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Opioid drug industry often targets middle schoolers, expert says

Abuse of heroin and opioids is something that often starts in adolescence, according to SUNY Upstate Medical Center addiction expert Dr. Brian Johnson. He said the illegal drug industry begins targeting middle schoolers, so they become addicted by the time they’re out of high school.

“The industry wants to recruit children,” Johnson said. “It’s a pediatric disease. By the time some of these kids get to college, the college [health care providers] say they’ve had this addiction for several years and it’s entrenched.”

He said one way to deal with this is to be more aware.

“The answer is there needs to be a huge consciousness that there’s an addictive drug industry out there, worldwide,” Johnson said. “It’s about as big as world tourism, or the oil and gas industry, and these are predatory people.”

Johnson said in some instances a person can become addicted with just a few exposures to opioids. Changes in the brain can result in a permanent craving for the drug.

SUNY Oswego announced last week that one student died and two more were hospitalizedfollowing heroin overdoses early the morning of Saturday, May 10. School officials sent a mass email and text message to the campus community that morning which read, "Danger: Oswego heroin may be lethal. One person is dead; two are hospitalized. Please beware!"

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.