Note: This article was originally published Jan. 6, 2005.
LYNN — Dr. Patricia Walsh said the words "heroin addict: should conjure up a new image in people's minds.
The psychiatrist at Union Hospital said the opiate addicts she treats are increasingly white, middle class and young.
"It's definitely a different population," she said. "Now we are seeing kids that look like they could be on the 'Leave it to Beaver' show."
Opiate abusers were once confined to inner cities and considered "down-on-their-luck" types, she said. Today they are kids with cash and nice cars.
"It used to be alcohol or marijuana," Walsh said. "Today it's opiates."
Walsh is tapped when a patient comes to the hospital and opiate abuse is a suspected source of the problem. This could be anything from a respiratory infection to injuries from a car crash. Sometimes, no one knows these kids have a drug problem until they are admitted and suddenly exhibit withdrawal symptoms, she said.
When treating these teens, Walsh said, she's surprised at times by the reactions of the patients and their parents.
"Patients generally don't want you to tell their parents," she said. "But there's not as much shame there as you would think."
Some parents are actually relieved to learn their child was "just using OxyContin" because it means they were popping pills and not shooting heroin," she said.
"Most kids think they can stop tomorrow," she said. "Sadly, that's not the case."