Dallas, TX –
Sujata Dand, KERA News: 16 year old Victor Calderon was snorting 10 hits of cheese heroin a day One evening he lost control.
Victor Calderon: I was using a lot, I was like really, really high. And, I keep using and using until I hit the last line, my eyes started going blurry, and was like out of tone just couldn't breathe. I couldn't talk. I could only see my mom, my dad, my friends, you know.
Dand: Victor's friends called his mother, and she rushed him to Children's Hospital in Dallas.
Calderon: My body started freezing, and I was like scary feel; it felt really bad. So they shocked me two times cause I couldn't breathe, my heart stopped beating, you know. And, that's what happened.
Dand: When Victor woke up, he was disoriented.
Calderon: I was crying hard cause I was like What happened? And my mom was talking to me, and she was crying. I feel for her, you know. I feel bad for her, you know. I feel bad I think I need to make a change, you know. I've been doing too much stuff to my mom.
Dand: There are at least a couple of kids a week like Victor who come into Children's after overdosing on heroin .And, toxicologist Colin Goto says his staff is shocked by how young the victims are.
Dr. Collin Goto, Children's Medical Center: We're seeing kids as young as 9 or 10 getting involved and so we don't have the experience yet to really say what the long-term effects are going to be.
Dand: Dr. Goto explains that heroin is a central nervous system depressant. It can cause your respiratory rate to slow down to the point where you might stop breathing. It can also cause your heart rate to decrease and blood pressure to drop to dangerous levels.
Dr. Goto: The situation becomes most life threatening when you stop breathing, and there's no oxygen getting to all of your organs in your body. So, what happens is people have multiple organ failure. You have brain-death, you have cardiac failure, you have kidney-failure, you have kidney-liver failure and there's no oxygen to any part of your body, then all of your organs will fail. That's the final pathway to death.
Dand: Dr. Goto says children often pass out and die at home in their sleep, and their parents find them the next morning. Victor was lucky.
Calderon: I appreciate the doctors, you know, cause if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here.
Dand: After spending 2 days at Children's- Victor was admitted into Timberlawn Mental Health Hospital for detox. Nestled in south Dallas, the stately white farm house detailed with antique furniture and rugs -- was the first residential treatment center west of the Mississippi to provide psychiatric care beginning in 1917. Craig Nuckles is the CEO.
Craig Nuckles, Timberlawn Mental Health System, CEO: Before this epidemic began I can't remember having children who were addicted to heroin. The youngest addict that we've had thus far was nine years old. That was just a confounding kind of problem. We've certainly never seen anyone of that age, but that's not uncommon now.
Dand: Nuckles says the in the last year they've seen the number of children addicted to heroin quadruple. He finds the statistics alarming.
Nuckles: Kids development stops at the point at which addiction begins. So, you're beginning with a development -skill set that has not had the opportunity to grow and expand. You don't have the character strength that adults have developed as resources to aid them in recovery.
Dand: Victor spent a week at Timberlawn before he moved into another residential treatment facility .After 6 weeks of in-depth counseling; Victor graduated to out-patient treatment. He says his parents have moved the family to a different apartment - so he could try out a new school. But, he's still worried about his 4 younger siblings.
Calderon: It feels bad you know, if feels sad seeing these little kids using drugs. And, I just want to be careful watching my sister, you know, they don't see the see the same thing I'm doing so they'll go do it out there when they go to school.
Dand: A couple of months ago, Victor became an overnight celebrity when US Senator John Cornyn was in Dallas publicizing his anti-drug campaign. In the spotlight with the senator, Victor's confidence was at an all-time high.
Calderon: A drug addict is always going to be afraid of relapsing, you know. But, just call for help, you know? Just try and get help. Don't just go out there and do it, you know.
Dand: Just one month after our interview, he was unreachable his cell phone was disconnected and he no longer attended outpatient treatment. We later learned - through his counselors - that he had relapsed. For KERA News, I'm Sujata Dand.