Jennifer Weiss has campaigned passionately to raise public awareness about an epidemic of heroin abuse among New Mexico teens.
This weekend she lost a personal battle to save her own son, who died Saturday of an apparent overdose.
Weiss, president of the Heroin Awareness Committee of Albuquerque, said she found the body of her son, Cameron Weiss, 18, in the family’s Albuquerque home less than a week after his release from jail.
Cameron remained clean for about six months this year while enrolled in drug treatment programs in New Mexico and Arizona but fell into old, bad habits after returning to Albuquerque in June, his mother said Monday.
“He knew he couldn’t stay in this city,” Jennifer Weiss said. “We were going to try to move him out of state this week, but we just ran out of time.”
Jennifer Weiss became one of New Mexico’s most outspoken advocates for drug addiction programs after her son acknowledged his addiction to heroin in February 2010.
State and local law enforcement officers began an investigation that led to the arrests in July of 13 suspected heroin dealers after Weiss and others warned of the growing prevalence of heroin in schools.
Weiss and other advocates who have seen loved ones struggle with heroin use urged the City Council on Monday to help fund a treatment center or programs targeting drug addiction.
They carried large placards with photos of youths lost to heroin.
Jennifer Weiss told councilors that programs for teens and adolescents are especially needed.
“This is something plaguing all of our young people in all pockets of Albuquerque,” she said.
Over the past 18 months, the Journal has chronicled the heroin deaths of several teens from Northeast Heights schools, including La Cueva High School, where Cameron Weiss was a student.
Councilor Rey Garduño said he would work with Councilor Isaac Benton to pursue the ideas suggested by Weiss and other advocates.
“We heard you,” Garduño said. “Thank you for being so brave.”
The number of heroin overdose deaths among teens in the state has increased over the past few years, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Also, the number of heroin-related charges exploded from 179 in 2006 to 1,183 in 2010, according to the District Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque.
For Cameron Weiss, prescription opiates served as a gateway to addiction. After the La Cueva High athlete received painful injuries in wrestling and football practices in 2009, doctors prescribed narcotic painkillers that gave him a taste for opiates, Weiss said.
Cameron first tried smoking heroin at a party in August 2009, she said.
“He didn’t know exactly what he was getting himself into,” Weiss said. “His addiction just got worse and worse over the next six months.”
In February 2010, Cameron confessed to family members that he was addicted and needed help.
“That’s when we started the cycle of treatment center and outpatient centers and Suboxone and all the things you try with someone on heroin,” Weiss said. “You try everything.”
Cameron entered the judicial system in October 2010 when he was arrested for disturbing the peace while battling heroin withdrawal symptoms, Weiss said. He subsequently was jailed several times for violating probation by failing drug tests.
Cameron’s luck appeared to turn in January after he enrolled in a 30-day inpatient drug-treatment program at Mesilla Valley Hospital in Las Cruces, followed by a five-month sober-living program in Tucson.
“He did really well in Tucson,” Weiss said of her son. “He was away from his environment. I think that was the key.”
Family members wanted him to remain in Tucson, but Cameron insisted on returning to Albuquerque, using his own money to buy a bus ticket home in June. Within two weeks, Cameron again was using heroin.
A drug test sent Cameron in late June to the Bernalillo County jail where, Weiss said, she believes her son used heroin while behind bars.
Journal staff writer Dan McKay contributed to this report.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal