USA Today: Drug War Draws More Girls To Heroin

Date: Wed, 10 May 2000
Subject: USA Today: Drug War Draws More Girls To Heroin

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #172 May 10, 2000

USA Today: Drug War Draws More Girls To Heroin


DrugSense FOCUS Alert #172 May 10, 2000

IMPORTANT NOTE: USA Today has circulation of more than 2 million
readers. The largest in the U.S. A published LTE of 250 words in this
publication has an ad value of more than $7,500.00. Please Just DO It!
Write Away.

Is the drug war supposed to save children from drugs? If it is, it’s
failing again. USA Today is reporting increasing rates of heroin use
among young girls. The support given for this assertion is mostly
anecdotal, but the story does note that government surveys indicate
increased use of heroin by young people in recent years, as well as
increased emergency room visits related to heroin for women in general.

Not surprisingly, prohibitionists interviewed for the article
recommend more tough measures to fight heroin. Some of the experts
also offer “solutions” that are kinder and gentler, though not likely
to be more effective, like an advertising campaign featuring the theme
“girl power.” Unfortunately, no one quoted in the story points out how
the basic drug war principles help to encourage drug problems among
young people. But, the information is there for those who look between
the lines. Careful readers are reminded of the allure of forbidden
fruit and the success of drug cartels in raising quality and lowering

Please write a letter to USA Today to say that the same old drug war
tactics are increasing drug problems, not decreasing them, for girls
and boys of every age.

Thanks for your effort and support.


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Source: USA Today (US)



Pubdate: Tue, 09 May 2000
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2000 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Page: 1A – Cover Story
Address: 1000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington VA 22229
Fax: (703) 247-3108
Author: Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY

Teenage Girls Are Increasingly Falling Prey To Narcotic In Purer, ‘More
Mainstream,’ Sniffable Form

Simona Troisi was a high school freshman on Long Island, at 14 already
a user of marijuana and LSD, when she gave $40 to a friend to score
some cocaine in New York City. The friend returned with a powder that
gave Troisi a sickening high when she snorted it.

”I don’t even know what it was,” Troisi says. ”I just kept doing
it because I had it.”

The strange powder was heroin, and within a few months, Troisi’s
recreational drug habit became a destructive lifestyle. She landed in
a drug rehabilitation program after being charged with selling heroin
to an undercover police officer. She had turned to dealing to help
finance her appetite for tiny, $10 bags of the drug.

Now 20 and nine months into rehab, Troisi symbolizes how thousands of
girls across the USA have fueled a dramatic resurgence of heroin use
among teenagers, particularly in suburban and rural areas. Not since
the late 1960s and early 1970s, when a typical dose was much less
potent and almost always injected, has heroin been so hip among
middle-class teens.

Heroin’s re-emergence comes at a time when girls — once far less
likely than boys to drink, smoke marijuana or use harder drugs such as
heroin — now appear to be keeping pace with them, says Mark Weber,
spokesman for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services

Weber’s agency, after finding that existing drug prevention programs
helped reduce drug use only among boys, recently helped create an
advertising campaign called ”Girl Power” to deliver anti-drug
messages specifically to girls.

A television commercial now airing features Olympic figure skating
champion Tara Lipinski and Brandi Chastain, a member of the 1999 U.S.
Women’s World Cup soccer team, urging girls not to ”blow it” by
using drugs. The agency also has begun an unprecedented effort to
collect statistics on girls’ drug use.

The new surge in heroin use made national news with the overdose
deaths of more than a dozen teenagers in Plano, Texas, and suburban
Orlando in 1996. Since then, hospital emergency rooms on Long Island,
N.Y., and in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Philadelphia suburbs and
several other middle-class areas have been hit by clusters of teens on

”The picture is frightening,” says Mitchell Rosenthal, a
psychiatrist and president of a chain of drug treatment centers who
will testify before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics
Control today about the emerging heroin problem in the suburbs.
”We’ve got a lot of suburban kids at risk. I don’t think the modern
affluent parent thinks about heroin being a danger in Scarsdale or
Beverly Hills.”

One of four teenagers scheduled to testify today is Kathryn Logan, 19,
of San Juan Capistrano in southern California. At 9, Logan stole sips
of wine from unfinished glasses. At 13, she rifled through medicine
cabinets for prescription drugs she could chop up and sniff. She
packed the powder into ballpoint pen casings so she could get high
during class. At 15, she snorted heroin and cocaine and smoked crack.

”I felt more normal when I was on drugs,” says Logan, who developed
bulimia, had an abortion and tried to commit suicide. ”I felt being
sober was too boring.” To pay for her habit, she stole money from her
parents and at one point pawned her grandmother’s diamond ring for

Even so, she kept up her grades, made the junior varsity tennis team
and tried out for cheer leading. But she felt she didn’t fit in at
school, where she thought the people were ”rich and stuck up.” Her
father, a contractor, and her mother, a flight attendant, didn’t seem
to notice her drug use. ”I was always making up excuses. I had
everything under control, the whole world under control. It was hard,
let me tell you,” says Logan, who entered rehab 79 days ago to avoid
going to jail on alcohol and marijuana possession charges. ”My
parents were clueless. I think they were in total denial that I was
doing drugs until I told them about it.”

Heroin Considered ‘Super Cool’

Heroin use remains relatively rare among teens overall. A study by
the University of Michigan last year estimated that about 2% of youths
ages 12-17 had tried it. However, that was more than double the rate
of seven years earlier. The same study indicated that 2.3% of
eighth-graders in the USA, about 83,160 youths, had used heroin.

Analysts continue to examine the reasons behind the surge. There are
the usual factors: teen angst, peer pressure, boredom, the attraction
of something dangerous for teens with money to spend. But analysts
say it’s also clear that new, highly potent forms of heroin from drug
cartels in Colombia and Mexico have been key to attracting new users
— particularly girls.

For years, most heroin had to be injected directly into a user’s
bloodstream to be effective. Girls typically prefer to sniff or smoke
their drugs rather than inject them, so heroin was out of vogue,
experts say. But now, with more potent heroin available as a powder
in small bags or gel capsules, users can get high without injecting.
That has made it more palatable to girls. ”Young girls don’t like
injecting regularly. It leaves marks. With the increase in purity of
heroin, it made it smokable,” Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., says. As
co-chairman of the Senate narcotics caucus, Biden issues regular
reports on drug abuse.

”We are seeing a wider range of users,” says H. Westley Clark, a
psychiatrist and director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse
Treatment in Washington, D.C. ”We have been seeing younger people
use. It has been fairly dramatic. These drugs are becoming equal
opportunity drugs. There is no gender bias.”

Lynn Ponton, a San Francisco-area psychiatrist, says that just last
week a 17-year-old girl she is counseling tested positive for heroin
in a routine drug screening.

”Traditional gender roles associated with risk-taking are not holding
… for drug abuse,” says Ponton, who wrote The Romance of Risk, a
book about adolescent risk-taking. ”Once (a drug is) available and
hasn’t been used for a long time, it’s deemed cool by the teenagers.
Heroin is still considered a super-cool drug, and it has high risk
associated with it. It’s probably the mystique of the drug.”

Like the stimulant and hallucinogen Ecstasy, another favorite drug of
the moment, heroin plays to girls’ insecurities. Users lose their
appetite, and so lose weight. The ”heroin girl” look has been
glamorized recently, from ashen, wafer-thin runway models to anthems
by grunge bands. All this has recast heroin in a more favorable light
for this generation of youths. Troisi, who is 5 feet 5 and weighed 80
pounds when she entered drug treatment, says she never associated
heroin with images of needle-toting junkies from the 1960s and ’70s.

”Think of all the heroin-chic pictures that have been in the culture
for a number of years,” Rosenthal says. ”Advertising campaigns show
gaunt men and women. The stigma of heroin appears to have faded.”

Heroin, a narcotic derived from the opium poppy, was developed in the
1880s as a pain reliever and substitute for highly addictive morphine.
Scientists soon found that heroin is even more addictive. It was made
illegal in the United States in 1914. Heroin is produced mainly in
Southeast Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mexico and Colombia.

For street sales, heroin is mixed, or ”cut,” with other ingredients,
such as quinine or sugar. A hit of heroin produces a rush of euphoria
followed by several hours of relaxation and wooziness. Twenty years
ago, a milligram dose with 3.6% pure heroin (and cut with 96.4% other
ingredients) cost about $3.90, says Richard Fiano, director of
operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Now, the average
milligram is 41.6% pure and costs about $1. Some Colombian heroin the
DEA seized recently was 98% pure, Fiano says.

Colombian drug lords used existing cocaine distribution networks to
introduce the purer heroin to the USA, Fiano says. ”They have a
very, very good marketing strategy,” he says. ”They’ve come out
with a new product line. They even have packaged it with brand names,
just like buying a pack of cigarettes. They even gave out free samples.”

Emergency-Room Visits Rise

The strategy appears to be working; heroin users are younger than
ever. Surveys by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration indicate the average age of first-time users plummeted
from about 27.4 years in 1988 to 17.6 in 1997, the youngest average
since 1969.

Emergency-room doctors reported in 1997 and 1998 that heroin is
involved in four to six visits out of 100,000 by youths ages 12 to 17,
up from one in 100,000 in 1990. For young adults 18 to 25, 41
emergency room visits in 100,000 involved heroin, up from 19 in 1991.
Among women in general, the numbers have doubled in a decade.

Biden would like to direct more federal money to drug treatment for
adolescents and law enforcement efforts in Colombia. Sen. Charles
Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate narcotics caucus, says that
even if the USA directs more money toward Colombia, the focus should
be on sending teens a clear anti-drug message, similar to the Reagan
administration’s ”Just Say No” campaign.

Troisi says a steady stream of information about the risks of
different drugs might have steered her away from heroin. She and her
friends had no idea how seductive and addictive the drug could be, she
says. She adds that she had no trouble finding heroin in her affluent
hometown, Selden, N.Y.

”I’m not saying that heroin is the normal thing, but it is going more
mainstream,” she says. ”When I first started, I was one of the
first females, but I’ve seen more and more. I’ve seen them come into
detox.” In Selden, about 45 miles from New York City, there isn’t a
whole lot for teens to do, and becoming a drug user wasn’t too
different from finding a spot in an after-school club, she says. ”It
seemed like this underground society,” says Troisi, who says she grew
up in a stable home with three brothers, including one who was high
school valedictorian. Her father is a high school teacher. ”Boredom
played a big part of it. A lot of my friends got involved in drugs
real young. I kept away from it for a while, but I was real lonely.
When I started using heroin, I just kept going back to it. I felt
like I’d never feel comfortable with myself without it.”

Like many girls who slide into addiction, Troisi wound up taking
heroin the way she initially avoided: by injection. That way, Troisi,
who sometimes spent more than $100 a day on drugs, needed less heroin
to get high.

By the time she was 15, Troisi says, she loathed getting out of bed
without a heroin jolt. ”I used to sleep with a bag of it in my bra
so I would have it first thing, so I could get out of bed and brush my
teeth,” she says. Troisi, who after nine months of treatment now
weighs a healthier 110 pounds, thinks she will get better. What she
calls the ”zombie” feeling has faded. ”One day, I woke up and I
felt good,” she says. ”I eat now. And I go running, five miles a
day sometimes. I feel like it’s a new world. I still go through
moods, but I know how to deal with those moods. I think I have a chance.”



To the editor:

After decades of zero tolerance law enforcement America is
experiencing a resurgence in heroin use which crosses gender lines.
How will politicians respond? Implement needle exchange programs to
stop the spread of HIV perhaps? Legalize marijuana to separate the
hard and soft drug markets and thereby close the black market gateway
to heroin? Not likely! No doubt tough-on-drugs politicians will
seize the opportunity to call for increased drug war funding, despite
the obvious failure of past interdiction efforts.

Temporarily limiting the amount of heroin on the streets might do more
harm than good. By decreasing supply while demand remains constant,
America’s fledgling addicts will soon find the price of heroin
soaring. Those already hooked will inevitably step up criminal
activity in order to feed their habits. While males are more prone to
violent crime, female addicts may fall victim to prostitution. The
resulting nationwide crime wave will have more to do with application
of drug laws then the medical condition the addicts suffer from. Just
as alcohol prohibition failed, the drug war has failed to prevent drug
use, but it has fostered a great deal of unnecessary crime and violence.

Am I suggesting that heroin be legalized and sold in convenience
stores? Contrary to what zero tolerance proponents would have
Americans believe, there is a middle ground between all out
legalization and drug prohibition. By registering heroin addicts and
providing them with standardized doses in a treatment setting, the
public health problems associated with heroin use could very well be
eliminated. More important, organized crime would lose an important
client base. This would render illegal heroin trafficking
unprofitable and spare future generations the horror of heroin addiction.

Robert Sharpe

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