Newtown's Heroin Problem Is Not New To Drug Culture Insiders

Published: December 12, 2003 at 12:00 am


Newtown’s Heroin Problem Is Not New To Drug Culture Insiders

By Shannon Hicks

It has been in the headlines. Last month three Newtown men were charged in Danbury for possessing and using heroin. Last week, a 21-year-old man who recently moved from Newtown to Monroe was arrested in Bridgeport for possessing and selling heroin. But this is not news to people who have seen the inside of Newtown’s drug culture.

The Northeast region of the United States has the highest rate of drug and alcohol use among adolescents. Within the Northeast, Connecticut is the state with the highest rate of usage. And within Connecticut it is the southwestern corner that leads the state in substance abuse.

It is not hard to reach the conclusion that all towns within the southwest corner of Connecticut are affected by drug abuse, including Newtown.

Heroin, along with many other drugs, has been in Newtown for longer than many people would like to imagine. Timothy Samuels, age 32, has lived in Newtown most of his life. He grew up in town, went through its school system, and has lived much of his adult life here. He moved away a few years ago, but came back to town to take care of his mother, who has been ill. He knows all about heroin in Newtown.

The presence of drugs in Newtown is not new, says Mr Samuels, who has been using drugs of different types for more than half of his life. He has been arrested for selling and then again for trying to buy drugs. He has been to jail, through rehabilitation programs, and he has been to many funerals for friends who have also been pulled in by the lure of drugs.

“This is not a new issue,” Mr Samuels said recently. “It’s not some big epidemic that just happened. Drugs have been here for a very long time, and heroin has been in Newtown since at least 1987. It’s just as bad now as it’s always been.”

When he showed up to be interviewed for this story, Mr Samuels had with him a handwritten list of names. Of the 13 names on that list, two of the people had committed suicide and one had been killed in an auto accident. The remaining ten had all been killed by drug-related overdoses. The deaths all occurred within the past 16 years.

“And these are just the people I know; never mind anyone else in this town who has died from drugs,” Mr Samuels said.

Another resident who moved away a few years ago was also unsurprised by the recent heroin-related charges.

“I was shocked, but only to see it finally identified and reported,” said the former Newtowner, a young woman who did not want to be identified by name. This woman also grew up in town, went through its public school system, and even worked in town for a number of years before deciding it was time to get away from something that was affecting too many people she knew, including close friends and family.

Interviews with Mr Samuels and the former resident were conducted separately, yet the answers and suggestions from each source closely echoed the other.

“Many of my friends have been through rehab,” the young woman said. “Picking out rehab seems to be as common as picking out colleges. I have many friends who got into nothing but trouble in Newtown, and as soon as they moved they were fine. When it comes to old friends getting married or school reunions, most people don’t want to go back.

“This is not a new problem to Newtown by any means,” she continued. “Growing up, I babysat for others and it was common to see marijuana left out on parents’ dressers at the houses. As I made my way through Newtown High School, cocaine was the drug of choice. It was everywhere.

“Walking into the bathroom in the morning, it would be laid out in the stalls or on mirrors. Some bathrooms were known more for that than others. Teachers were only concerned with smoke. If there was no smoke, it was assumed all was well.”

In addition to continued appearances of cocaine and heroin, Newtown has its share of marijuana users, says Mr Samuels. Mr Samuels remembers trying Valium when he was 13. He was using marijuana by the time he was 14, and sold ‘shrooms (a hallucinogen similar to LSD, psilocybin mushrooms look like small brown or tan mushrooms) and pot for the next six years. Eventually he turned to P-dope, a 20 to 30 percent pure form of heroin.

Meanwhile his own drug use was increasing, and soon Mr Samuels found himself selling more and more weed in order to support his own habit. At $45 to $50 for a bag of pot, Mr Samuels says he was working to support a heroin habit that ran an average of $200 to $300 a day, which he was buying at $10 per bag.

“I never sold P-dope or any form of heroin,” he is careful to point out. “I never dealt with crack either. I know some people hear that and say ‘Well a drug is a drug is a drug,’ but I saw where I was ending up and didn’t want to bring anyone else down that way.

“But the kids always had money. My best customers were the preppy, rich kids. The jocks and cheerleaders, too, students who you never think would be using, they always had money or knew where to get more,” he said.

Drug abuse in Newtown seems to be following a pattern currently seen across the Northeast. Newtown Chief of Police Michael Kehoe told a panel meeting with The Parent Connection in August that Newtown Police Department has seen a noted increase in heroin use, in addition to marijuana and alcohol.

The Parent Connection is a group of local parents committed to raising drug and alcohol abuse awareness and prevention in Newtown.

The Bee reported last August that the police department tallied 12 drug-related arrests of offenders under the age of 21 during the previous six months. There has also been a marked rise in the abuse of prescription drugs. “Pharming” is the abuse of prescription drugs by teens, who usually take the drugs from a parent’s medicine cabinet. Newtown police have arrested minors selling Ritalin.

“I popped pills,” Mr Samuels said. “Any pill I could get my hands on that was some kind of high, I liked. So I took it.” Newtown’s current generation of teens seem to be following that trend.

Alcohol abuse is also as prevalent as ever in town. During the same six-month time frame, Newtown police arrested at least three youths under the age of 21 for DWIs, six were cited for possession of alcohol in a motor vehicle, and five minors were detained for the possession of alcohol. These figures do not include the undocumented incidents where underage parties are broken up without citations being issued.

It is not hard to figure out where the money for the drugs is coming from. Fairfield County residents are among the wealthiest in the country.

Newtown’s crime rate was 3.54 in 2000 (the number of major crimes committed per 1,000 people) and advertisements for homes run the gamut from the mid-$300,000s to more than $1 million. Most homes in recent real estate advertisements in The Newtown Bee fall within the $800,000 to $1.2/$1.4 million range for new homes, while most homes being put back on the market a second or third time range from $330,000 to $600,000. A house selling for under $200,000 is extremely rare.

So there is money in Newtown, and there people who are willing to spend it on drugs. And it is a relatively short drive from Newtown to typically lower income cities within Fairfield County –– including Bridgeport and Danbury –– not to mention nearby out-of-county cities such as New Haven and Waterbury.

“Look at our location,” says Mr Samuels, holding his hand up and pointing at spots on all sides of the hand. “You’ve got Danbury here, Waterbury here, Bridgeport here, and even New Haven over here. We’re in the suburbs. We’re surrounded by [opportunities to purchase drugs.]

“This is an upper class and upper middle class town,” he said. “Parents have to stop giving their kids so much money. You can’t just hand them money and think they’re going to be responsible with it. They’re too young. They don’t understand. They need more parental guidance.”

“Newtown parties were known for having the best of the best,” the former resident corroborated. “Many kids use their parents’ cars for trips to Bridgeport –– although they thought you were at the town hall –– where items can be picked up for a much cheaper price than what it’s sold for in Newtown.

“Drug dealers love Newtown because they know there is always an item, some china, a camera, radio, TV, etc, that can be bartered,” she said. “It’s just assumed that Danbury, Waterbury, and Bridgeport are the bad spots, but Newtown is a guaranteed hit. I’ve heard addicts and recovering addicts refer to Newtown as ‘the town with the big needle in the middle of Main Street.’

 “Newtown is a tough town to grow up in. If you’re not into sports or have parents who are well off, you are looked down on. It sounds lame, but it’s true. It’s very hard to make friends if you are new to this town, or even if you’re just not popular.

“Newtown kids aren’t used to diversity. Newtown doesn’t know about homeless people or different nationalities. People who actually use food stamps are stared at, and unemployment is low. There are a lot of $400,000 houses with only one working parent.

“If you don’t play sports, forget it. Kids will do anything to fit in, and that’s how it starts.”

A Parental Connection

Today Mr Samuels is a parent. He says he understands how frightening the prospect of raising a child in today’s society can be, and will not allow his daughter to grow up in Newtown. She lives with her mother in New Milford.

“I know how terrifying this topic is for parents,” he said. “I know where they’re coming from. But the ones who try to deny that it can happen to their family, or that it happens at all in this town, are fools.

“Heroin has no prejudice. It’s not racist, it doesn’t care what religion you are, or what economic bracket you’re in. It doesn’t matter,” he said. “The cops are doing their job, and the schools are doing the best they can, but only so much can be done. Parents need to educate their children of what’s possible.”

Heroin is an opiate, meaning it comes from the opium poppy. It is a brown or white powder that is sometimes snorted or smoked. Most of the time users turn the drug into a liquid and inject it directly into their veins with a needle. Heroin is one of the most physically addictive drugs in the world.

People who use heroin will most likely experience euphoria, a rush of well-being, reduced pain, slow thinking and movement, and slow and slurred speech. After that comes dry mouth, droopy eyelids and smaller pupils, flushed skin, periods of sleepiness, vomiting, and constipation. More serious health risks include collapsed veins, heart infections, pneumonia, and death from overdose.

Because of its cost, heroin use can lead to crime; people steal items and/or money to pay for their habit. Sharing needles can lead to infections, including hepatitis and AIDS.

Quitting, or even trying to kick the habit, can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms including pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, cold flashes, and of course a desire to just return to the drug in order to quench the pain. Longtime users who try to go cold turkey can die from the body’s reaction to withdrawal.

There is a 90 percent failure rate for addicts trying to get off heroin. Mr Samuels learned that frightening statistic when he was in rehab.

“Once your child –– or anyone –– does heroin, and starts to use it on a regular basis,” he says, “they’re going to be into it for life. They’re going to have a struggle.”

Because of his addiction, Mr Samuels is still in a methadone program to control his cravings.

Methadone, along with Orlaam and Buprenorphine (Suboxone/Subutex), is a legal medication used for treatment of opiate addictions. Also called Dolophone, the drug is in use in maintenance programs across the United States as well as in Thailand, Sweden, and Hong Kong. Methadone helps wean users by preventing the interaction with the body’s endorphins, blocking the effects of the drugs and even reducing their physical cravings.

In many programs –– including the one Mr Samuels is currently in –– methadone is dispensed in oral form, under supervision. This form of oral maintenance breaks the dangerous ritual of injection.

Methadone is not an answer, however. Methadone patients are still addicts. When methadone is given to an addict who is later withdrawn from methadone, the addict will still undergo methadone withdrawal (which is less severe than heroin withdrawal, but it is a painful process nevertheless).

“With methadone I can hold a job, I can be productive in society,” says Mr Samuels, who works two jobs. “It doesn’t give you the euphoric high that heroin does. There’s just a steady feeling. It can be a good tool with it’s used right.

“It blocks the cravings for heroin and gives your brain some time to heal,” he continued. “But your brain is never 100 percent again.”

He also knows that his background makes people uncomfortable, but the fact is he still knows what is happening in this town when it comes to its drug culture.

“I have days where I struggle not to get high. That’s the life of an addict,” said Mr Samuels.

“The key is to not try any of this in the first place.”

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This Week's Poll

Newtown Cultural Arts Commission is presenting or coordinating on six weeks of special events. Which event are you looking forward to the most? (Visit our Features page for a full story with details about all of these events.)

“In The Bag” exhibition, on view to September 28
0% (0 votes)
The Lords of 52nd Street concert, September 14
0% (0 votes)
Newtown Arts Festival weekend, September 15-16
50% (1 vote)
“An Evening of the Arts,” September 15
50% (1 vote)
“The Fox on the Fairway” production by Town Players of Newtown, weekends September 21-October 13
0% (0 votes)
“The Main Street Replica Project,” launching September 25
0% (0 votes)
Someday Cinema Series screenings of “The Blues Brothers,” September 30
0% (0 votes)
Photography display “In Our Rearview Mirror” by Marleen Cafarelli, et al, October 1-30
0% (0 votes)
“Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb” with Tinky Weisblat, October 3
0% (0 votes)
Newtown Day, October 6
0% (0 votes)
The 3rd Annual Newtown-Sandy Hook Restaurant Week, October 8-14
0% (0 votes)
Basket weaving workshop with Tina Puckett, October 13
0% (0 votes)
“Courageous Conversations in A Complex World,” October 17
0% (0 votes)
Live at ETH: David Wax Museum concert, October 19
0% (0 votes)
The 2nd Annual Fall Carnival at Fairfield Hills, October 19-21
0% (0 votes)
Connecticut Author’s Reading Series, October 21
0% (0 votes)
Natalie’s Open Mic, October 21
0% (0 votes)
“The Wordsmiths,” October 24
0% (0 votes)
Pianist Konstanza Chernov, October 28
0% (0 votes)
Someday Cinema Series double feature screenings of “Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Beast with Five Fingers,” October 29
0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 2