Why Does Dallas Keep Forgetting About its Cheese-Heroin Problem?

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On Friday, Dallas police reported that they were investigating the apparent overdose deaths of two students from Thomas Jefferson High School in March and April: 14-year-old Jaime Morales, who was found dead at his home in Northwest Dallas, and an unnamed 17-year-old, found dead in an apartment on Ferguson Road.

Although police are still awaiting toxicology reports, it's been reported that the deaths are the result of cheese heroin, a mixture of black tar and over-the-counter cold medicine that's dogged North Texas for years.

The deaths are tragic, no matter the cause. But if cheese is to blame, we have to ask: Why is everyone caught off-guard yet again? Does Dallas have a persistent case of cheese amnesia?

The Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that cheese heroin has been a significant problem in DISD since around 2006. But the reality is that overdose deaths from cheese have occurred regularly in the metroplex every few years, starting in the 1990s in Plano. Back then, some 20 people -- all high-school age or just barely older -- died of overdoses. In 1998, 29 people were indicted in a suspected heroin ring, accused of providing the fatal drugs. Most of them were the same age as the overdose victims.

Almost exactly a year ago, the same story played itself out again in Flower Mound, where 17 people, all under the age of 21, were indicted for drug crimes after the deaths of three teenagers from heroin overdoses. Twelve of the defendants were accused of conspiring to distribute heroin; three were alleged to have driven down to Dallas to procure the drug before mixed it with cold medicine to produce cheese, a damp, snortable powder.

(One young Flower Mound resident, a former user, told me that while cheese is technically made with an antihistamine ingredient, diphenyhdramine, that's supposed to boost the effects of heroin, it's just as common to mix it with Xanax. Either way, it's a double dose of depressants, and very, very dangerous.)

The Flower Mound case produced a short, intense blitz of media attention, helped along by the fact that the defendants were young, affluent and predominantly white. News vans camped out to catch glimpses of the teens making their court dates, gathering footage for ominous stories about the return of cheese. Then, just as quickly, there was silence. (According to court documents, the defendants in the Flower Mound case have all accepted plea bargains, the details of which are sealed.)

But as we discussed in a cover story in July of that year, cheese has never really gone anywhere. Since Plano, arrests and deaths relating to cheese have been reported without fail every year or two, in communities rich and poor. But each time, there's the same sense of disbelief, the same warnings about a teen drug craze sweeping the school system, the same need to redefine the word "cheese" for a new crop of clueless parents. And with each arrest, police seem confident they've "stunted" the supply of cheese into their communities, as a Flower Mound officer put it in an interview a year ago.

But the reality is that cheese, while relatively rare outside of North Texas, never seems to completely disappear from the drug diets of young users here, even if it vanishes quickly from the radar screens of the adults around them. As we reported last year, between 1996 and 2010, users who reported snorting their heroin increased from 4 percent to 16, while the average age of inhalers dropped from 30 to 27. Cheese users are getting younger, and they're getting more numerous.

The sad pattern, it seems, is that adults forget about cheese, at least until another round of arrests and deaths hit the news. In the meantime, a new crop of young users emerge.

"Unfortunately, drug abuse is marked by 'generational forgetting,'" Jane Maxwell, a drug researcher at UT Austin told us last year. "And over time, new users emerge who know nothing about the dangers and they start using. It's sad and discouraging."

Craig Nuckles at Timberlawn Mental Health Services told the Morning News they routinely see two to three new young heroin detox patients per week. (Both Nuckles and Maxwell also make clear their dislike of the word "cheese," which they say is a cute, euphemistic name for a deadly drug.)

What makes the Thomas Jefferson deaths so heartbreaking, if cheese was actually involved, is that a small group of now-graduated students worked very hard to spread the word about the dangers of the drug. A D Magazine story from earlier this year detailed their efforts, under the now-depressing headline, "How Thomas Jefferson High School Students Kicked the Cheese Habit."


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19 comments
MonkeyManBilly
MonkeyManBilly

The author here says that snorted heroin is rare outside of North Texas - that is completely untrue. It's just that nobody else in the world calls it "cheese". Some doofus white kids started calling it that back in the 90's- everybody else in the world calls it what the Mexicans call it - Chiva. (goat)

It is usually made with either bendaryl of an over the counter sleep aid- and as with the first round of kids who died back in the late 90's, the same major mistake keeps being made by stupid, greedy kids who are hell bent on getting as blitzed as they possibly can and instead of using an over the counter sleep aid or benadryl to simply act as a powder binder - because you can't snort that sticky tar- they think if a little is good a ton must be better and mix xanax or valium or both instead.

It's not the school district's fault, it's not the Mexican neighborhood's fault. This stuff has been all over the country and the DFW area since the 60's, but it's not until bored rich white kids with more dollars than sense, and two parents who are more concerned with furthering their careers than raising their spoiled brats overdose and die that anybody bothers to take notice.

Who is at fault for these kids' deaths? ultimately the kids. That line about not knowing it was heroin... BS. Everybody knows what it is. That's like saying people don't know that lack of oxygen is deadly when they hang themselves. They know- they just don't care.

They've heard from adults that smoking pot will make you a crazed murderer that will lose all control and your life will basically end right when you smoke it- and they inevitably try it and find out that adults and police/government propaganda is mostly exaggerations and lies, and so when they hear that "cheese" and heroin can kill you even if you just snort it, they immediately think, 'well, they said pot was going to ruin my life and it didn't, so this probably won't kill you either.' - and indeed the first time out it doesn't- and then some stupid kid decides to mix another powerful depressant drug into their system... and they probably drink a little too... look, you can only slow your heart and breathing down so much before you just stop...

The fault... the Kids first for doing it in the first place, the parents second for not being in the lives of their kids enough to know that the kids are on heroin in the first place (come on, you can't say that a drug that makes you stay more or less unconscious for 6 to 12 hours and then sleep for 10 hours after it wears off isn't noticeable! and you gotta take the stuff every single day or you get very sick), and then the government or whatever group decides what anti-drug messages get put out there- because if you'd be straight with kids and tell them the truth about all drugs, and not try to scare them into not trying them, there would be a little credibility when you said, stay away from this shit because it's really dangerous and it doesn't take much more than what you think you're doing to kill you.

stacywitherspoon
stacywitherspoon

Our 17 year old was introduced to this and died November 1 2006. At that time Texas had no room in rehabs fir those who wanted help. It's so sad that kids are not educated more.

accionamerica
accionamerica

The issue of Cheese Heroin must take a comprehensive on going effort of public information, student and parental involvement in an ongoing anti drug campaigns that is grass roots oriented and must include  strict aggressive police enforcement against those who kill our Children. The moment a teenager consumes Heroin he is dead for life. We must also create job programs, tutoring programs and expand funding of sports and recreational programs. The bottom line with Cheese Heroin,  it is money oriented, a very fast way to make a buck. I am very disappointed to hear that the Flower Mound drug dealers got off easy.

 

Diane cannot say that we have not been involved, we have taken a leadership role and very public position on this issue. I is time the entire community start carrying the ball too. The TJ overdose was exposed by through ur efforts and only to reexpose that the issue is alive and well.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

I once taught the first victim of "cheese" in Dallas. The student's parents thought they had the problem under control. If I recall correctly, they blamed the school for her drug habit, because you know, school is the ONLY place you can get drugs in Big D. Sadly, the student was introduced to cheese--may have been the first use of it. The house party had NO parents--they were gone on a cruise! The DPD thought it was "ice" at first, and that is when we learned of cheese.

Why not ask  the community that protects the source of the heroin: The Latino community? When I have asked for their so-called leaders to speak out, they blame DISD. They think we don't do enough. Really? We gave birth to these kids, take them home, and leave them unsupervised for hours? We are the ones who tolerate, yes--tolerate, the existence of the drug cartels in their own neighborhoods? I have taught kids linked to the cartels. They admit to it, one even bragged. One kid was telling me even how they laundered their money--I mean brazen. (Do not worry for me. They do not fear me or any other regular citizen. They hide in plain sight.)

Ask Domingo Garcia what he has done to help? Nada. Nada damn thing.  Go to the chorizo breakfast? Won't hear them talk about the REAL problems with the kids... nope. All about "representation." All about population numbers. Whatever.

Craigley
Craigley

Y'all can't see the cheese for The Bridge.  You know exactly what bridge.

scottindallas
scottindallas

 "And over time, new users emerge who know nothing about the dangers and they start using."   Bullcrap.  They know what they're getting into.  When they have to cop to the story, sure they say they didn't know.  But, the danger is a huge part of the intrigue.  Popular culture is rife with the warnings. 

watchingsouthdetroit
watchingsouthdetroit

If you are dumb enough to take heroin - then suffer the consequences.  As they say, you can't fix stupid.  Heroin users are not exactly big contributors to society as a whole.  So the process of natural selection continues....

Bkilgore0
Bkilgore0

I've always found it strange that Dallas media have always presented this as though it were something new and something that exists only in Dallas.

I suppose it makes for a more compelling story, but I'm pretty sure that users have been snorting heroin in every form imaginable all around the world. When I was in school here in the dfdub it was called 'chiva.'

Steve
Steve

I don't understand why you think it's "forgotten about."  People die, investigations happen, low-end dealers get busted, people are more careful, then dealers proliferate, and another poor, stupid kid dies.

It cannot be completely stopped.    It's going to crop up.   When it does, I'm sure there is disappointment, kind of a "we hoped this was a fad" thing.    But it just drives home the point that law enforcement will never  bat a thousand.

So how should Dallas have been "on guard?"  

Daniel
Daniel

I'm guessing it's our proximity to Mexico, then. Black tar is simply not in an end-user state -- it can't be shot or snorted by itself. Surely this evil stuff exists in places like Houston or L.A., though? It's actually been around these parts, under different names, since the late '80s. Locals of a certain age may recall "chiva" -- same stuff. Even by the standards of hard drugs, it's always had a low-rent, disreputable profile, like meth. 

Daniel
Daniel

Cheese by any other name  must exist in other markets -- at least in other markets where black tar heroin exists. There's simply no other way to ingest the stuff.

And no, I don't do heroin. Been around the block.

Daniel
Daniel

If the DPD thought "cheese" was "ice," then we may as well just give up. I mean, no wonder. You know?

stacywitherspoon
stacywitherspoon

@watchingsouthdetroit if you had 17 year old son that died from this you may not be so heartless

Daniel
Daniel

It's worth noting that in the media's narrative, many school-age dabblers in cheese have no idea what they're getting into -- that is, they don't know it's heroin. I'm a little skeptical, myself (the meme sounds directly descended from that hoary 1970s chestnut: sometimes joints are laced with heroin, in order to get the unsuspecting young'un hooked!), but there you have it.

MonkeyManBilly
MonkeyManBilly

@Daniel Sorry, but you don't know what you're talking about. People shoot tar all the time. In fact, it's the preferred way to do it. I don't know why you think it can't be shot, all you have to do is mix it with water and strain it through some cotton. Granted, it's not good for you, but unless you are taking pharmaceutical grade opiates, none of it is good for you.

Anna Merlan
Anna Merlan

Heroin mixed with cold medicine and snorted really looks like mainly a North Texas thing, from what I could determine when I was researching my cover story. But there were a couple reports from New York a few years ago announcing a "scary new drug craze" in high schools there. It was, you guessed it, cheese. But it vanished from the papers there pretty quickly.  

The Credible Hulk
The Credible Hulk

Much like it does here each and every time it pops its nasty head up.

I suspect the dynamic there is much the same as it is here: Bury our heads in the sand and vilify the ice-cream vendors.

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