When a heroin epidemic swept through North Texas in the 1990s, it left at least two dozen young people dead. Then the drug seemed to go into hibernation.

Now the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says it’s seeing an alarming number of women from affluent Dallas suburbs buying heroin. And, for many, the addiction begins with prescription pain pills.

The KERA radio story.

When Sara Kendall was 14, she injured her leg trying to score a goal playing soccer in Royse City. A doctor gave her a prescription for hydrocodone intended to last two weeks. She finished her pills in just two days.

Sara Kendall, 26, lives in Oak Cliff with her son Jaxon. Kendall got hooked on prescription pain pills in high school, and then heroin. She got sober with the help of Nexus Recovery Center in Dallas, which she still visits to share her story.

Lauren Silverman/KERA News

Sara Kendall, 26, lives in Oak Cliff with her son Jaxon. Kendall got hooked on prescription pain pills in high school, and then heroin. She got sober with the help of Nexus Recovery Center in Dallas, which she still visits to share her story.

“It just slows everything down,” Kendall said. “And at that time I didn’t know of any other way to slow it down so I decided to do it my own method.”

She began buying pills from classmates whose lockers were like pharmacies – filled with Xanax, Percocet and Valium. Kendall, who’s 26, got hooked fast, and soon she couldn’t afford enough pills to cover her habit. That’s when she switched to heroin.

“One pill would be $10 to $15,” Kendall says, “I could start out getting high on heroin for less than $10 a day.”

In heroin’s grip

Kendall never imagined herself doing heroin. Like many of the women using the drug today in North Texas, she grew up in a middle-class family with supportive parents.

But addiction doesn’t care who you are or where you’re from.

“I got really low,” Kendall said. “To the point where I was living on the streets.”

She was in and out of jail for misdemeanors, and had her baby in custody before she got help last year at Nexus Recovery Center in Dallas. After getting sober, Kendall moved to Oak Cliff with her son, Jaxon. She frequently visits Nexus to share her story with other women struggling with addiction.

“It feels good to wake up in the morning and not feel sick,” Kendall said. “I can get up and my child is laughing and playing and I can play with him. It’s awesome.”

The pill pipeline

Prescription drugs and heroin are the biggest concern at the DEA in Dallas. Special Agent Calvin Bond says the number of drug overdose deaths in Texas, most of which are from prescription drugs, has increased by nearly 80 percent since 1999. Heroin use has more than quadrupled in the last few years across all socioeconomic classes.

DEA Special Agent Calvin Bond says the agency is seeing many more women in Texas making the transition from prescription painkillers to heroin.

Lauren Silverman/KERA News

DEA Special Agent Calvin Bond says the agency is seeing many more women in Texas making the transition from prescription painkillers to heroin.

“I’ve seen 14 and 15-year-old white kids from affluent families doing heroin, up to a 40-year-old business woman who’s addicted,” Bond said. “We believe that a lot of the increase in heroin use here is a direct result of abuse of prescription drugs.”

Bond says young white women in places like Plano and McKinney have access to heroin in multiple forms – and they often start out with pills before moving on to the more traditional black tar.

Heroin has always passed through Dallas on its way to other cities, Bond says, but now, it’s sticking around and it’s wreaking havoc.

Bond says that earlier this week, a North Texas woman in her 20s died of a heroin overdose. She was found with pain pills in her apartment.

The pill crackdown leaves room for heroin                

The crackdown on prescription drug abuse has helped remove pill mills, but opioids are still ending up on the streets.

Dr. Aaron Lloyd, co-director of pain medication for Dallas-based Pinnacle Pain Medicine, says doctors have to be hyper-vigilant when prescribing drugs like hydrocodone.

“We have to practice tough love,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of patients who call me and say they lost their blood pressure medication or their cat ate their diabetes medications. But it’s alarming how many people have these odd tragedies happening only to their prescription pain medications.”

The state of Texas has made it a priority to curb prescription drug abuse. Pharmacists and physicians like Lloyd can query an online drug monitoring program called Prescription Access in Texas to see what controlled substances their patients have been provided in the past, and by whom.

“These days it’s very difficult for patients to get easy access to prescriptions like they once were able to,” Lloyd said.

Which is good news overall.

The bad news is that it may be pushing some women in North Texas to seek alternatives like heroin.

Resources

  • The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has created an anonymous tipline to report heroin dealers. Call the hotline at 972-929-7809 or visit the website at www.texomahidta.org to submit anonymous tips about heroin dealers.
  • Nexus Recovery Center, which has assisted more than 20,000 women, adolescents, and children with recovery since opening in 1971, is at 214-321-0156, ext. 3118
, or by emailing help@nexusrecovery.org.