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The long, deadly reach of hard drugs <br> No community is immune to heroin, authorities warn

It's not often the Erie County Sheriff's Office puts out a news release on attempted suicides.

But earlier this month, the department took the unusual step of publicizing an incident in which a young man and woman tried to kill themselves in Emery Park just south of the Village of East Aurora.

The department did so for one reason: Heroin was involved.

"It's just to reiterate this problem exists everywhere. I think people think they're insulated from it," said Sheriff's Capt. Ronald L. Kenyon.

Drug abuse, and its fallout, can be found in urban and suburban areas and the most rural reaches of the county, experts say. It's not only the alcohol and marijuana that their parents tried 20 or 30 years ago. Young people are using, getting addicted to -- and in some cases, dying from -- hard drugs.

Richard J. Gallagher, executive director of Alcohol and Drug Dependency Services, has seen it all.

"I have been in the field 42 years," he said. "I have never seen it as [bad] as it is in the last one-and-a-half years in respect to adolescents and young adults with the opiates, prescription drugs and the heroin."

A recent survey of the 32 youths at the Renaissance Campus in West Seneca for chemically dependent adolescents showed all started using alcohol and marijuana, Gallagher said. But for 75 percent of them, their primary drug of choice coming into treatment was heroin.

"That statistic in itself speaks volumes in relation to the problem," Gallagher said.

The man and woman in Emery Park, who are in their 20s and from the Southtowns, were found in a bathroom in the park about 9:45 a.m. March 13. A park patron went to the park office to report there was blood in a restroom, Kenyon said. The victims apparently had cut their arms and were taken to Erie County Medical Center.

"They were both conscious, alert and talking to us," he said, but there is little doubt in his mind that both wanted to die that day.

Deputies also followed up with the man and woman a day later, he said.

"It appears to us they went there with this intention," Kenyon said. "It appeared, in conversations we had with both of them, [heroin] may have been a factor."

Their families, he said, are dealing with the double tragedy of attempted suicide and drug addiction.

"They're absolutely devastated by it. It's absolutely beyond words," he said. "It's a position any parent could be in."

And a growing number of families are, or have been, in that position.

From the grandmother of a 17-year-old who died nearly four months ago from an apparent heroin overdose in his Lancaster home, to the parents of a 19-year-old Colden man who died five months ago from a drug overdose, families are left in their grief to figure out what may have helped their children, and may still help others.

Zachary T. Crotty's parents want other parents to know they should clean out their medicine cabinets or lock up their prescription drugs, and they want doctors not to prescribe drugs that can cause dangerous interactions with other prescribed medications. Crotty, 19, died last Oct. 19 from an accidental overdose.

Youths find prescription drugs at home, or they may be offered some at a party. An annual study by the Partnership for a Drug Free America found that 63 percent of teens believe prescription drugs are easy to get from their parents' medicine cabinet, up from 56 percent the previous year.

So young people try some of the highly addictive pain relievers, such as oxycodone (OxyContin) or hydrocodone (Lortab). Eventually, they get hooked -- but at street prices as high as $5 a pill, the high comes at a price. That's until they find a cheaper high -- heroin.

"After a while they want more of a high, and they want the heroin," Gallagher said. "Then they snort it, then they shoot it."

And many parents are oblivious.

Gallagher tells of an interview with one teenager and her father before the teen was admitted to a treatment program. The father assured Gallagher that his daughter did not do hard drugs.

"Dad, get real," the daughter replied. "I've been shooting up in the bathroom for the past year."

The father was shocked and devastated, Gallagher said.

"People are not paying attention," he said.

Kenyon, from the Sheriff's Office, does not think the problem has peaked. He also said there's no magic fix.

"I think awareness is a starting point," he said.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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