Local drug prevention program notices increase in narcotics use

Experts say increase in adult usage leads to increase in teen usage

COLUMBIA, Mo. - With a 16-year-old girl dead and talk of heroin being involved, ABC 17 asked the question of how prevalent narcotics use is among local teens.

The Phoenix Health Programs in Columbia would not say it is common to see teens that are addicted to narcotics, like heroin. However, Prevention Specialist Heather Harlan did say she has seen a rise in the number of cases involving adults since January.

"We have certainly seen, since the first of the year, an up-click in cases where an opiate is the primary drug of choice," Harlan said. "Now, when we see that in the adult population, it usually trickles down to the teen population because that's sort of what's in the community."

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, teen drug use has increased over the last several years. Just over 11 percent of teenagers think it is easy to get heroin. The Centers for Disease Control reports 3 in 100 high school students have used heroin.

Harlan said teens using narcotics often begins with legal, prescription drugs.

"...and then, they progress on to more powerful opiate pain relievers, such as Oxycontin. They crush it up. And then, well that becomes too expensive and those are harder to get, so they begin using the heroin," Harlan said.

The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency reports heroin is more potent than ever, and the same high is about a tenth of the price of prescription drugs. To make matters worse, users develop a tolerance that requires more amounts of heroin each time to achieve the same high. This leads to overdose.

Harlan said preventing heroin use begins with parents.

"We have to be careful about what we paint as something that won't have an impact on somebody," Harlan said. "We're responsible for that perception in the community."

The Missouri Department of Mental Health launched the School-based Prevention Intervention and Resources Initiative program (SPIRIT) in 2002. However, the program currently only partners with four Missouri school districts to decrease narcotics and other drug abuse among teens.

For those seeking help, Columbia offers several resources, including regional support centers like the Family Counseling Center of Missouri or Compass Prevention, and teen-focused outlets like the Youth Community Coalition.

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