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Margaret Ann LaPaglia is one of the faces behind the new popularity for one of society's most dangerous drugs -- heroin.

When the Buffalo woman took her last breath last month at age 44 in a High Street apartment after an apparent drug overdose, she left behind a life of tragedy and ruin.

She had seven children fathered by seven men. Each of her sons and daughters had been taken away because of her addiction to heroin.

"I can tell you that drugs really robbed Margaret of any chance she had for a life," said Mark A. Trotter, LaPaglia's older brother. "She started on drugs as a teen-ager, maybe as young as 13, and eventually went to heroin."

Now, the tragic cycle has started to repeat itself with the dead woman's 16-year-old daughter. Like her mother, she has embraced street life.

For LaPaglia, her journey to streetwalker, thief and heroin addict started during high school in San Antonio, Texas, where she began experimenting with drugs in the late 1960s.

She married young and soon graduated into heroin, according to family. She also had her first child, a son, who is now 25. That's how old she was when she moved to Western New York after her middle class mother and father relocated here for a job.

LaPaglia soon gave birth to more children.

Trotter is an Atlanta area resident who agreed to discuss his sister's life in the hope it could warn young people tempted to try drugs.

"I know four of her children are living up in the Buffalo area," he said. "They were all adopted by the same couple."

Unlike the increasing number of individuals who have taken to snorting and smoking heroin, LaPaglia was a mainliner. She injected heroin into her veins, according to those who knew her.

Heroin's newest fans, authorities point out, are mistaken if they think they are
playing it safe by smoking or snorting the drug rather than injecting it.

Many heroin users quit injecting the drug because of the chances of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, through dirty hypodermic needles; but heroin use is deadly and addictive in any form, according to Lt. Thomas P. Flaherty, commander of the Erie County Sheriff's Department's Narcotics Unit.

"Heroin is a narcotic. It kills pain and induces sleep, and is highly addictive. One of the biggest problems is, in order to get the same impact from heroin, it takes increasingly higher dosages," said Flaherty.

Evidence that heroin has steadily gained favor on the local drug scene can be found in statistics reflecting more police confiscations of the substance.

In 1993, Buffalo police seized 78 grams of heroin. Three years later, that figure jumped to 378 grams. So far this year, 151 grams have been taken from the hands of drug users and dealers, according to Capt. Mark Morgan, chief of the Buffalo Police Department's Narcotics-Vice Bureau.

A gram may not sound like much, but depending on how pure it is, that small amount can yield up to 25 single doses of heroin, Morgan said.

Life is usually short for a heroin user. LaPaglia definitely lasted longer than most.

In the months before her death Aug. 6 , LaPaglia was trying to regain custody of her youngest daughter, a 2-year-old. But she refused to take parenting classes, according to acquaintances who knew her.

"Margaret hurt a lot of people who were close to her. Everyone was a source of money to her and nothing came back," Trotter said.

When she was unable to get money from those she knew, she worked as a prostitute and stole, according to Buffalo City Court records, which show she was arrested more than 25 times since the mid-1980s.

"Those were the tools of her trade. She was a full blown addict," said Trotter, who long ago gave up trying to maintain a normal relationship with his only sister.

He does not blame anyone for his sister's addiction and death, but he believes her first husband coached her into addiction.

"This man was a serious drug addict. That's what brought her into it. He eventually corrected himself and now works in Texas as a drug counselor."

When LaPaglia's former husband -- she was married at least twice -- learned of her death, he expressed remorse, Trotter said.

"He wrote my mom a note saying he was sorry for anything he'd done in his past. He was able to get away from drugs, but Margaret wasn't able to," her brother said.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of LaPaglia's legacy is that of her second oldest child, the 16-year-old daughter.

Because of the troubled teen-ager, Trotter saw his sister in August 1998 at Erie County Family Court. He traveled here to obtain custody of the adolescent and return her to the safety of the suburbs of Atlanta, where his mother had raised the child until about 1995.

"She had wanted so much to be with Margaret, and then she called us up and said she wanted to come back to live with us. She said she hated Margaret and so I went up to Buffalo and obtained custody of her," said Trotter.

Trotter's niece soon discovered the quiet life was no longer for her.

"She ran away from my home in May and was caught by authorities in Birmingham, Ala. I know she's been treated for gonorrhea, and when she lived with Margaret, she told me they smoked pot together.

"Sometimes Margaret would throw her out. That's when she learned to live on the streets. She saw too much and she experienced too much. She'll tell you she doesn't want to live by the rules and says she cannot think about tomorrow," Trotter said.

The uncle says he has tried to open his niece's eyes and warn her of the hazardous road she is venturing down.

"She says she hates Margaret, and yet she does the same to people that Margaret did. So the pattern is continuing," said Trotter, who is scheduled to attend a custody hearing in Atlanta to determine the teen's future. "But I might not be going because I think she may have run away again."

During his final encounter with his sister at Erie County Family Court, Trotter pleaded for LaPaglia to get help.

"I told her, if she would just show some sign, even just checking herself into some place, I would try to pay the cost of rehabilitation," the older brother said.

His sister's response shocked him.

"I was struck by her anger. I don't know if it was denial or if it was that she had chosen the life she was leading," he said.

The final weeks of LaPaglia's life were spent in homeless shelters. But, luck shined briefly on her four days before she died. She managed to secure an apartment at a High Street tenement.

Her good fortune was short-lived.

Two days before her death, she overdosed on heroin, according to a long-time friend of hers.

"We were riding on Main Street in a pickup truck and she slumped over. I believe she overdosed on heroin. I threw water on her and that brought her back," said Leo, a former heroin addict who asked that his last name be withheld.

"I talked with her and told her she should be more careful. I know she was on the methadone program," he added. "I'd seen her shoot heroin."

At 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 6, Gregory S. Connors, the manager of the High Street apartment building, discovered LaPaglia's body when he went to the eighth floor to investigate another resident's complaint of two strange men in the building.

"I escorted them out, and in the elevator down, one of them told me to check on Margaret. He said she might not be doing too good. He said her hands were blue and she might be dead," Connors recalled.

When he unlocked the door to her apartment, Connors found LaPaglia crouched against a bedroom wall. She was dead.

Preliminary findings all point to a drug overdose as the cause of death, though toxicology test results are still pending, according to Capt. Joseph Riga, chief of the Homicide Bureau.

Who were those two men observed in the hallway outside LaPaglia's apartment?

Leo, whose full name appears on a reference listing LaPaglia had filled out when seeking the apartment, solved that mystery.

"The night before she died, she was with a friend of ours. He had spent the night at her apartment," said Leo.

"When he left her the next morning, he shook her and she moaned. He told me he went out to get coffee, and when he returned a few hours later with another guy to check on Margaret, she was blue and cold," Leo said.

The telephone call that his sister was dead came as no shock to Trotter.

"It's the kind of phone call you expect for years. I felt a sense of regret that she never really was able to make something of her life," he said.

Her earthly possessions were few, a couple of plastic garbage bags of clothing, a gym bag, a worn brown leather purse, some personal papers and a few tattered snapshots. They are being stored in a dusty closet at the apartment building by Connors, who offered a few kind words on LaPaglia's behalf.

"I felt when I met her she had had a hard life. She had a sad look on her face. She was seeking public assistance for the rent," Connors said. "She was kind of soft spoken and very appreciative I was able to help her out."

Trotter says he would like her photographs, but the rest can be donated to charity.

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