- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

DALLAS (AP) - In their quest to lure new, younger clientele, drug dealers are mixing their wares with over-the-counter pain remedies and other familiar products even candy and peddling them under non-threatening names.

One such concoction, a blend of black tar heroin and Tylenol PM that goes by the name “cheese,” has been linked to the deaths of 19 teenagers in Dallas, including two 15-year-olds.

“If you’re a drug dealer, you have to target a new audience all the time,” said Garrison Courtney, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman. “It’s Marketing 101 for drug dealers.”

Examples of the drug-mixing strategy also include candy laced with marijuana and, in several states, flavored methamphetamine. In Arkansas, a mix of meth and strawberry-flavored powder normally used to create a children’s milk drink turned up recently under the name “Strawberry Quick.”

“They’re calling it ‘cheese’; they’re not calling it ‘heroin,’” said Dr. Collin Goto, a toxicologist at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. “It becomes much more appealing to younger kids because it doesn’t have the stigma. They’re not as afraid to get started.”

Dallas school district police first became aware of the heroin-mixing trend in 2005, and it has since become a disturbing local phenomenon.

“Cheese is just a different makeup for mixing with heroin, but it’s still heroin,” said Dr. Jeffrey Barnard, chief medical examiner for Dallas County. “It’s the heroin that’s the problem.”

Beyond the innocuous name, several other factors appear to be driving the popularity of cheese. Children often buy the drug from other children. It’s affordable, selling for about $2 a dosage, and it is snorted rather than injected.

During the 2005-06 school year, the Dallas school district police arrested 90 students for possession of the heroin-Tylenol PM mixture. The number has soared during the current school year. Through February, 122 have been arrested. The average age of those arrested: 14.

“The resurgence of heroin in society in 11- to 16-year-olds that’s unprecedented,” said Julian Bernal, deputy chief of narcotics for the Dallas police, who makes six to 12 arrests a month for possession of cheese heroin.

“Hopefully, we can try to contain it,” said Dr. Sing-Yi Feng, another toxicologist at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. “The concern is that the stuff is pretty cheap. It’s easy to use.”

Specialists say cheese usually has 2 percent to 8 percent heroin mixed with the Tylenol PM which contains acetaminophen and diphenhydramine or similar over-the-counter drugs.

Gary Hodges, deputy chief of the Dallas school district police, said cheese arrests in the district have nearly equaled those for marijuana, still the leading substance involved in drug arrests.

Authorities say they are just beginning to understand how widespread the mixture has become and the toll it is taking on Dallas-area youths. Even the exact number of cheese heroin-related deaths was not known until the Dallas Morning News analyzed medical examiner records and published the results last month.

“Basically, it flew under the radar screen,” said Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services and a member of the Dallas County task force on cheese.

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