Teen Heroin Use - and Deaths - On the Rise

Natalie Ciappa
Natalie Ciappa, a National Honor Society member and a cheerleader who sang the National Anthem at basketball games at her Long Island, N.Y. high shcool, died from a heroin overdoes days before her graduation in 2008. Street heroin is cheaper and purer than ever, leading to an increase in use and overdoeses among teens.

A rise in heroin abuse by teenagers across the country has led one high school to issue an ultimatum to parents: Attend a seminar on the dangers of heroin or your child will banned from the prom.

CBS News national correspondent Jim Axelrod reports more than 1,000 parents showed up to the forum in Smithtown, N.Y., Wednesday night.

It is still easy to find heroin addicts shooting up in a New York City stairwell.

"Once you like it you fall in love with it," one said.

Even these junkies know they are yesterday's news. The heroin on the street today is so pure that kids in the suburbs are now snorting it.

"When they find out they can snort it they don't think they can get addicted because they're not injecting it," another junkie said.

Those teenagers include Natalie Ciappa, a National Honor Society member at her high school on Long Island, star of school plays, and a cheerleader who sang the National Anthem at basketball games. She was everything a parent could want - and the furthest thing from the traditional picture of a heroin addict.

But she is one of the new faces of heroin addiction. Days before her high school graduation in 2008, Natalie overdosed and died.

When we found her she was already gone," said Natalie's mother Doreen Ciappa. "She wasn't breathing. We heard her last breath."

Natalie was one of 46 people to die last year from a heroin overdose in Nassau County, N.Y., a 75 percent increase from the year before. That's a troubling spike being felt nationwide.

Heroin has killed 23 people so far this year in Will county, Ill., compared to 16 last year. The number of heroin deaths in Jefferson County, Ala., has tripled from six in 2007 to 18 this year. And in 2008 there were 119 heroin deaths across Oregon - 71 in Multnomah County alone.

A small bag of heroin "is actually cheaper than a six pack of beer," said John Gilbride, the special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Agency's New York field office.

Dealers have refined production methods, making the drug cheaper and more powerful - 15 times as pure as 1970s heroin.

"You can do heroin once," Gilbride said, "and it may be the last chance that you get to do heroin."

Users are getting younger: More 8th graders now say they've tried heroin in the last year than 12th graders.

"So it's here and you have to accept the fact that your perfect kid could make a mistake like Natalie," said Natalie's father Victor Ciappa. "If you don't catch it in time, you're going to bury your kid."

Victor Ciappa doesn't need a survey to warn him of the danger. The reminders hang throughout his home.