It is always shocking in an affluent suburb when the cocoon of perceived safety and security is shattered by the revelation of local teens and young adults running a heroin distribution operation in their own backyard.
To most, this phenomenon is almost unreal. In fact, initially many simply dismiss the significance of a death here or an arrest there. But, how should a community react when 17—yes seventeen—federal indictments are handed out, carrying up to forty years in federal prison to individuals in their late teens and early twenties? Now the vexing nature of the epidemic is more clearly seen. Three teens died in 2010 and now 13 individuals have been indicted on conspiracy to distribute over 100 grams of heroin.
The problem is reminiscent of the Plano heroin epidemic in the mid-1990’s. I know that situation well because I was one of the heroin addicts using in Plano at the time. I remember well how difficult it was for an upper-class suburban community to face the harsh reality that their own children were far from sheltered in the land of beautiful homes, business professionals, and six-figure incomes.
When heroin deaths are few, it is easier to dismiss the problems, to remain in denial, and continue tacitly assuming “that could never happen to my child.” But chemical dependency is no respecter of persons. The harsh reality is that Dallas/Fort Worth is situated along the I-35 corridor, a major hub along the distribution chain from Mexican drug cartels to North America.
Moreover, affluent suburbs are the most likely places for heroin and other drugs to be consumed because teens are afforded a great deal of expendable money, often unaccounted for by their parents. Suburban teens have access to vehicles, tend to have an inordinate amount of time to socialize, and unfortunately have a more naïve view on the gravity of consequences that results from long-term drug use.
How should a community like Flower Mound or Highland Village respond to such an ominous threat?
Having spent the greater part of my young life both as an addict and having been to 9 treatment centers prior to getting clean from heroin addiction 10 years ago, I understand that significance of the problem. The only way, in my view, to really combat this problem is to face Flower Mound’s heroin epidemic head-on. It is often said that acceptance is the first step in recovery and if that is the case, people in our community must admit that there is a real problem and no one is immune.
Often the way heroin is propagated in its initial phases is by means of cutting the drug with a sleeping medication, thereby making it accessible to snort. Thus, the stigma of intravenous drug use, at least at the outset, is mitigated enticing teens to try a seemingly innocuous chemical. After an individual experiences the drug in this way for a while, the jump to intravenous use seems less significant.
Indeed, in the powder form, the drug often sells for ten or twenty dollars, thereby making the transactional amount less easily noticed, at least in the beginning. Thus, if parents realize that heroin has become prevalent in their area, we must as a community be more proactive.
Parents must be vigilant to stay connected with and in-tune with their teens—where they go, what they are doing, and with whom they are associating. Be prepared to ask tough questions and have the resolve to drug test them immediately to validate whether you are being told the truth.
Using heroin is not simply teenage experimentation with drugs—heroin kills people. I will never forget about 6 years ago, I obtained my first job in church ministry, serving at a start-up church in Colleyville. Suddenly, one of the older brother’s of a teen in the youth group died in his bed. He was a football player, from a loving, successful family. No one even suspected he was using drugs. He died of a heroin overdose. He couldn’t have even been using very long according to those who knew him, but in a short, almost unnoticeable span, he used heroin and then died.
This epidemic is a matter of life and death. In my experience, parents must approach it with that in mind. Does it really matter if you are “invading your teen’s privacy” if it saves their life?
When a few kids died in Plano from heroin, it went largely unnoticed, until the death toll rose and the community was forced to take the problem seriously. This is a problem that can be combated by an active community that accepts the reality of the problem and joins together to take proactive measures to stem the tide and save their young people.
Rob Reid is a pastor at RockPointe Church in Flower Mound and author of a blog that provides resources on the heroin epidemic in our area: http://heroinepidemic.wordpress.com/