Heroin: Drug of Choice for America's Youth

With alarming speed, heroin is fast becoming the drug of choice for a whole new generation of American teens.

Heroin is now cheaper, easier to get and stronger than ever. It can be snorted right up the nose. One sniff — tinier than the head of a match — can get a kid high for hours.

"It's stronger than love. It's stronger than pain. It's stronger than any emotion you feel," said Jenny, a 19-year-old addict. "Once you're hooked and you're on it, there's no turning back."

Living in an upscale, big money suburb outside Baltimore, Jenny had everything she could want — a beautiful home, a new car and a loving mother who provided it all. But on the morning we visited her, what Jenny didn't have was her fix.

"All my days are based on is lying to my mom, finding money and getting to the city," she said.

This day was no different. After telling her mother she needed money for lunch, Jenny got $10, but the only thing that bill was going to feed would be her hunger for heroin.

"I'm going to get some dope from a neighborhood outside of Baltimore," she said.

We followed Jenny to her dealer in a housing project. In less than five minutes, she made a buy and got her dope. Now all she needed was a place to get high. She found it in the parking lot of a supermarket shopping center where she pulled her "works" from the glove compartment and started setting up.

Like many teenage users, Jenny started out snorting heroin. But after a few months, when the inhaled high stopped cutting it, she began injecting the heroin intravenously.

"Look at my arm. Look at how bad that looks," she said.

For Jenny, talking to us was a cry for help. She couldn't break her addiction and she wanted her mom to know the truth.

"I feel like if I tell people and people really know about this and what it really, really does, then maybe my mom will understand why I'm lying," she said. "She'll understand and she'll be able to get me into some kind of treatment."

A few short hours after shooting up in the parking lot, Jenny was jonesing for another hit. Desperate for money, she took the kitchen TV and headed to a local pawn shop — a familiar stop — where she traded it in for cash, enough for her next fix.

We talked to Dr. Michael Hayes of The Center for Addiction Medicine, a detox clinic in Baltimore, about this cycle of addiction.

"[Being a drug addict] is a terrible existence," he said. "Anybody who thinks these folks are having fun does not understand addiction."

Dr. Hayes tried to help Jenny get clean, but shortly after she completed the five-day program, she relapsed.

"The business of why there are so many young people [on heroin] these days has to do with the fact that it became sort of chic, " he said. "They really thought that if they snorted it, they were less likely to get addicted. What nobody told them about was how addictive the substance is, regardless of how you take it in."

Today's heroin is so pure that even a few sniffs can end in addiction or even death.

"Too many of them come here with the notion that 'All right. Now I'm ready. I'm just going to come here and get off the drug and I'll be fine,'" Dr. Hayes said. "They don't want to consider it a chronic illness. Nobody wants to look at this and say, 'Well, you're going to have this problem forever'".

Jenny was one of those addicts. She didn't seem ready to confront the harsh reality of detoxification — especially the withdrawal effects of stopping heroin.

"Until I can go through a program where I won't feel any withdrawal effects, I will still do this," she said. "Until I can find a program where I will not feel sick, I won't stop. There's no way."

Jenny's story is all too common. In a quiet New Jersey suburb, heroin held the home of Jo Ann Kulsar hostage. Her daughter, Morgan, is an addict.

"You're feeling the hurt more than they are. They're numb," Jo Ann said. "I don't think she really knew in the end what she was doing to us, and it didn't matter as long as she could get that fix."

For Morgan's stepfather, Tom, drastic times required drastic measures. "It got to the point where the only way there was gonna be any change was she had to be arrested," he said.

After five failed attempts to get clean, Morgan was trying to kick her habit at Daytop, a national drug rehabilitation program that specializes in adolescents.

"I never thought I would be addicted to heroin. Never, ever," Morgan said.

And she never thought she'd end up in Daytop, where treatment is a 24/7 proposition lasting anywhere from six months to a whole year.

According to Daytop's vice president, Joseph Hennen, more than half of the facility's residents are heroin addicts — many of them, suburban kids.

"A kid on heroin has only got two ways to get off heroin. That is treatment or death," he said.

Morgan's drug use began more than five years ago when she was just 14. At the time, the Kulsars didn't recognize the warnings signs, even though Tom is a police detective.

"I just thought it was going to a new high school and trying to be accepted and fit in," Jo Ann said. "I never thought that she was involved in any drugs."

At first, Morgan was smoking pot. But like so many other teen addicts, Morgan's experimentation with weed quickly snowballed into full-blown heroin use.

"I wanted to try it," she said. " I just thought of the instant high that I would get five minutes after I snorted it."

Two weeks after her first hit, Morgan was sniffing three bags of dope a day — enough heroin to kill her. Soon she was doing eight bags a day. To support her growing habit, she became a conniving thief.

"She stole from my husband and I. She stole from our children and stole from a previous place of employment," Jo Ann told us.

As Morgan succumbed to her addiction, Tom and Jo Ann's marriage began to suffer the effects.

"It comes to a point where you want to keep your household peaceful, so you let it go because you don't want to sit and argue every day in your house," Tom said. "It just came to the point where it caused our separation."

Tom and Jo Ann's separation was temporary, but Morgan's drug use was not. She left the safety of her parent's suburban home to chase her high on the streets, living from one junkie hellhole to the next and making daily trips to Newark, N.J. to cop her drugs.

"It was only two months that I was doing heroin and that much of my life just went down," she said. "I saw what was happening, but I was more concerned about getting high."

Morgan's final undoing was when she stole $4,000 from a woman who gave her a ride to Newark. The woman phoned Morgan's stepfather.

"She said, 'You really need to get your daughter out of that hotel room. She's gonna die in there,'" he said. "So I said, "There's nothing I can do if you don't call the police for her stealing your money'".

Jo Ann and Tom accompanied the police to the motel where Morgan was getting high.

"She begged and pleaded with me to please not [have her arrested]," Jo Ann said. "I didn't have a choice. It was either that or find her dead somewhere."

In parts II and III or our special report on heroin, you'll find out who finally kicks the habit Jenny or Morgan.

PlusWe'll show you how heroin makes its way from Colombia, to the U.S. and finally... to your neighborhoods.