View attachment 29763 Michael J. Dias was born on Oct. 18, 1989, but instead of celebrating his birthday, his family in Ludlow now mourns his death.
Dias committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in May 2009.
“This was my son. He was a pianist; he had an extremely bright future. He went to school at Northeastern, interviewed with (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). He was extremely bright; he had a straight A average,” says his mother, Grace Dias.
Her son graduated third in his class at Ludlow High School, but, while he was pounding the books, he was also illegally popping prescription pills, Dias said.
The drug use began when Michael Dias was 16; the abuse continued until he graduated from high school. His mother thought that getting him out of Ludlow to attend college would solve the problem, but it got worse in Boston.
After just one semester at Northeastern University, Michael Dias quit school and came back to Ludlow, but not back home.
“I didn’t even know where he was,” his mother remembered recently. “He wasn’t living with me at the time, and it just went down from there. The reason he killed himself was because of a combination of prescription pills and steroids. I was having dinner at my sister’s house, and the police came over to tell me. He had been with me just an hour before. He put a gun to his head and killed himself.”
This has not been an easy year for area families or for law enforcement in regards to young people and drug use. From the end of March to the beginning of July, East Longmeadow police say they responded to five medical emergencies involving heroin overdoses.
“Two people were rushed to the hospital; three were rushed to the morgue. We’ve had three heroin deaths in this town, yes,” said East Longmeadow Sgt. Patrick Manley.
The victims were all male, between the ages of 20 and 28, according to Manley. Their stories were similar to what police have been witnessing, a story that begins with prescription meds, switches to heroin, and then ends with an autopsy and an epitaph, the sergeant said.
View attachment 29764 [Pic: Agawam police officers Robert Burke, left, and John Field show the Drug Display Unit they use in the Addiction Resource Center at Agawam High.]
The fall into the lure of drugs for tens of thousands of young people across Western Massachusetts begins as early as middle school and most likely by high school when they begin using and abusing pharmaceutical drugs – oxycodone, hydrocodone, Percocet, and Ritalin, police and medical experts say.
“The statistics are pretty scary. The number of middle schoolers who have tried oxycodone or hydrocodone-type prescription medications is fairly alarming, but in high school it’s become an epidemic,” said Dr. Louis Durkin, emergency room medical director at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield.
In Longmeadow, police haven’t dealt with an overdose death in several years, but the department has fear it may just be a matter of time because young people appear to be now hooked on “pharm parties.”
“This is where kids bring medicines they find in the house. They throw it on the table and everybody just starts taking medication, and they have no idea what it is. They just take it and see what it does for them, and that’s extremely dangerous,” said Longmeadow patrolman Dan Jacek.
“When you get people combining all kinds of drugs together and they have no idea what the effects are going to be, it’s extremely dangerous and potentially deadly,” he said.
Even though pharmaceutical drugs are available only by prescription, they’re easy enough for kids and teens to access, according to police. Authorities say children are taking the meds from their parents who leave prescriptions open and available all over the house – in medicine cabinets, purses, drawers or right on kitchen counters.
“They don’t have to go on the street to buy their drugs. It’s right in their home,” said Agawam school resource officer Robert Burke. “The kids take a couple of pills at a time so no one notices.”
Authorities say they have a tough time tracking down who’s taking pills because the tell-tale signs are few; drug-sniffing dogs can’t detect the narcotics, police, parents can’t smell drugs on a child’s breath, and, because young people are taking the drugs orally, or snorting them, teens don’t have needle marks on their arms.
“It’s probably more accessible than alcohol. It’s another thing they can get into,” says Ludlow patrolman and school resource officer Paul Dobek. “For the kids, it’s just like popping candy. It’s simple, it’s clean, and tough to get caught.”
View attachment 29765 [Pic: Longmeadow Police Officer Dan Jacek holds prescription drugs collected from a recent drug drop off held across Western Massachusetts and in Longmeadow. Drugs]
Authorities say when kids aren’t popping pills, they’re crushing and snorting the medication, making a dangerous drug even deadlier. “The reason they snort it is the same reason it’s more dangerous. It enters the blood stream faster and you get higher faster. But the higher the concentration in the blood stream the more likely it is to cause death,” said Durkin.
Middle- and high-school students have even easier access to drugs when the prescription is for them. Law enforcement officers say children who are being treated for attention deficit disorder, depression, anxiety, or hyperactivity may skip taking their meds and give, or even sell the narcotics to their classmates.
“We call that diversion of the medication,” said Durkin. “That’s a big issue and doctors are now monitoring their patients more closely by calling them in for random checks to make sure they actually have the medication in their system,” he said.
Doctors are also ordering their young patients to bring in their medication and counting how many pills are left in the bottle, according to Durkin. Too few could mean the child is over-medicating or selling the drugs, he said.
“That child needs that medication and a lot of times they’re not taking it the way they’re supposed to because they’re selling it to make money or they’re getting their friends high with it,” said Burke in Agawam.
Pharmaceutical drugs are highly addictive, hooking students not only on the medication but also the dealer. In high school, when the supplier graduates, students left behind are forced to find another source. Very often this pursuit of drugs takes a dangerous turn into the city. The young drug users are now forced to buy from drug dealers in metropolitan areas, like Springfield and Holyoke, where law enforcement officers say the suburban kids can wind up being in over their heads.
“We see people coming into our city all the time driving through our high-crime areas, looking to score either heroin or oxycodone,” said Springfield Police Sgt. John M. Delaney.
Delaney, aide to Police Commissioner William Fitchet, says teens from across Western Massachusetts, including some who come from the Berkshires as well as northern Connecticut and southern Vermont, are shopping for drugs in Springfield. He says the City of Homes has become a major drug distribution center for southern New England. But, when teens come with cash and shop for drugs, they don’t always get the goods, according to Delaney.
“What happens more often than not is that instead of buying the drug they’re getting a gun in their face or they’re getting carjacked. They’re going to an area that is high crime and the dealers see the buyers as easy marks, especially if they’re from out of town,” said Delaney.
Teenagers from suburbia aren’t coming to Springfield and Holyoke just to score illegal pharmaceuticals, according to Delaney. They’re also after heroin to buy, too, because it has the same effect as oxycodone.
“Heroin is so much cheaper now, and the purity level is at an all-time high. These kids can buy a $5 bag of heroin as opposed to $50 for a single oxycodone pill,” said Delaney. “Officers in the district know when somebody’s patrolling the area looking for drugs. We’ll pull them over and tell them to get out of Dodge because we don’t need any more crime victims.”
[Pic: Prescription drugs collected from a recent drug drop-off held across Western Massachusetts.]
In Ludlow, Dobek worries about kids literally crossing the line from oxycodone to heroine and Ludlow to Springfield. “It’s a gamble. You don’t know who you’re dealing with. There’s no honor among thieves. You go over there to buy drugs, but it doesn’t mean you’re not going to get ripped off, especially if you’re a kid from a small town who’s unfamiliar with the city,” he said.
Stealing and using prescription medication intended for someone else isn’t just dangerous, it’s illegal – and authorities don’t differentiate between first-time users and hard core dealers, police say.
“It’s illegal to have someone else’s prescription medication. If it’s not prescribed to you, you can’t have it,” says Burke in Agawam. “It’s not like alcohol. It doesn’t matter what your age is with drug offenses. There’s no break if you’re a minor. You can be 8 years old and have somebody else’s prescription, and you’re going to be charged the same way as a 30 year old.”
The suicide of Michael Dias is just one reason the Ludlow Cares Coalition is now focusing on children and drugs, creating awareness of and trying to prevent drug abuse.
“We’ve had our share of tragedy and we don’t need it; we don’t need it and it can be prevented,” said coalition chairperson Laura Rooney. “I’ve had to talk to my kids about tragedy and it’s very, very difficult.”
Grace Dias formed the Michael J. Dias Foundation, a non-profit organization trying to raise money to build a “sober home” where drug abusing children and teens can go to beat the addiction.
Although promoting drug awareness is now one of Dias’ missions in life, she’s got little advice for parents. “I’m at a loss for what to say to parents because I never want to make them feel like they had a part in this,” she said.
Dias says she kept a close eye on her son, insisting that he do his homework and practice playing the piano. He had a curfew and she could enforce it because she was a stay at home mom. Dias simply doesn’t know what went wrong with her son.
“You can talk to a child until you’re blue in the face, but how much effect does that really have? When you’re 16, all that matters are your friends,” Grace Dias said. “If you’re not accepted at school you’re going to do what it takes. The influence that’s out there is much greater than the influence you have with your child.”
When a child pops his first prescription med, illegally, he takes the biggest gamble and makes what could be the biggest mistake of his life, Dias and the officers agree.
“The drugs are prescribed by a doctor that knows your body, knows what you’re allergic to and what your body can handle,” said Dobek. “It’s like playing Russian roulette. If you randomly take a pill, you don’t know how it’s going to affect you.”
In Ludlow and other area communities, parents are talking with their children about drugs and choices, hoping their point is well-made. “Kids need to know that as parents we support their good choices,” said Rooney. “The use and selling of drugs is something that we don’t support.”
By Staasi Heropoulos
on November 11, 2012 at 11:30 AM, updated November 11, 2012 at 11:40 AM