- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

MASSAPEQUA, N.Y.

When high school senior Natalie Ciappa nearly died of a heroin overdose Memorial Day weekend, she promised her parents she had learned her lesson and was going clean.

She got a job, met a guy and appeared to be getting better. She even was making her curfews again.

But on the first night of summer, Natalie went to a party and never came home.

The death of Natalie Ciappa, a Plainedge High School honors student with a singing voice her mother says was too good for “American Idol,” has confirmed what police, prosecutors and federal narcotics agents say has been a growing problem on Long Island: cheap, potent heroin available for sale in school hallways, malls, parks and just about anywhere young people congregate.

It is not a problem isolated on Long Island. Though the federal Drug Enforcement Administration says heroin use has remained fairly consistent across the country in recent years, the highly addictive narcotic goes through vicious phases when it becomes the trendy drug of choice among teenagers. For example, suburban Dallas is among the areas that have been combating heroin use by children as young as 8 for several years, officials say.

On Long Island, the scourge of the drug is exacerbated by the fact that dealers are preying on areas with heroin that costs virtually nothing. One heroin ring that included Natalie Ciappa’s ex-boyfriend was charged recently with selling the drug at the Hempstead bus terminal for as little as $5 a packet.

“Cigarettes are $6 a pack!” exclaimed Patricia Silverman, whose children all graduated from Plainedge High School. “My heart goes out to the parents. It’s just a national tragedy. This is supposed to be a beautiful community.”

Many teens using heroin snort the drug rather than inject it. “Unfortunately, because it can be snorted, kids think the stigma of being a drug addict is removed,” said John Gilbride, the DEA’s special agent in charge of the New York office. “There’s not the same stigma as when a hard-core drug user injects it.”

Lt. Peter Donohue, a veteran narcotics detective, subscribes to a “generational amnesia” theory. “The kids have been told about the detriment of using cocaine, alcohol or marijuana, but heroin was never [discussed] really; that’s something from a generation ago,” he said.

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