Teen Heroin

Teen heroin use is up 80% ... Is your teen at risk?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration heroin use has increased 80 percent among teenagers and deaths from overdose in young people between 15 and 24 years has increased by 38 percent nationwide.

A quick Google® search of the terms “heroin overdoses” in Wisconsin not only returns cities like Milwaukee and Madison, which one might expect to find, but also city names such as Wausau, St. Germain, Antigo, Rhinelander and Marshfield. Decades ago, heroin was associated with inner-city-street-drug use in abandoned buildings by homeless addicts, not with relatively small cities.

But heroin has left urban streets and has made its way to more rural communities to wreak havoc in the lives of teenagers from middle- and upper-class families.

Even Door and Kewanee counties, which have had only three heroin-related instances in the last 5 years, acknowledge this dangerous trend and have preemptively published billboards declaring heroin “a weapon of mass destruction.”

What leads to heroin addiction?

The trend toward heroin abuse may start in the family medicine cabinet. With the rise in opiate pain reliever prescriptions in recent years, also came a rise in prescription medication abuse by young people. The euphoric and very addictive high created by the non-medical use of Vicodin, Oxycodone, Percocet and other opiate drugs has become the gateway to increased heroin use.

Rarely does a teen set out to become a heroin addict. Yet, one in eight high school students will choose to “try” one of these “gateway” drugs when introduced to them by a friend.

Many students erroneously believe that because a drug is a prescription it must be a “safe” high. This faulty thought process along with the previous experiences of feeling high may lead many teens to use prescription drugs repeatedly until they are hooked.

As a teen’s dependency on these prescription drugs increases and the cost of purchasing the pills rises, using prescription medication quickly becomes too expensive. At this point, some students will do something that they would have never imagined – they buy heroin on the street for as little as $10 a hit to get the same high. New users usually start smoking or snorting the drug, but often within weeks or months, many will start shooting up.

The statistics are staggering.

Every month in Wisconsin, 1.1 million prescriptions are filled for controlled substances (opiates, stimulants or benzodiazepines). A 2008 survey by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 70.2 percent of those who used prescription pain relievers non-medically, obtained the drug from family or friends.

The National Institute on Drug abuse reports, “According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of current (past-month) heroin users aged 12 or older in the United States increased from 153,000 in 2007 to 213,000 in 2008. There were 114,000 first-time users of heroin aged 12 or older in 2008.”

The December 1, 2011, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment Episode Data Set (The TEDS Report) publication stated, “The proportion of injection admissions that were young adults (aged 18 to 25) more than doubled between 1992 and 2009 (from 10.5 to 26.9 percent), as did the proportion of admissions aged 50 or older (from 4.1 to 10.4 percent).”

With the increased prevalence of heroin use in rural communities, it is important that parents, grandparents and friends be aware and become involved if they suspect drug abuse.

Learn how to recognize drug abuse or addiction.

There are several common behavioral signs that a person abusing drugs may exhibit. The following tips may help you assess whether your loved one may be in danger. If you answer yes to several of the questions below, don’t wait – get specialized help from a drug counselor. 

  1. Are there any major changes in behavior, mood, character or energy level?
  2. Does the person want more alone time?
  3. Is there a reluctance to introduce you to new friends?
  4. Is there poor performance at work or school?
  5. Are you missing money or other valuable items from the house?
  6. Is there a change in eating habits?
  7. Is there a lack of motivation?
  8. Is there a drastic change in finances – either no money or unexplained money?
  9. Have you found evidence of drug paraphernalia in the laundry, under the bed or near study or work areas? 

In addition to the behavioral signs of drug abuse, there are also physical signs of drug use that you should know. These symptoms will vary based on the type of drug that has been used.

Opiates – Heroin / Oxycotin
Pinpointed / constricted pupils
Needle marks
Lethargy (nodding off during conversations)

Cocaine / speed
Glassy eyes
Very large pupils (may wear sunglasses)
Erratic behavior
Lack of Sleep

Benzodiazepine / Xanax
Sedation / drowsiness
Unusual excitement
Poor judgment
Slurred speech
(Withdrawal from Xanax can be life-threatening)

Red eyes
Dazed appearance
Fits of laughter
Strong pungent odor
Paraphernalia may include rolling papers, blunts, pipes, baggies, lighters

Get help and find support.

If you believe that your loved one may be abusing drugs, get help. There are professionals available to help you work through this problem. For more information on behavioral health services in the Ministry Health Care service area, visit ministryhealth.org/MinistryHealth/Services/BehavioralHealth.nws.

There are also several online support sites that have been created to help family and friends deal with a loved one’s abuse or addiction.

Time to Act a site from drugfree.org guides parents through the investigative process and gives them an understanding of why a teen would abuse drugs. The site provides detailed information about the symptoms and causes of abuse.

Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization provides information and support for people who are dealing with the heroin addiction of a loved one. The site lists a variety of resources that people can use to help the abuser as well as themselves. An article entitled, 7 Truths About My Addict That Took 5 Years To Learn, poignantly describes the facts that parents must come to realize when their child becomes addicted to heroin. Understanding these facts helps parents offer the best support to help their child.

Time to Get Help from drugfree.org is a support site for parents dealing with the alcohol or drug abuse of their child. It offers many tools and resources to help parents address the problem of their child’s addiction and many resources to support parents who find themselves facing this heart-rending situation.

Recovering addicts often say that it was the unconditional love and care that helped them get through the difficult rehabilitation process. A professional drug counselor can help you identify your role and help you work through your own feelings as they relate to a loved one’s addictive behavior.

If you suspect drug abuse, don’t wait. Talk to a drug counselor; it is the first step in the healing process for you and the first step that you can take toward helping your loved one. For more information on local resources, visit to find a provider near you.



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