Rise In Heroin Use Sparks Concern In Community
Published December 2015
In my community, it is hard to go a week without hearing about a heroin overdose or seeing the warning signs of usage in a classmate. This article is crucial to the community and the rest of our nation because it pinpoints the negative effects of the drug on users and their loved ones.
"My son started using heroin at the age of 17," the mother of a 2011 WHS graduate said. "He is now 23 and has been to rehab two times and a mental facility once."
She says that her son’s drug abuse has taken an emotional toll on all of their family.
“The sadness, despair, guilt and confusion has been overwhelming,” she said. “He now has a felony record and has done jail time, leaving large fines and court costs for us to pay.”
In the Franklin County area, one drug proves to be a burden on the community. It is referred to by several names including “Dope” and “Smack,” but most people know it by one: heroin.
“Heroin overdose deaths have increased dramatically in the entire eastern region (of Missouri),” National Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse (NCADA) Prevention Specialist Julie Hook said. “The numbers went from 139 in 2007 to 404 in 2014; that’s an increase of nearly 200 percent.”
With several connecting highways running through the county, heroin has become relatively easy to acquire.
“Drug traffickers have flooded the area with their product,” Hook said. “The crosshairs of major highways such as I-44 and I-70 make it so it doesn’t take much for people who are addicted to make heroin available, even in outlying areas like Franklin County.”
According to the NCADA, heroin is a highly addictive opiate often used to deliver a greater high to users than one gained through the use of other drugs such as prescription painkillers and marijuana.
“Everyone is at risk when abusing opiates,” Hook said. “The fact is that usage can cause overdose death at any time— even with the first use.”
Sgt. Steve Stitzes of the Washington Police Department notes that anyone could be an addict.
“With meth, people can see the user’s physical changes, but with the heroin addict you may not know until the person starts to get dope sick,” Stitzes said. “Heroin crosses so many levels; it’s not just kids that are always in trouble at school, it could be a kid that’s well off in accelerated classes, too.”
“We usually see heroin addicts in the age range of 18-22,” Stitzes said. “You don’t see it as much in the older crowds because one of two things happens: you’re either dead or you get off of it.”
If an abuser does not overdose, the long-term effects of heroin are still numerous. Weakened immune systems, breathing problems, insomnia, memory loss and depression are common among ex-addicts.
Aside from personal damages to the addict, heroin also affects the communities like Franklin County.
“About 80 percent of our stealing crimes in Washington are directly related to the heroin epidemic,” Stitzes said. “We now are also investigating heroin deaths as homicides, so if we can prove that you sold the heroin that killed someone, we will prosecute you.”
The local impact does not stop at legal troubles; the families and friends of heroin addicts suffer as well.
The mother of the 2011 WHS graduate gives advice to others in the community who share in her battle against heroin.
“Recognize that it is a disease,” she said. “Become a detective of sorts and know the signs of abuse; there is help and there is a way out.”
Sgt. Stitzes says that the community’s solution to the heroin epidemic can be found with treatment and prevention.
“It is so important to talk to your kids from early on and try to be an example for them,” Stitzes said. “There’s no way to sugar coat it— don’t enable the abusers or you’re going to kill them; help them find treatment.”
Hook agrees and notes that there are several local treatment options for addicts.
“In order to stop heroin use, we need to work together to eliminate the demand,” Hook said. “Our NCADA agency offers free counseling services and you can call our main office at 314-962-3456 for help.”
In Hook’s words, “Addiction is a preventable but treatable disease, and recovery is possible.”
Teen Marriage: "I Do" Or Don't?
Published December 2015
Some high school journalists are afraid to cover controversial topics. I do not shy away from those topics. There had been much discussion at my school about students who were (or are) engaged. Pros and cons of teen marriage are widely debated. I embraced the chance to localize the issue. I feel that I effectively covered all sides of the debate and featured individuals with feelings and experiences that deserve to be shared.
After three years of dating, senior Ashley Gratzer and St. Francis Borgia Regional High School senior Hunter Warmack celebrate their promise to each other. “We started talking during the summer before freshman year around the time of the fair,” Gratzer said. “Then, I actually went to Borgia’s homecoming dance with a friend and ended up dancing with Hunter instead; the rest is history.” The couple plans to attend separate colleges in the fall, but are dedicated to maintaining their relationship.
In a high school setting, it is not uncommon to encounter teenage couples who are completely infatuated with each other. In fact, a few WHS students have taken the next step in their relationships: long-term commitment.
Senior Ashley Gratzer has been with her boyfriend St. Francis Borgia senior Hunter Warmack, since the beginning of their freshman year.
“We automatically clicked and even after all of this time, we haven’t gotten tired of each other,” Gratzer said. “He is my equivalent and complement all at the same time.”
In September, after three years of dating, Warmack gave Gratzer a promise ring.
“He did it over dinner and I was speechless,” Gratzer said. “I love that it’s not concrete, like an engagement, but still a symbol of commitment.”
Gratzer and Warmack plan to graduate from college before marrying so they can afford to have the wedding of their dreams while still pursuing their individual goals. Contrastingly, another former WHS student has already tied the knot on her relationship.
Soon after meeting Elijah Duckworth in November 2014, senior Ashley Riegel knew that they were meant to be together.
“I got pregnant and he filled out paperwork to go on active duty,” Riegel said. “It all just fell into place.”
In October, Riegel moved to Bonne Terre, Mo. to begin her new life with Duckworth.
“Neither one of us wanted anything big, so we had a small country wedding on Nov. 7, 2015,” Riegel said. “We were outside and after the kiss we had someone shoot off a shot gun.”
The newlyweds look forward to making memories, both good and bad, and the arrival of their daughter in March 2016.
Similarly, senior Danielle Kirkpatrick fell in love early in her high school career.
“We were dating for two and a half years and lived together, so he (Charlie) proposed in January 2015,” Kirkpatrick said. “It felt like the movies because we were high school sweethearts and it was perfect.”
However, Kirkpatrick agrees that not all high school relationships are meant to last, including her own.
“Our different lifestyles and morals made it very hard to stand each other and it began to drive us apart,” Kirkpatrick said. “I don’t regret it; it taught me not to rush things and that if something is meant to be it will happen.”
Present-day teenagers are not alone in their feelings; Associate Principal John Ragan knew that he was meant to be with his wife Teresa when he was just 16.
“We met in an art class in high school, I was a sophomore and she was a senior,” Ragan said. “After multiple attempts on my part and her refusing, we finally went out.”
Ragan accompanied Teresa on a trip to Virginia where he got to know her family and the couple spent quality time discussing all the necessities of their relationship.
“While we were there, I actually asked her to marry me,” Ragan said. “I didn’t have a ring, I didn’t have money, I was just going to be a junior in high school. But I knew she was the one I wanted to spend my life with.”
The couple wed three years later on July 28, 1981, the day after Teresa graduated from college.
“It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college,” Ragan said. “Everyone else was like, ‘You’re so young, there’s no way that you can be in love.’ Well the truth is, yeah you can and we still are today, 31 years later.”
Ragan attributes the cause of most failed relationships to the lack of truly getting to know the partner beforehand.
“It’s fun to go on dates and be boyfriend and girlfriend, but you have to discuss the mature things,” Ragan said. “It sounds cliche but you can’t be afraid to ask or say hard things. Really talk and listen to the person you love; it’ll prevent future disagreements in the long run.”
Ragan supports the decisions of students in committed relationships.
“It may not be your choice to fall in love, it happened to be love at first sight for me,” Ragan said. “But it’s your choice to be mature about it.”