Subscribe to the Journal, call 505-823-4400

          Front Page

Heroin Stalks City Teens

FOR THE RECORD: This story included an incorrect phone number for Recovery Unlimited. The correct phone number is 292-4948.

By Story Jeff Proctor
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal Of the Journal
          Steve Paternoster watched his 16-year-old daughter, Haley, fight for her last few breaths in a hospital emergency room. In the end, the heroin won.
        Craig Weatherfield got a knock on his door and stood quietly as a police chaplain and three other officers told him what he had known the moment he saw their faces and uniforms: that his 20-year-old son, Nathan, had lost his battle with heroin.
        Nathan and Haley had struggled with drugs on and off. Both had tried to get clean.
        Haley died April 9, around 3 a.m. Nathan died Monday morning.
        "This is just a terrible, terrible thing," said Steve Paternoster, a well-known restaurateur who owns Scalo Northern Italian Grill and Brasserie La Provence in Nob Hill. "Nothing's going to bring her back."
        The two join a growing list of young people who have fallen into the clutches of black tar heroin, which has plagued New Mexico for generations, and paid with their lives. Many of the most recent casualties came from well-off families, had plenty of love and support at home and had every other advantage.
        A local substance abuse counselor calls it an "epidemic."
        Heroin overdose deaths among New Mexicans between 17 and 24 has climbed steadily the past few years, from two in 2006 to six in 2007 to 15 in 2008, the most recent year statistics are available through the state Department of Health.
        Experts say some teens start using expensive pharmaceuticals and transition to the cheaper heroin, which they inject, smoke or snort.
        "Most of the ones I see overdosing are between 19 and 22," said Bob Barnes, who runs a local counseling agency called Recovery Unlimited. "I've seen the percentage going up, increasing rapidly due to the availability of these chemicals, particularly heroin and Oxycontin. Even as someone who worked in the field 24 years, I've never seen anything like it."
        Law enforcement confirms the growing trend.
        In fact, federal agents are working cases that involve the heroin and pharmaceutical trade among young people at affluent high schools, said Edward Knoth, assistant special agent in charge of the local Drug Enforcement Administration office.
        "We have made some arrests on people supplying pharmaceuticals," he said, referring to a probe that was launched last year into drug trafficking at Eldorado High School. "It's totally separate people who are supplying the heroin in that area. So we're tracking it from two separate angles and trying to keep up a citywide attack, especially as it concerns high school-aged kids."
        Knoth provided more details of an emerging pattern the administration is tracking locally and nationally of the progression of addiction and the easy access young people have to street drugs.
        "DEA has seen an increase in heroin usage, and a lot of that is people starting in high school with pharmaceuticals," he said. "They get hooked on the pills, which are opioids like heroin, and those are very expensive. So a lot of kids go on to heroin, which is a lot cheaper and very much available. We're hearing about a lot of young kids overdosing on heroin — 17-, 18-year-old kids."
        Lynn Pedraza, director of Health and Wellness at APS, said Eldorado has a full-time substance abuse counselor, partly because the principal asked for one.
        "The principal talked to me last year and said there had been problems," Pedraza said. So the position was kept full-time instead of cut to part-time as planned.
        Of Albuquerque's 13 high schools, nine have full-time drug counselors. La Cueva is one of the four that doesn't, which Pedraza said is a matter of resources.
        "Substance abuse in general, in our community, is not funded at the level we need funded," she said.
        'The apple of my eye'
        Steve Paternoster was in Roswell on April 8 for a meeting of the New Mexico Military Institute Board of Regents. He noticed on his BlackBerry that the daily credit card report for La Provence hadn't been finished, so he called home.
        Haley, who had spent the previous night snuggling with her dad and watching a movie, answered the phone. She assured Steve that she would let his wife, Jane, who is Haley's stepmother, know about the credit card issue and call right back.
        She did exactly that, then went downstairs to play with her two younger brothers: Jameson, 2, and 5-year-old Jackson.
        A short time later, as Jane was leaving the house with the boys, she told Jameson to knock on Haley's door and "tell Sissy goodbye."
        Haley didn't answer. So Jane knocked. Still no answer.
        Jane entered the bedroom and discovered that the bathroom door was closed and locked. Jane ran downstairs, grabbed a butter knife and came back up to jimmy the door.
        "Haley was on the floor," Steve said. "No pulse. No breathing. The paramedics were here immediately. It looked like she took the drug — it was heroin — in both wrists. They also found some Vicodin. The paramedics were able to get her heart started, but she never regained consciousness."
        Haley was rushed to University of New Mexico Hospital. Steve left his meeting and did the same.
        She hung on for 17 hours, all the while her breathing becoming more labored, her heart rate dropping, her fever climbing, her lungs filling with fluid.
        Haley received "complete and compassionate care" from the hospital staff, Steve said. Several times, they would restart her heart, plead with her to stay alive.
        As the evening wore on, it started to become clear that Haley wasn't going to make it.
        "I said that if they couldn't make it where Haley would still be Haley, that I couldn't do it," Steve said. "The priest had come and administered last rites, so I issued a (do not resuscitate) order. Then, she went into arrhythmia, and this is something no one should ever have to witness: She sat straight upright in the bed, and her eyes flashed open. Then, she fell back. It was horrifying, and it will haunt me for the rest of my life. I told her it was OK to go, and she did."
        The tragedy of it all aside, Steve wants everyone to know that he isn't ashamed of his daughter — and that she didn't commit suicide.
        "She was still doing OK in school, she loved being pretty, she loved her friends, she loved doing things for other people, and we had plans to go skiing this weekend," he said. "Everybody was crazy about her. She had good family support. And she was a kid who was getting high like her friends were getting high, and that's what she chose to do. But I'm certainly not ashamed of her. I'm crazy about her. She was the apple of my eye."
        Haley had struggled with substance abuse the past few years. Between 13 and 14, she went through a Youth Court program and had gotten things turned around.
        She had been enrolled at La Cueva High School, but Steve said it wasn't suitable for her recovery.
        "She didn't feel comfortable there, with the whole drug culture there. It's out of control," he said. "We're seeing an explosion in drug use here, and these kids in public school don't have a chance. These kids are getting high, and they're not just drinking and smoking pot. In fact, they turn their noses up at drinking. Their drug of choice is heroin. They're doing heroin."
        La Cueva High School principal Jo Ann Coffee could not be reached for comment late Friday.
        Pedraza of APS said her department has used grant money to set up awareness training and programs to help students with drug addiction. She added, though, that drugs are available throughout the city.
        "I do believe that drug abuse is across the district and across all socioeconomic status," she said.
        It was Haley's 16th birthday, Christmas Day 2009, when Steve started to become aware his daughter was using hard drugs. He had bought her a car and in fairly short order started to notice all the detritus of addiction: dented wheels from driving loaded into curbs, smashed-in windows, cigarette butts floating in cups in the center console and, on one occasion, a missing stereo that Haley said had been stolen.
        "I'm pretty sure she sold it," Steve said.
        So ,one day, as he was driving her to school, he asked her: "You have a problem, don't you?"
        "She nodded her head, 'yes,' in a very small way," Steve said. "And I asked her if it was the problem I thought it was. She nodded her head again, and then we went to work on getting her better."
        'The kid was so smart'
        Craig Weatherfield had watched his son, Nathan, who was 20 when he died on Monday, walk the dark hallways of addiction for a few years.
        So when the police chaplain, accompanied by three other officers, arrived on Craig's doorstep, he already knew what he was about to hear.
        "As soon as I saw them, I just knew it had to be terrible news," he said.
        Nathan had not been living with his parents.
        "We went through the fights, the holes in the walls, and he and I were just having a terrible time getting along," Craig said. "One morning, there was a fight, and it turned into a domestic violence situation, and Nathan went to jail. A judge issued a no-contact order, and he moved out."
        Nathan had struggled with marijuana and alcohol abuse since his teens, when he was a student at Eldorado High School. And he had tried to get clean.
        "We were trying to deal with it," Craig said. "And there were definitely times when he seemed to be receiving counseling and other stuff well."
        Nathan dropped out of Eldorado before his senior year. A self-starter, Nathan got his GED and, later, an associate's degree in computer science from Central New Mexico Community College.
        "When he put his mind to something, you just couldn't stop him," Craig said. "The kid was so smart. He taught himself how to build computers, and he was always fixing everyone's computers. And he taught himself to play piano. He was really interested in music production.
        "I'll tell you something: He used to go on 50-mile hikes with the Boy Scouts, and he wasn't even a Scout. He just loved to be outside."
        Nathan's parents had known their son was using heroin for about a year. They'd seen it before.
        His older brother started smoking heroin a few years ago, and within two weeks, he couldn't stop. He went to his parents with his problem and was able to turn his life around.
        "That just shows you how insidious this thing is," Craig said. "Boy, we could've lost two of them just like that."
        Nathan had been in counseling in recent months. His parents saw glimmers of hope.
        "But then the drugs took over again, and we just couldn't control him," Craig said.
        Craig is alarmed at how easy it is for young people to get heroin and other street drugs.
        "These kids can send a text or make a call and have something at their front door in 15 minutes," he said. "And that's ... all over town.
        "I'm going to reach out to other parents. I've got to do something. If I can spread the word or help out — I just want to try to help in any way I can. No parent should ever have to live through this."
        Journal Staff Writer Hailey Heinz contributed to this story
        Signs of heroin or prescription drug abuse
        • Nodding off during the day and sleeping a lot.
        • Declining grades.
        • Changes in friends or attitude.
        • Frequently asking to see a doctor.
        • Wearing long sleeves in the summer.
        • Scratching frequently.
        • Missing money or other valuable items.
        • Burnt foil, bent spoons or other drug paraphernalia.
        — Source: Bob Barnes, Recovery Unlimited
        Resources for recovery
        • Turquoise Lodge, inpatient rehab, 841-8978
        • Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services (MATS), short-term detox, 468-1555
        • Endorphin Power Company, sober living facility, www.endorphinpower.org, 268-3372
        • Casa Los Arboles, recovery home, www.abqhch.org/casa_los_arboles.htm, 766-5197
        • Recovery Unlimited, outpatient counseling, 292-4948
        • Lifestyle Recovery, outpatient counseling, 345-6801
        • A New Awakening, outpatient counseling, www.anewawakening.com, 224-9124
        • Narcotics Anonymous, 12-step recovery meetings, www.riograndena.org, 260-9889

Call 505-823-4400 to subscribe
Submit a news tip | E-mail reporter