Dangerous, intense, even exciting.
That's what teenagers tell us about hooking up with drug dealers.
One said, "It was strange. It was against the rules. It was intense. It was something different than going to school everyday."
Users said they'd simply call a dealer, meet in a neighborhood or park, and then exchange money for balloons of black tar heroin. Some told us their first encounter was with dealers who gave it to them for free just to get them hooked.
One told us, "I fell in love with it the fifth time i tried it and I mean I was stuck."
Another said, "I got a kick out of it right away."
I'm told black tar heroin is easy to find in the north end of town, and naturally made its way into District 20 schools.
When school security officers learned about it, they stepped up patrol and held awareness programs for students and parents.
Jim Grayson, the assistant chief of security, said kids believe black tar heroin is exotic.
"In speaking with some of our kids they call this drug opium instead of heroin. Some of them truly don't realize how dangerous it is. In my opinion, a kid considering using heroin ... it's just as dangerous as if they had a loaded gun," Grayson said.
Dr. Judith Reynolds, an addiction medicine specialist in Colorado Springs, said, "dealers have said this is opium so they think that sounds very exotic. Isn't it wonderful to be an opium smoker... not realizing this is garbage heroin."
Reynolds said black tar heroin is anything but exotic; it's an opiate mixed with other ingredients like common painkillers, tranquilizers, even lactose. It's impure, cheap, and easy to get.
She said teens mistakenly believe since they're not shooting up, they won't become addicted.
"The problem is there's this myth that if they smoke... they're not going to get dependent on it and people don't understand that. You're going to change your brain. You have hijacked the normal life sustaining pathways in the brain and it will get you hooked," Reynolds added.
What young users learn is that they soon can't live without the $20 balloons.
Wrapped in foil and plastic, each looks like a small piece of tar, but once users have a match and a pen or straw they're in business.
One user said, "it was definitely something to look forward to. I thought about it all the time."
Another explained, "it started with just one or two balloons you know for the whole day and then it turned into one or two balloons an hour."
And how are they paying for it?
Incredibly, this user told me he got 30 other students hooked just to support his own habit. It's something he now regrets.
He told us, "That's hard to live with everyday... thinking about how many people's lives I've ruined... how many people I got into it and they might not get hope and they could die you know."
One confessed, "I'm going to jail today."
Others embark on a life of crime... stealing from their parents, their friends, then strangers... whoever has cash or valuables.
One user explained, "You lose your sense of morality. The real priority is the next time you pick up. All rationality is out the window."
Kathy Crawford, a facilitator with D-20's Safe and Healthy Schools Committee, said the district offers panel discussions like this one to educate parents and students.
Still, school surveys show 2,000 kids in the district admit to using an illegal substance at least once.
Kathy says, "a poor decision on a Friday afternoon can be a life decision and that's hard."
There are success stories. El Paso County's Drug Court helped one user whose been clean for a year.
The judge congratulates him saying, "Most importantly you have demonstrated that you can be sober, that you know what your triggers are."
The user encourages the others in court saying, "I almost bombed out of the program and had to go to an inpatient and I still made it here... so each and every one of you can get here."
He's now working as a counselor.
He told us, "I have my drive back, my appetite, my sleep."
His mother said, "I look at him and I have him back and he's smart, he's funny, he's in the present because he's been absent in my life for the last six years."
But the road back to recovery is never easy. These kids describe the withdrawal as hell.
One told us, "everything hurts, mostly the muscles, your legs, you feel sick and shaky. I thought I was dying. I couldn't sit, I couldn't lay down, it hurt so bad, I couldn't walk."
That's why everyone we spoke with agrees that it's important for adults to know the warning signs of heroin use.
They are: pinpoint pupils, drowsiness, vomiting, even slurred speech.
The users and parents I talked to hope this information will be a wake up call to others.
They urge parents to double check who their kids are hanging out with and if they're caught lying... seem withdrawn or tired... to not brush it off ... but to do more digging.
Each user knows someone who's died as a result of their habit.
They know it could've been them.
To see Hooked on Heroin Part I click on link below.
Insight Services, PLLC says it will help parents navigate the difficult terrain of finding the right form of treatment for their child.
It offers an outpatient program for adolescents specifically
geared towards black tar heroin. Phone calls are free. A fee is charged for an assessment.
Because of the overwhelming response from parents looking for help, Insight is offering a free informational meeting open to everyone interested in learning more about the black tar heroin problem and various treatment options. The meeting is being held Saturday, April 30th from 10 am to noon.
115 East Costilla Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80903
Colorado Treatment Services is a drug addiction treatment center specializing in treating opiod addiction. It offers counseling, mental health services and group therapy.
All of its counselors are certified by the state as addiction counselors at the second or third level.
Dr. Judith Reynolds has been in the addiction field for more than 30 years. Colorado Treatment Services offers methadone and suboxone treatments.
Colorado Treatment Services:
2010 E. Bijou Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80909
Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo offers an adolescent substance abuse program for those 18 and under. We're told some insurance companies will cover some costs if you have a "Substance Abuse Benefit." Parkview says it will work for those without insurance coverage.
Parkview Medical Center
56 Club Manor Drive
Pueblo, CO 81008
Urine Analysis ($17 - $20 charge) as well as outpatient counseling are available at:
Confidential Health Services
1011 North Weber Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80903
A Turning Point
5160 North Union Boulevard
Colorado Springs, CO 80918