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Heroin wreaks havoc with lives of Phoenix family

Editor’s note: Part one of a two-part story on heroin addiction.

TEMPE, Ariz. — The recent death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman of an apparent drug overdose has people talking about the dangers of heroin use.

One Valley family understands the struggle with heroin addiction, and how easy it is to get the drug.

Mike (not his real name) has two kids with heroin addictions. He has had eight friends whose kids have died from overdoses. Mike believed heroin is the No. 1 drug in Valley high schools.

“I’ve got a son and a stepdaughter. Both have been hooked on heroin,” Mike said. “All of it started with pills, and most of it started in high school.”

His son is now in his 20s, while the stepdaughter is 19. The son didn’t do drugs while attending Thunderbird High School, but started using oxycontin and later became addicted to heroin soon after he graduated. The stepdaughter, who was an honors student, started using drugs when she was 15.

It’s not uncommon for young people to be introduced to heroin in high school. Stephanie Siete of the Community Bridges Drug Treatment Program said there is a saying in her business. “If you want (to find) the good drugs, you either go to high school or you go to jail,” she said. “There’s a significant amount of heroin and other drugs floating around in our high schools.”

Mike had some advice for parents. “Talk to your kids about it. It’s there, they know it’s there. They just won’t talk to you about it. It’s huge in school. Chances are that your kids know someone who is using,” he said.

Siete said high schoolers start their addictions by taking prescription drugs. Then they realize that they can get the same high from heroin, and it costs a lot less money.

“For an 80-milligram (prescription) pill, it’s about 40 bucks. What if you need 10 of those? That stuff’s going to be pretty pricey,” said Siete. “I’d say for about a quarter of the price, you can get some heroin.”

Siete said that many people don’t know how to tell if a kid is on heroin. “I actually have a girlfriend who lost her high school boyfriend to a heroin addiction almost six years ago.

“She says that when she was in high school, she wished she would have known the signs. She was a high school kid who was not into drugs.”

Mike knows those signs. “Look for signs like cut up straws, straws that are burnt on the ends. Their fingers generally will be black, and there’ll be black smudge marks on the walls.”

There also might be things missing around the house, as the kids sell them to get money to support their habit.

Siete said that when those signs are evident, “You’ve got to speak up. You can’t turn a blind eye. I think that a lot of parents just want to get their kids through high school, and then they think they’ll be OK.

“Addiction never ends. It’s a lifelong battle. If somebody starts getting into substances during middle school and high school, we need to intervene.”

Mike intervened with his kids.

“The first place was going to detox,” he said. “It didn’t work for either one of them. She’s still on the street. She doesn’t want to get clean yet. My son did want to get clean and ended up going to a methadone clinic.”

Tuesday, part 2, Mike’s son tells his story.

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