“Addiction is actually a survival mechanism. But heroin is 500 times as powerful as turkey!”
That was just one message some 900 students heard Thursday during a no-nonsense assembly about the dangers of heroin at Waterloo High School.
It was delivered by Jared Opsal, St. Louis Area Public Awareness Specialist for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. He was describing the addiction mechanism, how heroin works and what it does to its victims.
“When you eat a super Thanksgiving dinner, it sends a message to a pleasure point in the center of your brain… That’s how mankind remembered what was good to eat — it was a survival mechanism.
“Heroin follows the same path,” Opsal said.
But heroin is an extremely powerful addiction… and a deadly one, too. Heroin can kill almost instantly by shutting down breathing as its victim descends into a stupor.
“It causes irreversible damage to the brain, as well,” Opsal stressed. “And the earlier one tries heroin, the more damage it causes. Brains don’t mature until our mid-20s. Heroin irretrievably stunts that process, and the earlier that occurs, the less and less able a person is to make good decisions later — if they even live to try.”
Monroe County Coroner Vicki Koerber helped organize Thursday’s student assembly.
Sergeant Mark Whitson, an officer with the St. Louis County Police Department, offered another perspective — that of a street cop and former under-cover narcotics agent.Pictured, Chris Keel talks about the pain of losing her 20-year-old daughter, Jennifer, to heroin during an assembly at WHS on Thursday.
He told how heroin is used in three ways: smoking, snorting and by intravenous injection.
“If you snort and keep on snorting, before long that won’t be good enough and you’ll go to the needle,” he said. “I don’t care if you say you’ll never stick a needle in your arm, or between your toes, you’ll do it if you snort enough.”
Whitson added that 99 percent of overdoses are via needles. He also said that, to get people started, heroin is so cheap dealers will give it away to new users.
“In the 1990s, we saw it at purities of eight to 15 percent,” he said. “Now we see it with an average of 48 percent purity… and 95 percent isn’t uncommon.”
Throughout the assembly, students were shown a large photo of an attractive young lady captioned: “Jennifer Her- ling 5/2/92 – 9/29/12.” Her mother, Chris Keel, addressed the audience.
“Jennifer was my daughter. She was 20 when she died,” Keel said quietly and somberly. “She was an ‘A’ student and a cheerleader until she took to drugs, and finally heroin.”
Keel continued as students looked on silently.
“She was jailed. She went through rehab. The first time she was locked up, I tried tough love. I refused to visit her. My husband, though, went every day to see her in jail,” she said.
Keel said that heroin “tears a family apart.” she said.
When her daughter was released from jail, Keel said it wasn’t long before she went back to her dealer.
“He let her O.D. to the point where she could not be revived, and only then he called 911,” Keel said.
Her anger grew as she continued to talk about drug dealers.
“I will snitch on heroin dealers if I can,” she said. “Would they want to put a bullet in me? I don’t care.”
“Not even once” was the message Keel implored to students.
“If I can reach and save one of you from starting, it will be worth what it does to me to tell this story,” she ended.
The picture of her daughter stared back at students as they filed from the gymnasium. It was a quieter-than-normal way to end a day at WHS.
Rally against heroin
On Saturday, supporters of an anti-heroin movement across the St. Louis region braved periodic bouts of rain to conduct a “Stop Heroin” rally in the parking lot near Applebee’s off Route 3 in Waterloo.
For more information on the areawide heroin epidemic, visit online at www.stlheroinhelp.com or www.not-even-once.com. Email jon@stlheroinhelp. com if interested in joining the ongoing fight against this dangerous drug.