Carson's heroin connection

In the three and half years since the creation of a community group to combat methamphetamine use in Carson City, statistics showed the effort was working.

Forty-five percent of people seen at the Community Counseling Center used methamphetamine in 2006. In 2008, that number dropped to 25 percent.

But in the last year, law enforcement officials have noticed another drug has taken meth's place among the younger crowd " heroin.

"In this community there was a big surge to stop one drug, which was meth," said John Simms, chief juvenile probation officer for Carson City. "I was afraid that focus would produce a surge in another drug, and it did."

Drug officers first starting noticing a trend of heroin in the city in 2007.

"It started as kids taking Oxycontin and hydrocodone. They are opiates as well, but an 80 mg tablet is $80," said Tri-Net Drug Taskforce Officer Mitch Pier. "It just got to be too expensive and hard to find."

Heroin is cheaper and easier to get, said Pier, and teenagers and young adults network among each other to feed their habits.

"They are all kids," he said.

Reports on the rise

A balloon, or point, of heroin is about one-tenth of a gram and offers a high from four to six hours. Pier said a point sells in Carson City for $20 to $25. But users can go into Reno and spend as little as $7.

Carson City Sheriff's Deputy Sam Hatley, a member of the department's Special Enforcement Team, said there doesn't appear to be any major heroin dealers in Carson City. The dope is sold by users to finance their own fix.

"They drive into Reno every day, get what they need, sell some, and earn enough money to make the trip again," he said.

Mary Bryan, director of Community Counseling Center, said that five years ago, cases of heroin abuse at the counseling center were rare. In 2006, 3 percent of clients reported use. In 2007, 6 percent reported use and in 2008, 9 percent.

Carson City Sheriff's Department records are more ominous.

Though the drug possession cases can't be broken down into arrests specifically related to heroin, a search of police reports show an alarming increase. According to Chief Deputy Jack Freer, in 2003, heroin was mentioned in police reports 22 times. In 2008, it appeared 108 times.

Juvenile probation is finding the same thing in their numbers, said Simms.

Drug testing results from 2001 indicate that the rare cases of opiates found in the urine samples of juveniles under supervision could be attributed to medications prescribed by a doctor. In early 2007, however, the more frequent positive results were coming from the illegal use of prescription opiates like Oxycodone and Hydrocodone. In late 2007 and all of 2008, urine tests detected heroin in the samples 34 times.

Simms, who has been a probation officer in the city for 20 years, said he won't classify one drug as more dangerous than another.

"Methamphetamine and heroin are both deadly, both destructive, both destroy families. To say one's worse or more deadly is not the case. Heroin and methamphetamine are both toxic to your community," he said.

But, Simms noted, "Heroin to me is more shocking. It's always been considered one of the worst things you can do to your body. When you overdose on heroin it can kill you."

Heroin use easier to hide

Simms said what is worse about heroin is that that it's easier to hide.

"It's easier to see someone under the influence of meth than it is heroin. People on meth are jittery, hyper, irritated," he said. "But, you can go to school on heroin. On heroin you sit there calmly, quietly, zoning out. They are in their own little world."

Bryan said the surest way to combat drug use in teens is for parents to be committed to keeping their kids off drugs.

"The protective factors for children are positive parental monitoring and support. That's not easy, but it's required. Kids need to stay in school and they need to know that this is a community of anti-drug use.

"The initial decision to take drugs is mostly voluntary, made by children who don't have good decision-making skills. That first decision, while its voluntary, needs to be the one that's moved back," Bryan said. "Parents need to be supervising their kids until they get old enough to make a competent decision to not kill themselves."

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