Not my son, not my daughter

Bob McKee

There are people who live in small towns and rural areas who still believe drugs are just another big city problem.

These people are naïve. They need to get their heads out of the sand, or wherever their heads have been.

“Ya got trouble, folks, right here in River City,” Professor Harold Hill told residents of a small Iowa town in the Music Man. In the popular Broadway play set in 1912 and later made into a movie, Hill was referring to the town’s pool hall which was luring kids away from the straight and narrow.

His proposed solution to that problem was formation of a marching band. He offered to sell them uniforms and band instruments and volunteered to teach the kids how to play music. But con man Hill planned to skip town as soon as he got paid for the uniforms and instruments.

Things have changed. Pool halls are okay now and shooting pool is considered an acceptable and wholesome activity. Becoming a heroin addict is not considered acceptable or wholesome. It never will be.

Heroin addiction crosses racial and socioeconomic lines.

The sons and daughters of lawyers and judges and the sons and daughters of the guy who works on your car or the man who picks up your trash every week can become addicted to heroin. Sadly, far too many do. Heroin addiction increased 500 percent in seven years. Its primary victims are young adults in their late teens or early 20s.

A lot of those addicts became addicted to opioids first, legal drugs prescribed by doctors to alleviate pain caused by surgery or a traumatic injury. Because those prescription pain killers are expensive and heroin is cheap the switch for most is a forgone conclusion.

A “button” of heroin, one-tenth of a gram, is enough to last a novice addict all day. It can be bought for as low as $5 or may be given out as a “free sample.” That happens because Mexican drug cartels, where most of the heroin in the Midwest comes from, want to get people dependent on their product.

When customers keep coming back for more, the price goes up to $15 to $20 or more depending on purity.

A hard-core user can spend $150 to $200 a day. The body builds immunity over time so it takes more to get high. There is so much heroin available that the purity increased from 5 percent a few years ago to around 50 percent today.

Many heroin consumers in St. Louis are young whites in their 20s who drive in from suburbs or distant rural areas, St. Louis police say. That description fits a member of this family who is an addict, a young woman in her mid-20s who was a bright and happy child, a stand-out softball player in high school, and appeared to be on her way to a meaningful and fulfilled life.

That all changed a few years ago when her mother suspected, then confirmed, that she was using heroin. 

It has been an emotional roller coaster and financial nightmare for all of us in the family and especially her parents. Unwittingly we all were guilty of enabling her addiction by covering the stolen cash, the forged checks and unauthorized credit card purchases then paying lawyers thousands of dollars to keep her out of jail for various offenses including minor traffic offenses that resulted in arrest warrants when she failed to show up in court.

Addicts become practiced and convincing liars, seasoned and stealthy thieves. When the cash, check books and credit cards are no longer available other items start missing particularly guns which are easy to convert to cash on the street or to trade to a dealer for a button of heroin, although at a fraction of the gun’s value.

Those who deny that drug addiction is an illness and instead is simply a matter of choice are only partially right. The initial experiment is a choice, a bad one. Heroin acts almost immediately giving the user a sense of euphoria they’ve never experienced before.

Worries and stress disappear, self-doubt and any sense of unworthiness quickly fade away. Nothing else matters, not jobs, family, and sometimes not even their own children.

“Just say no” is a myth and misconception, Kate Tennsy, executive director of the St. Louis Child Fund says. “Addiction is a complex, chronic, relapsing brain disease.”

An addict may voluntarily go into a treatment program or be ordered into one as a condition of probation. These can last for weeks, even months, and for a while you get that person back, not the addict. The euphoria heroin provides is hard to forget, though, and many things can trigger an addict to again seek out a hit of brown sugar, smash, horse, big H, junk or white horse.

An addict’s family lives in fear and dreads the call they might get someday about an overdose. More people die from drugs than guns, according to the Center for Disease Control.

This addict’s family wishes Professor Harold Hill’s solution for trouble was that simple.