Columbus-Area Teens Use Black Tar Heroin
Many people move to the suburbs for bigger yards, better schools and less crime. But neighborhood developments are not immune to what is often thought as an inner-city problem: heroin. WOSU talks with one family whose teenage daughter is recovering from a heroin addiction. This summer, Nicoleâs secret finally was blown. After years of successfully hiding her drug use from her family the 17-year-old began her journey into recovery, but it was not without struggles and an overdose that almost took her life. WOSU met with Nicole at a coffee shop, and weâre only using her first name. Nicole recalls the first time she experimented with drugs. âI was bored with my friends and we were talking and people were smoking weed and drinking and partying. And I decided I was going to go try doing that kind of partying. It started off maybe a couple of times a week but it quickly moved to every single day. I tried everything. And I stuck with opiates like Oxycontin, Percocets," Nicole said. Nicole was a ninth grader then. By the end of her junior year she had a full-blown heroin addiction. She used mostly black tar heroin. She and her family, by most standards, live a middle class life in a small, suburban Columbus community. Weâll get back to Nicoleâs story in a moment. But first what is black tar heroin? Unlike white power heroin, black tar is a cheap, gooey, unrefined heroin. It looks like roofing tar. Lieutenant Shawn Bain heads up the Drug Task Force for the Franklin County Sheriffâs Office. He said black tar heroin is sold in tiny balloons for as little as $5 and $10 a piece. Itâs a miniscule amount, about the size of a pinky fingernail. Itâs not sold in inner-city, dilapidated houses like the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. Instead, Bain said, the deals are made in big box store parking lots or in nearby neighborhoods. âThese people are basically pizza delivery people, but selling heroin. So theyâre willing to go out and meet you and give you free balloons for you to bring customers to them. Itâs very good marketing," he said. Lieutenant Bain said most black tar heroin sold in Columbus comes from Mexico. And he says there is plenty of it. âWeâll see crack cocaine or powder cocaine leave the area for a while. We donât see that with heroin. It seems to be a steady supply throughout the year," Bain said. WOSU spoke with a former heroin dealer and recovering addict. Ten months clean, she is now an informant for the Franklin County Sheriffâs Office. She says heroin is a thriving, lucrative business. Weâre not using her name, and weâve disguised her voice. âIn the last five years itâs just doubled or even tripled. I mean itâs just like everyone wants to get in the game, and itâs mostly young people. Thereâs all this money to be made at least a couple hundred a day. And thatâs doing nothing. You think about a monthâs time, and thatâs a drop in the bucket," she said. Paul Coleman, who directs the drug rehab center Maryhaven, said almost half of their adolescent patients use opiates such as prescription pain pills or heroin. And more than half of those teens come from suburban zip codes. âI think the use of opiates, particularly heroin, among young people in the last two or so years is one of the most shocking things Iâve seen...One patient at Maryhaven told me it is as easy to get heroin in our community as it is to get a six pack of beer," Coleman said. Now back to Nicoleâs story. She bought black tar heroin in department store parking lots and just down the street from her school. âBlack tar is probably what I used like 95 percent of the time. Iâve tried using the powder, China White, and that was harder to get. Not as easy to find. And the black tar, I think, is cheaper. Like you can get as much as you want and you can afford it. Even without a job," Nicole said. Nicoleâs mom, Sue, said she never suspected her daughter was using heroin. A beer at a party? Sure. Maybe a drag off of a joint? Possibly. Never heroin. Then Nicole ran away in June. She was gone for almost three days. The sheriffâs office found her. âThe first thing he told me was thatâs not your daughter in the back of my car. And when I went to get her out of the backseat of his cruiser, trust me it was not my daughter. She was, it sounds crazy to say she was like the devil, but I mean it was just not my kid," Sue recalled. Nicole entered a six-week rehab program and was prescribed Saboxone to wean her off the heroin. But she relapsed and ran away again. This time, Nicole ended up with people she did not know, and she almost did not make it home. âWe went and got some heroin. And within like 20 minutes I overdosed from it," she said. Paramedics resuscitated Nicole. She recovered, but she served time in juvenile detention and then house arrest. If she violates her probation she could go to a youth jail until sheâs 21. She has been sober almost four months. âI think the real test will come whenever Iâm 18 and able to do whatever I want to do. And my decisions will affect me and itâs not something that can be put off my record. I think the longer I stay clean now the easier itâll get," she said.