Target 8: Heroin use on rise among Missouri teens

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COLUMBIA - Labeled an epidemic by the CDC, the United States has seen heroin use more than double among young adults in the past decade. 

With overdoses on the rise and data showing that heroin use can start as early as high school, the Target 8 Team decided to take a look at how the spike is being addressed among schools and parents in mid-Missouri.

The hurricane that hits home

"Cody was a very outgoing young man and had just graduated a year and half before the incident. But he wasn't happy where he was in life," Jim Marshall said.

In 2011, Marshall's son Cody fatally overdosed on heroin and Xanex. He was 20 years old. For Marshall, the continuing rise of drug use among teens is hard to watch, but he doesn't see it slowing anytime soon.  

"I'm not really frustrated. I'm saddened because I know there are more families that have to bury their children, or have to live the life of grief after their children are gone. It's frustrating. I don't see it getting better quick," he said.

Following Cody's passing Marshall launched Cody's Gift, a campaign in which he travels throughout Missouri sharing his sons story and raising awareness of drug abuse. All the while the number of fatal overdoses continued. 

"When I started speaking at schools after my son's death in 2011, early 2012, a young person was dying every 19 minutes of an overdose and now its one every 12 minutes. So it's a hurricane that's gaining speed as it continues to hit spots on the ground right now."

MO's data on OD's

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Missouri saw 1,849 heroin-involved accidental poisoning deaths between 2001-2014. During that time, nearly every year saw an increase from the year before, with the most drastic increases occurring between 2008-2014. 

In 2001, 18 deaths were recorded in Missouri. In 2014, 338; a 220 fatality difference.

Above graphic courtesy of Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

During that time, the following fatalities occurred between these age groups:

 Data featured above courtesy of Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. 

Marshall said numbers such as these may only be the tip of what lies underneath in Missouri.

"How many people brought their own kids in? How many friends brought their friends in? How many people came in with out an ambulance services? That may be the tip of the iceberg numbers," Marshall said. "How many on that day actual overdosed in their house and woke up and survived but nobody knew?"

Face of an addict

So what does a teen addict look like in this epidemic today? According to Marshall it may not be what you think.

"The dealer that sells is no longer the dealer in your mind that sold thirty years ago, and the user is no longer who we think it is," Marshall said. "They're straight A kids or athletes doing this. They are kids from good homes. It's not just the kid on the wrong side of the tracks."

Kids are not the only ones being stereotyped.

"There's a lot judgment out there as to whether you are a good parent, whether you family was a good family, and I wish it wasn't that way," he said.

According to the CDC he's right, the face of the issue is changing. Between 2002-2013, heroin use among non-Hispanic whites increased by 114 percent. Those with an annual household income of $50,000 or more also saw a 60 percent.

School weighs in

Target 8 reached out to Rock Bridge High Schools's director of guidance, Betsy Jones, for a school perspective on the issue. In recent years Rock Bridge has seen a handful of alumni die from overdoses post graduation.

Like Marshall, Jones agreed it is harder than ever to profile teens abusing drugs.

"I think substance abuse crosses all socio-economic lines, all ethic lines, all racial lines. So I don't think there is a one profile," Jones said.

Illicit drugs are not allowed on Columbia Public School property. In the case that a student is found in possession of drugs on school property, and therefore in violation of the student code of conduct, he or she is subjected to disciplinary actions by the assistant principle and potentially the Columbia Police Department school resource officer. Disciplinary actions range from suspension to even arrests. 

According to Jones, the CPS has various units throughout middle school and high school on drug abuse and the risks. In addition, the schools offer information sessions for parents, training for faculty and staff, as well as an counseling options for those looking to reduce suspension times for drug possession.

"We reduce the suspension days if they are willing to participate in counseling," Jones said. "So they can seek private counseling, or we offer for free a counseling course. Those typically are run by our outreach counselors in the high schools and or with the school resource officers."

However, there is only so much schools can do though in the fight against the epidemic, said Jones.

"It is concerning in and of itself. And it is extremely concerning when it becomes an issue at school. But beyond that it really is a community issue, and it really is a parenting issue," she said.

What's the next step

While he did not go as far to say the schools efforts are inadequate, there is definitely a need for more education said Marshall.

"It needs to be continually reminded and pushed you know, information wise. I just think we could do a better job. I mean we have drivers ed for kids to save lives," Marshall said. "Why aren't we having substance abuse classes to save lives?"

According to Marshall schools are not the only areas of the community that could be pushing more information about the dangers of drug abuse.

"There needs too be more dialogue. There is no doubt there needs to be more at home," he said.

But when it all comes down to it, only once the information is processed by the youth, will any change begin to take place Marshall said.

"I think we live in a 3-D culture with kids, and they got to be hit in the gut. And it's got to be emotional for them to really kind of grip on to it and believe in it," Marshall said.