December 13, 2016
In Kirkwood, deaths from heroin are four times the national average, according to CNN. Since 2013, six KHS students have died with speculation of drug abuse. Robert Riley, co-founder of Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery, spoke at a mandatory school-wide assembly Jan. 28, 2016 about heroin. Within the walls of KHS, 15 percent (33/220) of students have been offered drugs at school. After, 80 students anonymously contacted Riley, addressing concerns about someone else or asking questions. For those seeking help, the KHS administration has been working with BJC Healthcare to provide weekly counseling groups.
“I want to make sure [the heroin epidemic] is something that is not hidden,” Dr. Michael Havener, principal, said. “[It should be] something that brings awareness to a deadly drug and addiction.”
The middle schools are preparing a nighttime heroin assembly for parents of eighth graders, and any KSD parent is welcome to attend.
“[The assemblies are] so if [students] are put in that situation they won’t try [heroin],” Havener said. “It will save a person’s life.”
Riley has partnered with counselors and the administration to create a plan for ending the problem in KSD, like holding assemblies to provide information about Opioid Use Disorder, dependence and to make students aware of the dangers and symptoms of heroin.
“When you start having a few beers, start smoking a little bit of weed or begin borrowing your friend’s Adderall, you are putting yourself at risk of becoming that 1 in 5 [who deal with serious addiction],” Riley said.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it only takes one time to become addicted to heroin. The best way to find help at KHS is to communicate concerns with counselors, principals or an adult.
“This is an epidemic right now,” Riley said. “It’s not a game. Kids are dying all over the area, every week. It’s become a ‘norm’ in [the high school] age group that pills are part of having a good time, but the reality is that it leads to serious heroin addiction most of the time.”
He cracked open a capsule bean and let the brown, sandy contents pour onto the table. He tapped his fingers on the table before snorting heroin for the first time. He took a hard sniff through a plastic straw and immediately felt the heroin bolt up his nostrils. Five minutes passed before the sting of the drug rushed through his veins, and he ran to his bathroom to vomit. He walked back to his room, sat on his bed and thought, “This isn’t that great.” But the next morning, he woke up craving it all again.
Almost two years later, Kolton Kaleta, senior, walks the crowded hallways of KHS wearing his yellow “stop heroin” bracelet around his wrist, hoping to help others by sharing his story. Kaleta’s heroin addiction began in early 2015 when he was 15, although this was not the first drug he had used.
“There is a voice in the back of your mind saying, ‘Oh, you can do that again, you can do it again, you can do it again. You can do it every day. You can do it three times a day,’” Kaleta said. “It just keeps going until it’s too late, and you realize you have been doing it every day for six months and you don’t know how to stop.”
Kaleta said he thought using heroin would be mind-blowing and crazy, and although the high had been different, it wasn’t something entirely new either. For Kaleta, drugs had been an escape from the pressures of life, school and insecurities, but the fun blinded him from the seriousness of his problems.
“I knew there was something wrong, I just didn’t know what, and heroin isn’t something that comes to the top of your mind,” Kismet Baysinger, Kolton’s mother, said.
At age 11, Kaleta had his first experience with drugs after smoking cigarettes and stealing his brother’s alcohol. Kaleta soon started smoking marijuana every once in awhile, until freshman year when he started smoking marijuana every day. He later began taking both unprescribed Adderall and Xanax pills, which progressed into harder drugs.
“I don’t necessarily think there is one gateway drug, or that [gateway drugs] are the biggest reason [addiction] progresses,” Kaleta said. “It is just that [every addict begins] somewhere, and it is usually [with] pot or alcohol.”
As Kaleta’s interest in experimenting continued, he ended up trying heroin from his friends because it was cheap and a single pill could provide three highs. At first, he would snort a third to a half of the $5 capsule’s contents but as his addiction elevated, he would use more. He said a gram of marijuana that would last a couple hours would have cost him four times that.
Kaleta said his drug usage did not have profound effects on his academics, but instead his behavior as a student. Although he kept high grades, Kaleta said he began skipping class. Because he missed most of first semester of his junior year due to rehab, he had to retake some courses.
“It is really hard with teenagers,” Baysinger said. “Teens act sullen and Kolton has never been disrespectful, but he began to get really snippy, and he was losing weight. [He was] always vague. It gets tricky with the teens because you don’t know ‘Is there something wrong?’ or ‘Is he just being a nasty little teenager.’”
Kaleta said it was difficult to break away socially. His friends were still using drugs, which made it difficult while trying to get sober. Kaleta had to find an entirely different social group of friends.
“After I quit [using heroin] the first time, I tried just smoking pot, but then went right back into [using] within a week or two,” Kaleta said. “Socially, the drug culture is so [prevalent] that all of my friends either smoked pot, drank, did acid or did something.”
Kaleta said the mental and physical effects weighed on him. The drugs had a way of twisting his way of thinking into believing everything else in his life was wrong, but that he was okay, he said.
“It obviously did affect me [mentally], but at the time I didn’t think too much into that,” Kaleta said. “I thought a lot of my issues were external, and they weren’t coming from my own use of drugs. I thought it was other people, other things, other situations, and now looking back I realize I was the source of many of the issues I had in my life.”
During withdrawal, he would get extremely hot and sweaty, and while using, itchy skin. When he was on heroin, his pupils became the size of a needle head, to the point as if they were not there.
“The way I have described [withdrawal] to some people, is that you feel like you are going to die, you wish you were going to die,” Kaleta said. “But the worst part of it is that you know you aren’t going to die because that’s just how it feels, and all you want is for it to end and your mind is screaming at you to just use one more time.”
According to Kaleta, his relationships suffered. At the time, he said he could not see past the drugs because he was so focused on getting more and the people who could help get them. Baysinger was aware something was going on, but did not know exactly what until Kaleta came to her for help. Kaleta checked into rehab at Bridgeway Behavioral Health, also known as “The Farm,” in Winfield, Mo. Jan. 15, 2015. He immediately started a 90-day program and was released in 82 days.
“Before I tried [heroin], I saw a friend of mine who was using it frequently, and I tried talking sense into [him],” Kaleta said. “I received a blank stare back. Then when I was on it, people would try and talk sense into me, but I was so focused on the high and getting more, that I didn’t want to hear it.”
Kaleta said he accepted that he needed help when he had gotten to the point at which he could not get any more drugs and was sick with withdrawals nearly every day which included achy bones, hot and cold flashes, trouble sleeping, acid reflux and constant pain. He went to Baysinger, told her everything that had been going on and was ready to get help.
“For Kolton and people without insurance, the St. Louis Children’s fund paid for his treatment 100 percent,” Baysinger said. “Nobody seems to know that, and what the [counselors] were saying is that [kids] could be having a problem, but they don’t want to burden their parent with helping them.”
After being released from rehab in September 2015, Kaleta relapsed within two weeks and entered Pathways Community Behavioral, a different rehab facility, in Rolla, Mo., Oct. 20, 2015. He has been clean ever since. Kaleta is now involved with a 12-step program and supportive social group with 30-70 of young people in recovery.
“Kirkwood has helped me a lot with the support of the teachers, principals and staff,” Kaleta said. “In my position, I had to be able to support myself. They have done all they can, which is to be there for me if I need it. They have helped me wherever I needed it, but it’s not too much.”
Kaleta said the best way to defeat the heroin issue at KHS is to bring awareness that this is a problem. He said in order to end this heroin problem in the Kirkwood community, we must be knowledgeable and know their is help.
“There is not one person [who] said to me, ‘Really, [your son is facing a heroin addiction]?,’” Baysinger said. “Everyone says ‘Oh yeah, my nephew… ,’ ‘Oh yeah, my sister…,’ ‘Oh yeah, my son…’ Everyone has been impacted by this [heroin epidemic].”
Searching for the solution
Reduced anxiety, relieved tension and a harmless experiment. According to Addiction Center, these are the false expectations people have of heroin. Since 2013, six deaths among KHS students and alumni have occurred with speculations of drug abuse.
Ceci Bodet, educational support counselor for Alternatives Toward Learning and Success (ATLAS), said a spike in heroin use occurred in Kirkwood soon after she graduated in 2008. She remembers receiving phone calls in college from her mom talking about the rise of the drug in her hometown.
“I remember thinking, if I go home, that’s the scariest thing I’d have to deal with, and now, here I am,” Bodet said. “[My job] can be scary, overwhelming, and at times, feels impossible, but I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever known through this process.”
Part of Bodet’s job is to promote awareness of drug abuse throughout KHS. According to Bodet, the hardest part of spreading awareness is scheduling times to hold school-wide assemblies, such as the one held at KHS on Jan. 28, 2016. She said a way to help spread awareness is by encouraging relationships between teachers and students and to educate teachers on the topic of mental health. Educating teachers will enable them to recognize changes in students attitude, ranging from a social student becoming quiet to ongoing confusion or disorientation in the classroom.
According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 1.3 million U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 17 had a substance use disorder in 2014. Bodet said if teachers are able to find symptoms of mental health issues in students, they could find ways to help them.
“Issues like anxiety are very treatable, and we are here to help,” Bodet said. “Drugs are not the way to go. Those underlying issues will still be there, even when you are using.”
Drug abuse goes beyond the students, addiction can also affect a close friend or parent. Regardless, KHS opens their resources, such as counseling, to anyone who may need help, according to Dr. Michael Havener, principal.
“This is a deadly drug,” Havener said. “If someone needs help, we have resources to get them and their family members help.”
With 80 percent (158/198) of KHS students believing there is a heroin problem at Kirkwood, steps are being made to find solutions. Some ways to improve, according to Bodet, include holding middle school assemblies based on drug abuse to address the topic.
“[This problem] will come to you,” Bodet said. “It doesn’t matter your race or how much money you have, none of that matters. And that’s the thing that scares me the most, my kids dying.”