SALT LAKE CITY -- As the rate of heroin use among teenagers increases across the country, Utah drug experts and parents are boosting their efforts to spread the message of how dangerous the drug can be.
Addicts tell KSL heroin is instantly addictive, and you don't realize you need a fix until you try to quit.
"It tricks you into feeling like everything's fine," an anonymous man told KSL's Doug Wright Wednesday morning. He said he started using heroin in his teens when a fellow marijuana-smoker offered him some "opium."
"Although I've been clean off of illicit drugs for three and a half years, I spent the better part of a decade trying to fight my way through it," he said.
Parents who called into "The Doug Wright Show" said no family is immune.
"I have a daughter who's been battling heroin addiction for three years," one woman said, adding her daughter had just left rehab within the last month.
She continued, saying the battle will be lifelong -- her daughter can never request serious painkillers, even for childbirth when she's older.
"She can't ask for any narcotic pain pills at all," the woman said. "She has to tell them, ‘I can't have that.'"
Another mother said stealing is what eventually tipped her off to her daughter's habit.
"Shoplifting, and doing anything they can -- panhandling, working parking lots in grocery stores, which you see a lot of right now," she said.
What really opened her eyes was when she realized her late father's wedding band had disappeared. She asked her daughter if she had it.
- A change in performance at school or work
- A lack of personal hygiene or a sense that one no longer cares about one's appearance
- A tendency toward recklessness
- Withdrawal from friends and family and activities one once enjoyed
- Wearing long-sleeved or "winter" clothes in summer, possibly to cover needle marks
- Slurred speech, a runny nose or constant sniffling
"She looked at me straight in the face and told me she didn't," the woman said. "An hour and a half later, she hawked it."
Experts say experiences like those two mothers' are typical. Shane Johnson, owner of Occupational Health Care International, a drug testing company based in South Jordan, says heroin addiction isn't something you can spot right away.
"Usually it takes about two years for these parents to pick up on the signs that their kids are using," Johnson said.
The two moms who spoke with KSL said their children's addiction began with OxyContin or other pills.
Johnson says marijuana is truly a gateway drug as well, as demonstrated by the anonymous addict who told his story.
Johnson adds what sometimes happens is that the teens don't consider marijuana a dangerous drug, and neither do the parents. Those parents may even know about their child's pot use, but don't notice the transition from marijuana to heroin when it happens. [CLICK HERE to hear an extended interview with Shane Johnson]