The Glastonbury grandmother wanted to talk about her town, where "everything seems to be just right."
It isn't, Sigrid Auslander said, as we sat in her kitchen and she told me about heroin and a teenager's death-by-overdose.
Auslander's 19-year-old grandson never woke up one morning this past September, dead from an accidental heroin overdose.
My aging frame of reference for high school misbehavior involves beer, marijuana and the Grateful Dead. Here was a grandma out in the land of big backyards warning me about heroin-snorting teenagers.
"Things get swept under the rug," Auslander said before telling me about her grandson and "children in high school driving expensive cars, children in designer clothes, children who live in million-dollar homes, children with time on their hands and money to spend."
The obituary said her grandson Jeremiah died "unexpectedly." Auslander and her husband, Jerry, wanted me to know that unexpected doesn't mean uncommon.
"Maybe this will open up some eyes," said Jerry Auslander, who told me he had heard of other recent overdoses in town.
I couldn't confirm this with police, although they had plenty to say about heroin and drug-related burglaries in town. During the last few weeks, four young people — three of them teenagers — have been charged with heroin possession. Police also made three heroin arrests in September, two of them teenagers.
I was skeptical, though. Aren't we talking about the kids destined to get into trouble, anyway?
"It's a different Glastonbury," explained Sgt. Timothy Veins of the police department's youth unit. "We've had some serious incidents in town. They obviously need to be addressed."
The increasing presence of heroin among suburban teenagers is tied to growing abuse of expensive opiates, like Percocet, which are often found in the family medicine cabinet. Heroin, also an opiate, is a cheaper alternative that is also relatively easy to obtain. The price is as little as $5 or $10 a bag, compared to expensive prescription pills, which can cost $60 apiece on the street. Significantly, heroin is now snorted like cocaine.
Corey Davis, a Glastonbury officer and an investigator with a regional drug task force, told me about a recent surveillance operation he was part of in Hartford, where police observed a parade of cars with license plates from suburban towns lining up to buy heroin from a dealer.
"It is here, and it is something we have to face," Davis said. "It is not something that we can hide because it is going to be a stigma."
I was wondering about this stigma — certainly I'm not alone among those who think that this happens someplace else — when I called Mary Marcuccio, a Southington mother. She told me there is no "overreacting" to teenage heroin use.
"This drug is the main concern. It is what our kids are buying," said Marcuccio, who founded a group called Parents 4 a Change after a relative developed a drug problem. She runs a regional support group of at least 80 parents whose children have become addicted.
"You can either choose to stay in your lovely bubble of denial. Or you can actively take control of the situation while it is young enough and small enough to try to manage."
"Families are caught so off guard and so surprised by this," Marcuccio said. "It's a tremendous amount of shame and embarrassment. We have these middle- and upper-middle-class Caucasian bedroom communities that have a certain way that things are supposed to go. These things just don't happen in suburbia."
The Auslanders reminded me that it is happening, even if people don't want to talk about it.
Before our visit ended, Jerry and Sigrid showed me pictures of a boyish, blue-eyed teenager with his dog. It wasn't what I thought a heroin addict looked like.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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