The new face of heroin addiction

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by KING 5 HealthLink

KING5.com

Posted on August 1, 2011 at 10:45 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:45 AM

He was smiling cherub with a radiant grin that lit up every family photograph.

Back then parents Loren and Fern Shumway never could have imagined what was in store for their son.

"He just...he  couldn't do it. He went to detox on his own. He left detox and that's the last time we saw him," said his mother.

Dean Shumway died of a heroin overdose just before his 19th birthday. He did not fit the stereotype of a heroin addict, down on his luck and homeless--but perhaps Dean does represent what's becoming the new face of heroin addiction: white middle class teenager.

Frank Couch, a counselor with Science and Management of Addictions (SAMA), says Dean is not an isolated case.

"It's a huge problem out there. It's a huge problem with young folks and adolescents,” said Couch.

Couch says these kids used to smoke Oxycontin, but now that the prescription painkiller has been reformulated, they're turning to heroin.

"It's cheaper, it's more readily available so the trend is moving back to heroin use again," he explained.

Dean's girlfriend Fiona has seen addiction from both sides now, battling her own alcohol dependence and now dealing with the death of her boyfriend.

"It's something I feel is a crossroads in my life because, you know, I've struggled with addiction issues, as well, being a part of this community and I want to do something. I want to get involved. I want to spread the message that our system  isn't working and that our kids are just getting stuck and we're allowing them to be stuck,” said Fiona.

For the Shumways, managing Dean became a full time job.

"It takes over the family. It's the 800-pound gorilla in the house or whatever analogy you want to call it. It just takes over," said Loren.

Couch says with drugs like heroin, there's no such thing as letting the addict hit bottom before getting help.

"Unfortunately, for a lot of young people, bottom is death and there's no coming back from that,” said Couch.

Family friend Taylor, who doesn't what his last name used, beat an addiction to cocaine and wants people to know it's not an easy struggle.

"An addict doesn't want to be an addict you know. Every day we tell ourselves we're going to quit, we're going to  not do drugs anymore but it's the disease inside you that you're lying to yourself", he said.

The Shumways say they thought Dean was finally ready to beat his addiction. So did others who knew him.

"I think he was coming around the corner. He was wanting to get sober," said Loren.

At  Dean's memorial service, Fiona had some strong words for her friends still in the throes of addiction. She told them to start by loving themselves enough to get off drugs,

"It is a fight to be clean, but it's a bigger fight to be addicted. You have to fight every day to get your dope, you have to fight every day the people who want that money and you have to fight to get that money and you fight your true self. So where do you want to put that effort into, life or to death?”

Now family and friends are trying to remember the Dean that had so much potential, as they thumb through a scrapbook that  holds some of his earliest writings.

"Here I am," he wrote. " I'm seven years old. I have chocolate eyes."

A seven year-old boy with chocolate eyes, a radiant smile, and now a life cut short by addiction.

 

The one thing the Shumways say did help them cope was going to SAMA. They say you can't fight this on your own. It's not possible.

For more information, visit the SAMA website.

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