Teens who use heroin and are addicted soon become experts at hiding their habits from their parents.
And sometimes, the parents find out too late.
Vicki Foley’s son, Chris, was 17 when he started using heroin, the same year he was expelled from St. Charles High School for using marijuana.
“He told me he had gone to a party and some friends tried [heroin], but he did not,” Foley said. “Shortly after that, he did ... and then heroin took over.”
Drug prevention experts urge parents to educate themselves about heroin and all drugs. Kane County Undersheriff David Wagner said heroin addicts often start with their parents’ prescription pain medications.
“Teens and parents believe prescription drugs are safe; they’re easy to get,” Wagner said at a recent drug forum. “Talk with your child. Express disapproval of any drug use. Monitor your prescription drugs. ... Don’t think your child would not consider using heroin.”
The signs of drug addiction are missing money, jewelry, checks, credit cards and coins. In the addict, symptoms are nodding off, pinpointed pupils, constipation, lying about everything, flulike symptoms, sniffling, a runny nose and track marks, Wagner said.
“We’re here for prevention,” Wagner said, “and what you can do to address the problem once you spot it, once you realize what you are seeing.”
Foley, 58, and other parents said they did not know the symptoms until it was too late.
“Heroin is easy to hide,” Foley said. “A heroin addict can function in the evenings. I have gotten a lot smarter since then. When you’re coming down, you have really bad flu symptoms. I thought he was really sick.”
A parent might also see things such as ballpoint pens with the ink tube taken out and tinfoil spoons, Foley said.
“Things I wished I would have recognized,” she said. “I never knew anything about heroin. As a caring parent, my reaction was, ‘My kid would not do that.’ You enable. You are putting blinders on. Back when Chris was doing drugs, I just had no idea about heroin in our community.”
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When Chris was 18, he moved out on his own.
“I found out about the heroin when he was 19, and that is a pretty common statistic,” Foley said. “I have heard the average parent won’t know the kid is on a drug until two years later because they mask it so much.”
Chris had worked up to a $400-a-day habit, got arrested in Cook, Kane and DuPage counties, and served nine months in the Taylorville Correctional Center.
Foley said being incarcerated extended Chris’ life because he could not use while in prison.
“This stuff totally alters your brain,” Foley said. “It’s like when you have that first piece of candy. Your brain remembers that first piece of candy. You go to the candy counter and say, ‘I want another piece.’ “
Chris looked good when he came out of prison. Foley said he had put on weight and entered a drug program. A couple of times, she took him back in but realized he could not stay.
“There was a time when he was so bad, I actually had to put locks on the doors to keep everybody’s personal things safe,” Foley said. “I had to nail my windows shut. An addict only cares about the addiction. When they are sane again, they’re all apologetic. ‘I did not mean to do this.’ “
Chris stayed off heroin for probably two years, being more dedicated after his daughter, Caylee, was born. But when things went bad, and and he lost a job, Chris returned to the drug.
Five years ago this month, Chris died of an overdose at age 27 following a 10-day stay at the Kane County Jail. He was in a rental house where he was staying with a friend.
“He called 911 after Chris went up to the washroom and did not come down. When he came out [of jail], he got something really strong, and it killed him,” Foley said. “I think his body could not handle that much of a dose.”
Foley hosts Chris’ Walk Against Substance Abuse every July to raise awareness of drugs in the community.
“I don’t want people to be blindsided like I was,” Foley said. “I want people to know this can happen to anyone ... . As parents and as a community, we have to be more alert. If I had known what to look for, maybe I would have handled things differently. We just can’t think we are above all this because we live in St. Charles.”
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Jesse Tecuanhuey was the first St. Charles “town” boy to die of a heroin overdose in 1998, his death prompting the creation of Hearts of Hope, a local advocacy, prevention and support group for addicts and their families.
Jesse died of a fatal heroin overdose in a Melrose Park hotel room six days before his 19th birthday.
“We found out [about his addiction] two years before he passed,” his mother, Denise Tecuanhuey, said. “I found a needle, and I suspected, but I wasn’t sure. We did know he has used other drugs. Jesse had been in treatment five times, first when he was 15.”
Denise Tecuanhuey, 54, said Jesse struggled in vain to overcome the addiction.
“I just remember the withdrawals; he would be very sick, and he would beg me to rub his legs,” she said. “He was so sick and hurt and in pain. …. When we went through this, I felt totally alone. I never knew anyone in my life who had used heroin.”
After his death, she began reaching out to others, attending support groups at Hearts of Hope.
“The most important thing I could say to parents is know where your kids are at, educate them about drugs and know their friends,” she said.
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Lea Minalga of St. Charles started Hearts of Hope. As director, she hosts regular support group meetings and participates in drug forums. Minalga also serves on the Parents Advisory Board of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
But in 1998, she was another mom who did not know the signs of addiction and was blindsided by her son Justin’s addiction to heroin.
Hearts of Hope starting meeting in 1998, but officially incorporated as a nonprofit in 2000.
“He became addicted when he was 16,” Minalga said of her son at a recent drug forum. “He was a good kid. He got good grades; he was a health nut; he ate properly. We had a few good talks. ‘Drugs are bad. Don’t do drugs.’ And he said he wouldn’t. He had all that covered.”
Addiction changed his behavior. He was 6-foot-4 and knocking holes in the walls. He was swearing and his grades were in free fall, his mother said.
Minalga’s son was among several in St. Charles who became addicted in 1998.
“These were all-American kids, including my own and Jesse … the nicest kids you could ever meet,” Minalga said. “They drove nice cars; they had nice families in upwardly mobile nice suburban families. And because we are like that, we do not expect that monster to move into town. It took us by surprise.”
To discover her child and his friends were addicted to heroin was beyond comprehension, she said, beyond reality.
Still incredibly naive, Minalga told her son not to use heroin again.
“And he said, ‘OK, Mom.’ And I said to myself, ‘Well that went well. It’s going to OK. We nipped it in the bud.’ The next morning, he was using again. We had him in treatment by the end of the week. He’s been in treatment 22 times. We could have sent him to Harvard twice.”
Justin, 31, has been clean since 2003. But that has not stopped Minalga from speaking engagements and drug forums and relentless advocacy.
“Parents are kind of uncomfortable with this discussion. They are afraid if they say too much, it might spark their [kids’] curiosity,” Minalga said. “The reverse is what happens. Kids really are listening to us, and we have great persuasion and influence. Parents who warn their kids – their kids are 50 percent less likely to use.”
Federal drug prevention funds were cut as the economy worsened, so now it is up to groups like Hearts of Hope to partner with law enforcement and educate the community.
“Heroin is an insidious, evil drug,” Minalga said. “You don’t have one discussion about drugs with your kids, you have lots of them.”
Local deputy committed to fighting drugs, addiction
Kane County Sheriff’s Office deputy Ron Hain has been chasing drug dealers and users for 14 years, first in DuPage County for four years, and now in Kane County.
“I realized the strong tie of drug use and drug sales to the crime rate,” Hain said.
He looked to Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring – or ADAM – a survey done by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. The study surveyed major metropolitan cities regarding the drug use of those being incarcerated. Information is available at www.nij.gov.
The survey found that 87 percent of people brought into correctional institutions tested positive for narcotics in Cook County, Hain said.
“What that says to me is that these people are getting booked either because they are on narcotics or [trying] to get narcotics,” Hain said. “So, the majority of all crime – the root of it is illegal drugs. This should be the No. 1 priority for local law enforcement.”
Yet, Hain said, local police agencies devote 5 percent or less of their time to drug enforcement. So, he decided to do something about it. Hain wrote and self-published a book called “In Roads: A Working Solution to America’s War on Drugs” under the pen name Charles Haines. And this week, he launched a law enforcement website, In Roads Narcotics Tracking, at www.inroadstracking.com.
The website allows local law enforcement officers to join, post and network about drug, gun and currency seizures. Police will receive immediate notification if a drug seizure or arrest involves their town.
“It’s the first of its kind,” Hain said. “I truly believe [that] Kane County is going to be ground zero for how we are going to make a change for the rest of history in the war on drugs and those addicted. We are not only going to revamp law enforcement to catch bad guys, but have it on the rehabilitation side to eliminate [drug dealers’] clientele.”
Hain is promoting a concept to link local employers with the Kane County Drug Court, so attendees have a better chance at recovery. Participants have their drug charges held in abeyance while they complete a program of regular drug testing, counseling and coming to court.