As Heroin Use by Whites Soars, Parents Urge Gentler Drug War

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As Heroin Use by Whites Soars, Parents Urge Gentler Drug War

This article makes it abundantly clear that heroin has once again infiltrated our nation. The cartels, Sinaloa Cartel especially, have been smuggling large quantities of high grade heroin into the U.S. and selling it at prices significantly lower than what Oxycontin or Oxycodone tablets are sold for on the streets. These two factors have spawned another generation of heroin addicts. However, unlike the addicts of old who were predominantly Latino or African-American, this new generation of heroin abusers are Anglo-Americans. The response from governments, politicians, law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and others is interesting.


NEWTON, N.H. — When Courtney Griffin was using heroin, she lied, disappeared and stole constantly from her parents to support her $400-a-day habit. Her family paid her debts, never filed a police report and kept her addiction secret — until she was found dead last year of an overdose.

At Courtney’s funeral, they decided to acknowledge the reality that redefined their lives: Their bright, beautiful daughter, just 20, who played the French horn in high school and dreamed of living in Hawaii, had been kicked out of the Marines for drugs. Eventually, she overdosed at her boyfriend’s grandmother’s house, where she died alone.

“When I was a kid, junkies were the worst,” Doug Griffin, 63, Courtney’s father, recalled in their comfortable home here in southeastern New Hampshire. “I used to have an office in New York City. I saw them.”

Noting that “junkies” is a word he would never use now, he said that these days, “they’re working right next to you and you don’t even know it. They’re in my daughter’s bedroom — they are my daughter.”

When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.

And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin — many of them in the suburbs and small towns — are now using their influence, anger and grief to cushion the country’s approach to drugs, from altering the language around addiction to prodding government to treat it not as a crime, but as a disease.

“Because the demographic of people affected are more white, more middle class, these are parents who are empowered,” said Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, better known as the nation’s drug czar. “They know how to call a legislator, they know how to get angry with their insurance company, they know how to advocate. They have been so instrumental in changing the conversation.”

Mr. Botticelli, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 26 years, speaks to some of these parents regularly.

Their efforts also include lobbying statehouses, holding rallies in Washington and starting nonprofit organizations, making these mothers and fathers part of a growing backlash against the harsh tactics of traditional drug enforcement. These days, in rare bipartisan or even nonpartisan agreement, punishment is out and compassion is in.

The presidential candidates of both parties are now talking about the drug epidemic, with Hillary Rodham Clinton hosting forums on the issue as Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina tell their own stories of loss while calling for more care and empathy.

Last week, President Obama traveled to West Virginia, a mostly white state with high levels of overdoses, to discuss his $133 million proposal to expand access for drug treatment and prevention programs. The Justice Department is also preparing to release roughly 6,000 inmates from federal prisons as part of an effort to roll back the severe penalties issued to nonviolent drug dealers in decades past.

And in one of the most striking shifts in this new era, some local police departments have stopped punishing many heroin users. In Gloucester, Mass., those who walk into the police station and ask for help, even if they are carrying drugs or needles, are no longer arrested. Instead, they are diverted to treatment, despite questions about the police departments’ unilateral authority to do so. It is an approach being replicated by three dozen other police departments around the country.

“How these policies evolve in the first place, and the connection with race, seems very stark,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which examines racial issues in the criminal justice system.

Still, he and other experts said, a broad consensus seems to be emerging: The drug problem will not be solved by arrests alone, but rather by treatment.

Parents like the Griffins say that while they recognize the racial shift in heroin use, politicians and law enforcement are responding in this new way because “they realized what they were doing wasn’t working.”

“They’re paying more attention because people are screaming about it,” Mr. Griffin said. “I work with 100 people every day — parents, people in recovery, addicts — who are invading the statehouse, doing everything we can to make as much noise as we can to try to save these kids.”

An Epidemic’s New Terrain

Heroin’s spread into the suburbs and small towns grew out of an earlier wave of addiction to prescription painkillers; together the two trends are ravaging the country.

Deaths from heroin rose to 8,260 in 2013, quadrupling since 2000 and aggravating what some were already calling the worst drug overdose epidemic in United States history.

Over all, drug overdoses now cause more deaths than car crashes, with opioids like OxyContin and heroin killing 44 people a day.

Here in New England, the epidemic has grabbed officials by the lapels.

The region’s old industrial cities, quiet small towns and rural outposts are seeing a near-daily parade of drug summit meetings, task forces, vigils against heroin, pronouncements from lawmakers and news media reports on the heroin crisis.

New Hampshire is typical of the hardest-hit states. Last year, 325 people here died of opioid overdoses, a 68 percent increase from the year before. Potentially hundreds more deaths were averted by emergency medical workers, who last year administered naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, in more than 1,900 cases.

Adding to the anxiety and anger among parents, the state also ranks second to last, ahead only of Texas, in access to treatment programs; New Hampshire has about 100,000 people in need of treatment, state officials say, but the state’s publicly financed system can serve just 4 percent of them.

Since New Hampshire holds the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, residents have repeatedly raised the issue of heroin with the 2016 candidates.

Mrs. Clinton still recalls her surprise that the first question she was asked in April, at her first open meeting in New Hampshire as a candidate, was not about the economy or health care, but heroin.

Last month, she laid out a $10 billion plan to combat and treat drug addiction over the next decade.

She has also led several discussions on the topic around the country, including packed forums like the one in Laconia, N.H., where hundreds of politically engaged, mostly white middle-class men and women, stayed for two hours in a sweltering meeting hall to talk and listen.

One woman described her own struggle with alcoholism, calling it “long, dark, lonely, scary, crazy, chaotic.” Another told of the difficulties of getting her son into a good treatment program, and said he eventually took his own life. A third told Mrs. Clinton of the searing pain of losing her beloved son to heroin.

Many of the 14 Republican candidates for president have heard similar stories, and they are sharing their own.

“I have some personal experience with this as a dad, and it is the most heartbreaking thing in the world to have to go through,” Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, said at a town hall-style meeting in Merrimack, N.H., in August. His daughter, Noelle, was jailed twice while in rehab, for being caught with prescription pills and accused of having crack cocaine.

Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, tells audiences that she and her husband “buried a child to addiction.” And Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey released an ad here in New Hampshire declaring, “We need to be pro-life for the 16-year-old drug addict who’s laying on the floor of the county jail.”

All this activity has helped create what Timothy Rourke, the chairman of the New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, says is a perfect storm for change, not unlike the confluence of events that finally produced a response to the AIDS epidemic. “You have a lot of people dying, it’s no longer just ‘those people,’ ” he said. “You have people with lived experience demanding better treatment, and you have really good data.”

And, he said, policy makers know that on top of everything else, substance abuse has become an economic issue. A recent report said the annual cost to New Hampshire in lost productivity, treatment and jail time is $1.8 billion.

Among recent bills passed by the New Hampshire legislature in response is one that gives friends and family access to naloxone, the anti-overdose medication. Mr. Griffin, just a few months after his daughter Courtney died, was among those testifying in favor of the bill. It was set to pass in late May but would not take effect until January 2016 — until Mr. Griffin warned lawmakers that too many lives could be lost in that six-month gap.

At his urging, the bill was amended to take effect as soon as it was signed into law. It went into effect June 2.

Other parents like him have lobbied for similar measures across the country, and they have filled statehouses on days the bills are signed. Almost all states now have laws or pilot programs making it easier for emergency medical workers or family and friends to obtain naloxone. And 32 states have passed “good Samaritan” laws that protect people from prosecution, at least for low-level offenses, if they call 911 to report an overdose.

In New Jersey, those lobbyist parents included the rock singer Jon Bon Jovi, whose daughter survived a heroin overdose while at college.

A More Forgiving Approach

A generation ago when civil rights activists denounced as racist the push to punish crack-cocaine crimes, largely involving blacks, far more severely than powder-cocaine crimes, involving whites, political figures of both parties staunchly defended those policies as necessary to control violent crime.

But today, with heroin ravaging largely white communities in New England, the Northeast and the Midwest, and with violent crime largely down, the mood is more forgiving.

“Both the image and reality is that this is a white and often middle-class problem,” said Mr. Mauer of the Sentencing Project. “And appropriately so, we’re having a much broader conversation about prevention and treatment, and trying to be constructive in responding to this problem. This is good. I don’t think we should lock up white kids to show we’re being equal.”

So officers like Eric Adams, a white former undercover narcotics detective in Laconia, are finding new ways to respond. He is deployed full time now by the Police Department to reach out to people who have overdosed and help them get treatment.

“The way I look at addiction now is completely different,” Mr. Adams said. “I can’t tell you what changed inside of me, but these are people and they have a purpose in life and we can’t as law enforcement look at them any other way. They are committing crimes to feed their addiction, plain and simple. They need help.”

Often working with the police, rather than against them, parents are driving these kinds of individual conversions.

Their efforts include attempts to recast addiction in a less stigmatizing light — many parents along with treatment providers are avoiding words like “addict” or “junkie” and instead using terms that convey a chronic illness, like “substance use disorder.”

Some are advocating for large umbrella organizations. Jim Hood, 63, of Westport, Conn., who lost his son, Austin, 20, to heroin three years ago, and Greg Williams, 31, of Danbury, Conn., who is in long-term recovery from substance abuse, organized the Oct. 4 “Unite To Face Addiction” rally in Washington. Featuring musicians like Joe Walsh, Steven Tyler and Sheryl Crow, it brought together more than 750 addiction-related groups that are now collaborating to create a national organization devoted to fighting the disease of addiction on the scale of the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.

Mr. Hood, a successful businessman, said the fledgling organization, Facing Addiction, was raising money for research and planned to create an authoritative, consumer-friendly website.

When he tried to find help for Austin, he said he had no idea where to turn.

“With heart disease or cancer, you know what to do, who to call, where to go,” Mr. Hood said. “With addiction, you just feel like you’re out in the Wild West.”

Ginger Katz of Norwalk, Conn., has equally lofty goals. After her son, Ian, 20, died of a heroin overdose in 1996, she founded the Courage to Speak Foundation to try to end the silence surrounding addiction, and she has developed a drug-prevention curriculum for schools. She is still traveling the country speaking to students and parents.

Doug and Pam Griffin are also trying to connect with other parents. Mr. Griffin, a warm and friendly man, whose walrus mustache has turned gray and whose face bears the lines of exhaustion, still runs his computer hardware business. His wife works for an I.T. provider, and their older daughter, Shannon, runs a flower shop. But they are always thinking about Courtney — her pastel bedroom is as she left it, with the schedules of meetings of Narcotics Anonymous taped to what she called her “recovery wall.”

“We’ve pretty much given up what used to be our life,” Mr. Griffin said.

In addition to testifying at hearings and forums, the Griffins take calls day and night from parents across the country who have read their story and want to offer an encouraging word or ask for advice. They are establishing a sober house, named after Courtney. And they host a potluck dinner and church service once a month on Sunday nights at the First Baptist Church in nearby Plaistow, where they held Courtney’s funeral, for people with addictions and their families.

At the Sunday night service last month, more than 75 people, some from out of state, filled the pews. Among them was the family of Christopher Honor, who was Courtney’s boyfriend. He was also addicted to heroin. Last month, almost a year after Courtney’s death, Chris, 22, died of an overdose — the 23rd overdose and third fatal one this year in Plaistow, a town of 8,000 people.

Chris’s mother, Amanda Jordan, 40, wanted to attend the Sunday night service last month, but it was just two weeks after she had buried Chris, and she worried it might be too soon to go back to that church, where Chris’s funeral was held. She sometimes thinks Chris is still alive, and at his funeral she was convinced he was still breathing.

She was afraid she would fall apart, but she and other family members decided to go anyway. During the service, her son Brett, 18, became so overwhelmed with emotion that he had to leave, rushing down the center aisle for the outside. Ms. Jordan, also distraught, ran after him. Then a family friend, Shane Manning, ran after both of them. Outside, they all clutched one another and sobbed.

“I’m a mess,” Ms. Jordan said after coming back inside and kneeling in front of a picture of Chris. In addition to yearning for her son, she had been worried that the Griffins blamed her for Courtney’s death. But at the church, the Griffins welcomed her. In their shared pain, the two aching families spoke and embraced.

Ms. Jordan, one of the more recent involuntary members of this club of shattered parents, said that someday, when she is better able to function, she “absolutely” wants to work with the Griffins to “help New Hampshire realize there’s a huge problem.” Right now she just wants to hunt down the person who sold Chris his fatal dose. “These dealers aren’t just selling it,” she said. “They’re murdering people.”

(Please refer to the original article for additional photographs that capture the unintended victims of heroin   use)  
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Re: As Heroin Use by Whites Soars, Parents Urge Gentler Drug War

It's typical that when it has an affect on their kids, middle class people start having compassion for addicts.

I've been surrounded by junkies my entire life and I have no patience for it.

You can call it whatever you want, but calling it a 'disorder' and not sending them to jail for possession so they can clean up for a few weeks is just more enabling and encourages junkies to continue using.

The parents of the Courtney Griffin are as much to blame for her death as her dealer. By paying for her habit and keeping her out of jail they sent a message that it is acceptable to use.

Being a lying, thieving, junkie piece of shit is a conscious choice these people make, and their families need to draw clear boundaries if they want to see them live to old age.
Those that say, don't know. Those that know, don't say.
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Re: As Heroin Use by Whites Soars, Parents Urge Gentler Drug War

@ kid

With all due respect kid, I respect your opinons, but maybe you would have to experience it yourself so you can understand where those families are coming from. Being surrounded by junkies is nothing, but experiencing it yourself as a father, mother, brother or close relative, which I pray to God it would never happen, but you would have a different approach to it.
" Es más chíngon el chapó que el gobierno mexicano"
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Re: As Heroin Use by Whites Soars, Parents Urge Gentler Drug War

In reply to this post by Soliado
I would say middle class whites in middle America, maybe. But heroin use has always been greater among whites than minorities just like marijuana & cocaine.
1800-1900 Europe, there were opium dens all over major European cities. However, it was usually those of means that visited such places.

I live in the heroin capital of the US; it's been going on for decades here. It's only a big deal now because all the pill poppers are switching since doctors arent throwing around oxy prescriptions anymore.
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Re: As Heroin Use by Whites Soars, Parents Urge Gentler Drug War

In reply to this post by Maddy
My own father was a heroin user for years, before being addicted to methadone for almost 2 decades. My uncle was a heroin addict, and several close friends have overdosed and died in the last 2 years, including someone who I knew since we were toddlers.
Those that say, don't know. Those that know, don't say.
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Re: As Heroin Use by Whites Soars, Parents Urge Gentler Drug War

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