A kindergarten teacher in Trenton, N.J., made a disturbing discovery when she thought one of her students was playing with candy wrappers. But what was actually inside the child’s lunch box was far more serious—the 5-year-old had brought packets of heroin to school.
After the teacher had to reprimand the student a second time for playing with the item, she noticed it was a baggie of drugs. When they searched the child’s belongings, they were shocked to find 29 more similar bags.
The drugs were confiscated, and because the baggie the child was playing with was open, they took the boy to the hospital as a precaution. He was tested for opioids to make sure he hadn’t consumed any of the drugs, and thankfully, the test came out negative.
Police said they were uncertain of where or how the child got the heroin and that no one had been charged as of yet. However, this incident has many in the community concerned, local news outlets have reported.
Child services has gotten involved in helping police determine who is caring for the child and how he would have had access to the drugs he brought to school. A police spokesman would not confirm with local news outlets whether the boy’s parents had been interviewed or whether the boy was in the parents’ custody or placed with child welfare officials.
Heroin addiction has become a serious issue nationwide, with overdose deaths nearly quadrupling between 2002 and 2013, according to federal health statistics. According to the Washington Post, national drug-related deaths are “disproportionately concentrated in the Rust Belt, the Great Lakes region and the Northeast”—primarily in areas where there is large industry decline or bust (such as steel mills going out of business).
Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug, and is synthesized from morphine. It’s an illegal drug that normally looks like white or brown powder, or a sticky, black tar-like substance, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and can be injected, snorted or smoked. Overdoses from the drug often involve suppression of breathing, which can lead to the brain not receiving enough oxygen and cause short- and long-term effects, including permanent brain damage.
Research suggests that prescription opioid abuse of medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin can be a gateway to heroin abuse for young people because heroin can be cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription drugs.
The problem, of course, is that street heroin is often cut with other substances—other drugs, as well as sugar, starch, powdered milk or quinine, and sometimes even with poisons—and users are not aware of the true contents or the strength of the heroin, which increases the risk of overdose and death. Regular use leads to addiction because users subsequently need increasingly higher doses to achieve the same high. Heroin use in the United States has been on a steady rise since 2007, according to NIDA data.
In related news, a Southeast Ohio police department infamously posted graphic photos on Facebook in early September of a couple who had overdosed on heroin in their car with the woman's 4-year-old grandson still strapped in his car seat. The department posted the sickening photos to raise awareness about the heroin epidemic in their area. The 50-year-old woman, Rhonda Pasek, pleaded no contest September 15 and was sentenced to 180 days in county jail—of which she will serve every single day, according to a municipal court clerk—for endangering a child, public intoxication and a seatbelt violation.
Although Pasek's sister told NBC News that she had struggled with addiction for many years, she was apparently raising her son Devon's children, ages 3 and 4, because he and his girlfriend, Reva McCullough, were unable to care for them. Pasek's companion, James Lee Acord, 47, also pleaded no contest and is serving a 360-day sentence for child endangerment and other charges. Custody of the boys was awarded to relatives living in South Carolina.