By John DiConsiglio

For a Baltimore teen, one experience with heroin led to a living nightmare

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Judy was no stranger to drugs. By the time she was 15, she smoked pot on a daily basis. She even tried ecstasy at a party or two. The Baltimore teen thought she was tough enough to handle anything that came her way.

But this was like nothing she'd ever experienced. And, suddenly, Judy was scared.

She was pressed into the mosh pit at an Incubus concert. The music was loud and she couldn't hear what her boyfriend said as he passed her a joint. Or, at least, she thought it was a joint. But, after a few puffs, Judy knew something was wrong.

"I felt this warm sensation flood over me, and then I went numb," says Judy, who is now 17 and asked that we not use her last name or picture. "The crowd was pushing me against the stage. I knew that I was getting squashed but I couldn't feel a thing. That's what really freaked me out."

The next morning, her boyfriend told her that he hadn't given her marijuana. It was heroin.

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High-Risk High

Judy had always been a little afraid of heroin. She'd seen the hollow, zombielike faces of friends who were strung out on the drug. She even knew a few people who had died from heroin overdoses. So it shocked Judy to hear herself say, "I want to do it again."

"It wasn't even 24 hours later," she says, "and I was already craving it."

Call it smack. Or H. Or skag or junk. By any name, heroin is dangerous, addictive, and illegal. About 3 million Americans have used heroinÑ including nearly 2 percent of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "It can be snorted, smoked, or injected," says Dr. Cathrine Sasek, coordinator of NIDA's science education program. "But in all forms, it can lead to an intense addiction, dangerous behavior, and health risks that range from heart infections, liver disease, and breathing problems to lethal overdoses."

Or, as Judy puts it, "When you are on heroin, your whole life is getting high, getting sick, and then doing anything to get more drugs."

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Fast Track to Addiction

The day after she first smoked heroin, Judy found herself snorting white lines of the drug with her boyfriend. "I never felt anything like it. It just made me all warm and numb and sleepy" she says. "But even that second time, I didn't feel the same rush as the first. And then I started needing more and more of it to get high."

Only a few hours after a heroin high wears off, addicted people, like Judy, often start craving more of the drug. Their bodies turn on them, and they suffer through nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. "It's like the worst flu you've ever hadÑand then 10 times worse than that," Judy says. "You think you are going to die. Even when you aren't sick, you're always a little pukey. Your skin feels uncomfortable on you and you're always picking at it. The only thing that makes you feel better is more heroin."

Within just a few weeks, Judy progressed from sampling heroin on the weekends to a daily habit. She dropped out of school and spent all of her time with her boyfriend and his heroin-addicted mother. On the rare occasions when she was home, Judy fought with her family. "My mother tried to get me to admit that I needed help, and I just beat her up," Judy says. "I can't believe I did that. But I was so wild. It wasn't me."

Just nine months after she first tried the drug, Judy was breaking into houses to steal anything she could trade for heroin. "I never turned to prostitution, but I knew I was going down that line," she says.

© Illustration: Stephen Kroningerk

Getting a Life

Finally, Judy and her boyfriend decided to get clean together. They checked into separate drug treatment facilities. And while Judy has been drug-free for more than two months at the Lois E. Jackson Unit in Cumberland, Md., her real struggles are just beginning. Even talking about heroin during her counseling sessions makes her want to start using again.

Judy knows that she'll always be an addict. But she's mending fences with her family and planning on going back to school to study accounting or interior design. "I want a life. I want a family. I want children," she says. "I want my parents to be proud of me. And the only way to do all that is to get off this stuff."

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