Texas schools battle ‘starter heroin’

By Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY
A new heroin-laced powder known as “cheese” is popping up in middle and high schools in Texas, where dozens of youths have been caught with the drug, federal and local officials say.

4heroi2So far the problem has been focused on schools in Dallas, where police first reported kids snorting the mixture of ground-up cold medicines and heroin at the start of this school year. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration, which calls the addictive concoction “starter heroin,” is concerned enough about the drug’s appearance in Dallas that it has alerted agents nationwide to watch for it.

“It’s an emerging problem,” DEA spokesman Steve Robertson says. “It’s something we’re tracking to see if we can spread the word before it becomes a huge problem.”

Police in Dallas have logged 78 incidents involving cheese in 11 middle and high schools, says Jeremy Liebbe, an investigator with the Dallas Independent School District Police Department.

As is the case on campuses across the USA, marijuana remains the most popular drug in Dallas schools, Liebbe says. Monitoring the Future, a national survey of drug use, said last year that about 27% of 10th-graders had used marijuana during the previous year; the rate for heroin use among such students was less than 1%.

Cheese is a tan powder made mostly from acetaminophen and diphenhydramine HCL — the ingredients in Tylenol PM — with a little heroin mixed in. Liebbe says samples confiscated in Dallas have been up to 8% heroin. The drugs are crushed together and typically folded into notebook paper. A quarter-gram sells for $5, Liebbe says, and a single hit usually sells for $2.

Users feel euphoric and then sleepy, lethargic and hungry, he says. Cheese has been a nickname for heroin, Liebbe says.

The powder has been sold by 18- and 19-year-olds near school campuses and by older students in those schools, Liebbe says. The heroin has been brought from Mexico and then has been mixed with other drugs in the USA, he says.

Six teens in drug treatment at the Phoenix Academy in Dallas used cheese, director Michelle Hemm says. One boy was 12 when he started using it, she says.

Hemm expects to see more youths hooked on cheese, which is so affordable “little kids can purchase it. Kids in here, they all know lots of other kids using cheese. This is the tip of the iceberg.”

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