Heroin is no longer the drug of back alleys in big cities; it is more socially accepted by today’s youth and widely available in communities across the country. The purity of heroin is so high (60 to 80 percent pure in many cases) that it can be snorted or smoked, just like cocaine, and therefore doesn’t create the automatic stigma heroin always had. Also, heroin is cheap — $4 to $6 a bag — and lures first-time users in as a substitute to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or other drugs because it is a cheaper alternative.
It is very addictive and the craving for a stronger “high” often results in injecting the drug, just like the stereotypical heroin user.
Heroin is now one of those drugs that is available to children in communities across America for experimentation. But there is nothing experimental about using heroin and it is only in “extreme” situations where tragedies do not occur.
First determine the level of addiction. The abuse of drugs does not mean your child is addicted. Is he or she abusing “gateway” drugs such as alcohol or marijuana, or more serious drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine or crystal meth? Given the addictive nature of opiate drugs such as heroin or oxycontin, abuse of these drugs is synonymous with addiction. Addiction occurs when someone is physically or psychologically in need of the drug and cannot stop using it. Obviously, if your child is abusing any drug you want them to stop, and that can be accomplished with the strength and support from family and friends. But if your child is addicted to a drug, particularly an opiate, then you will need professional assistance.
In general, be aware of any change in your child’s behavior, falling grades and/or a change in friends. Here is a list of warning signs our parent group came up with from our experience with regards to opiate use:
- Euphoria (strange behavior, extremely happy for no apparent reason)
- Nodding (chin on chest, sleepy, slow to respond)
- Eye rolling (strange movement where the eyes start to roll back)
- Itching up and down arms
- Pinned pupils (see pinkish color on the bottom of the eye)
- In and out of the bathroom often
- Flu-like symptoms, leg cramps, sweats, chills more often than not (could be suffering from withdrawal)
- Up all night and sleeping all day
- Weight loss
- Dark circles under the eyes
- High truancy rate or can’t seem to hold down a job
- Secretive phone calls/strange numbers on cell phone address book
- Missing money, jewelry, tools etc. Usually sold at pawn shops in the area
- Dishonesty, lies often
- Small empty zip lock baggies found/paper folded with waxy substance
- Straws cut in half, empty pens (for snorting)
- Loose change with powder substance on it (used to crush pills)
Opiate addiction is the most serious and difficult addiction to address, requiring a multi-step process that often results in relapses. While private health insurance plans offer some financial assistance during the critical detoxification phase, opiate addiction is extremely difficult to overcome and private resources and/or extreme vigilance is required afterward (see the question below on expectations).
Many private health insurance plans will pay for a 10-day outpatient treatment program, which often results in a 3- to 7-day inpatient detoxification program. It is at this point private health plans usually lapse and the financial responsibilities fall to the family.
One alternative is for the family to provide strong vigilance and support for the addicted child as he or she seeks daily (or more) support from various 12-step programs available in the community. However, many of the same temptations will exist if the addict returns to the environment in which the addiction started and a family should do everything possible to either change the environment or insulate the child from it.
If financial resources are available, another alternative is to send your child to a residential treatment program for an additional 30-day period. These programs offer a safe, drug-free environment that provides a regimented schedule of counseling and support sessions designed to assist in coping with the addictions and the cravings they create.
In addition to a residential support program, long-term residential programs (more commonly referred to as half-way houses) are available for a six-month period to provide structure and counseling programs for addicts.
There are limited beds available for publicly funded detoxification, transitional and long-term residential treatment programs. If your child is 18 years or older and health benefits have been exhausted, heroin addiction will often put your child into a financial situation that would make them eligible for publicly funded programs, if beds are available.
“Recovery” from drug addiction is a dynamic, long-term process. Often people make many treatment attempts before staying in recovery. Research has shown treatment that addresses many areas of a person’s life can help individuals reduce or stop using drugs, and can greatly improve their functioning in the family, at work, and in society.1,2 Substance abuse treatment can be as effective as treatments for other chronic conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma.
Contact the Massachusetts Substance Abuse Information and Education Helpline at 800-327-5050 or online at www.helpline-online.com.
Unfortunately not. We would like to tell you that once your child is in treatment you can expect a full recovery and everything will be fine. But experience shows that heroin addiction is very powerful and relapses are very common. We tell you this not to discourage you, but to give you the strength to understand and set proper expectations for you and your family.
(Disclaimer: The following information should not be considered a legal opinion. In addition, the general information below pertains to procedures available in Massachusetts. Similar laws may or may not exist in other states.)
First, if you contact anyone in law enforcement and provide them with drugs that you have confiscated from your child, they are obligated to arrest your child for drug possession. As a concerned parent, your focus is to get help for your child. Because the addiction to heroin is so strong and initial treatments are often unsuccessful, many parents seek the involvement of the law enforcement community as one of the tools of treatment.
For children 18 years or older, your child will be treated as an adult and subject to full criminal prosecution. If this is a first offense, there is a possibility that your child would receive probation or some other non-incarcerating punishment that may or may not meet the intent of your goals.
In Massachusetts, if your child is 17 or younger, you have the option of filing a Child in Need of Services (CHINS) petition with the juvenile court and asking a judge to order your child to seek proper treatment.
The CHINS process is designed to be an early intervention, non-criminal process in which a juvenile court judge can order your child to seek proper treatment and care. It provides another layer of pressure for your child to seek help. However, no one can force your child to obey the CHINS order, and it must be emphasized that if your child ignores the judge’s orders, one of the many options a judge has is to order your child into the custody of the Department of Social Services (DSS). Please carefully read the CHINS brochure provided in the above link for more information.