drug newsletter corrects survey results

August 01, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Authorities hope a recent survey of young drug addicts in Westminster is true, but say reality is not supporting the perception of those interviewed that heroin use is declining in Carroll County.

Results of the survey, which was conducted by the Center for Substance Abuse Research in conjunction with the Offender Population Urinalysis Screening program, were published in the July issue of Drug Early Warning System (DEWS), a newsletter to keep anti-drug agencies and advocates informed of potential trends.

DEWS reported in mid-July that about 100 Westminster youngsters between the ages of 13 and 18 were interviewed, and their consensus was that heroin use is beginning to decline.

DEWS published a revised July issue on Wednesday, indicating that surveyors had interviewed 37, not 100, Westminster teen-agers being seen by intake or probation counselors of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

The latest report was less confident, saying "heroin use may now be declining."

To support its finding, the DEWS report cited results that showed only one specimen of the 37 testing positive for opiates. Heroin is an opiate.

"I would hope that is a new trend, but we're not seeing [similar results]," said Olivia Myers, executive director of Junction Inc., a substance-abuse treatment and prevention facility in Westminster.

Myers said 13 percent of Junction's current caseload of 160 people involved heroin use.

Reported trends, she said, do sometimes prove to be true after a lag time of six to 12 months.

"Let's hope we will be seeing a decline after six to 12 months," she said.

According to the DEWS report, several youths interviewed said heroin was "big one or two years ago, but that use is now dying down."

The report noted many comments about heroin use were "extremely circumstantial, as if the youths' knowledge about heroin was derived from media reports or information they had `heard,' rather than their direct knowledge of heroin use among friends or acquaintances."

The DEWS report also conceded the possibility that a lack of discussion of or knowledge about heroin use stems, in part, from the drug's negative reputation.

A few interviewed said those who use hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin generally will not admit or talk about their use.

Since December 1997, when the severity of the heroin problem surfaced in Carroll County, Carroll County General Hospital has tracked heroin-involved overdoses treated there.

Monthly figures on heroin-related overdoses for 1998 are consistently 12 or 13, a hospital spokeswoman said. After a dip to about five or six a month in February and March, the figures have climbed to 13 a month in May and June.

July figures have not been compiled, the spokeswoman said.

State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes has spearheaded the county's anti-heroin drive along with Residents Attacking Drugs, a community-based group of parents and students.

Barnes worked with PGN Media to plaster "Heroin Kills" billboards throughout the county and distributed 25,000 bumper stickers or refrigerator magnets with the same message to Carroll County schoolchildren.

Barnes, Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning and the Maryland State Police have re-established a joint drug task force to investigate, arrest and prosecute drug dealers.

The aggressive anti-heroin campaign has strived to make the public aware and educate those who might be tempted to use heroin.

The RAD group, with support from Carroll County school officials, produced "Heroin Kills," an anti-drug video that has received national attention and sold more than 400 copies since it was released in June.

Erin Artigiani, a faculty research assistant for the substance abuse research center and coordinator for DEWS, said last week that data received since the newsletter was published is less optimistic.

Artigiani didn't back down from the original findings. She said she has additional data showing one of 50 urinalysis tests, including the previous 37, was positive for heroin.

"We will continue collecting data and have additional information when the August DEWS fax is sent out," Artigiani said.

David J. Tucker, who heads Carroll County's juvenile services, said he would not question the validity of the DEWS study, but "we still have a heroin problem and don't see a tremendous reduction."

Tucker said about 35 adolescents are currently in treatment, or are coming out of treatment with "significant heroin issues."

Counselors for the Westminster-based juvenile services are working with nearly 250 adolescents, so 35 battling heroin addiction is a significant percentage, he said.

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