Dealers create deadly kid mix

Published May 9, 2007

DALLAS - In their quest to lure new, younger clientele, drug dealers are mixing their wares with over-the-counter pain remedies and other familiar products - even candy - and peddling them under nonthreatening names.

One such concoction, a blend of black tar heroin and Tylenol PM that goes by the name "cheese, " has been linked to the deaths of 19 teenagers in Dallas, including two 15-year-olds.

Dallas school district police first became aware of the heroin-mixing trend in 2005, and it has become a disturbing local phenomenon since.

During the 2005-06 school year, the Dallas school district police arrested 90 students for possession of the heroin-Tylenol PM mixture. The number has soared during the current school year. Through February, 122 have been arrested. The average age of those arrested: 14.

"The resurgence of heroin in society in 11- to 16-year-olds - that's unprecedented, " said Julian Bernal, deputy chief of narcotics for the Dallas police, who makes six to 12 arrests a month for possession of cheese heroin.

Other examples of the drug-mixing strategy include candy laced with marijuana and, in several states, flavored methamphetamine. In Arkansas recently, a mix of meth and strawberry-flavored powder normally used to create a children's milk drink turned up under the name "Strawberry Quick."

"They're calling it 'cheese, ' they're not calling it 'heroin, ' " said Dr. Collin Goto, a toxicologist at Children's Medical Center Dallas. "It becomes much more appealing to younger kids."

Beyond the innocuous name, several other factors appear to be driving the popularity of cheese. Kids often buy the drug from other kids. It's affordable, selling for about $2 a dosage. And it is snorted rather than injected.

Gary Hodges, deputy chief of the Dallas school district police, said cheese arrests in the district have nearly equaled those for marijuana, still the leading substance involved in drug arrests.

Authorities say they are just now beginning to understand the toll on Dallas' youth. Even the number of cheese heroin-related deaths was not known until the Dallas Morning News analyzed medical examiner records and published the results last month.