MUKILTEO — A June graduate of Kamiak High School died of an apparent heroin overdose last week, and two of his friends were rushed to emergency rooms after they also allegedly used the potent drug.
Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives are investigating the 17-year-old Mukilteo boy’s death, spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said Monday. Detectives with the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force also have been asked to investigate, task force commander Pat Slack said.
Sean Gahagan died at home Thursday. The cause of his death still is under investigation by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. Detectives believe the musical and creative teen died after using heroin.
“This boy wasn’t a drug addict with sores all over his body. He was a bright, bright boy and this is a tragedy,” said David Boushey, whose daughter was friends with Gahagan.
The teen’s mother declined to comment Monday. A rosary and viewing for her son was scheduled today.
Police say one of Gahagan’s friends apparently overdosed on heroin just two days before Gahagan’s death and was rushed to an emergency room. A second friend suffered from an apparent heroin overdose Wednesday and was hospitalized.
At least one was released from the hospital, Hover said. She didn’t have an updated condition of the other person.
Investigators are trying to determine if the trio of apparent overdoses are connected. They haven’t confirmed the heroin came from the same source or if the friends used the drug together, Hover said.
“Heroin is a dangerous and illicit drug,” Slack said. “You can’t know how it will affect someone. You really can’t gauge how you will react to the drug by someone else’s reaction.”
Overdose deaths also can result in criminal charges for people who sell or supply the drugs. A girl’s 2007 overdose death in Edmonds recently led to a controlled substances homicide conviction for the 18-year-old girl who provided Ecstasy to her.
Drug experts say the heroin believed used in this instance probably wasn’t somehow tainted. More likely, it may have been purer than the young people expected, or they were novice users and hadn’t built up a tolerance.
Heroin also can be deadly if mixed with other drugs or alcohol, said Steve Freng, prevention and treatment manager for Northwest High Drug Trafficking Area program.
The vast majority of the heroin in Washington is the “black tar” variety smuggled in from Mexico, he said. The drug has been prevalent in the Seattle-area for the last 30 years, Freng said.
He hasn’t seen a noticeable spike in heroin usage recently, although there has been a surge in the abuse of prescription painkillers, especially among young people. As people run out of ways to get prescription drugs from doctors or family members, they may be trying heroin, he said.
A decrease in the quality of methamphetamine also may have addicts switching to heroin, Slack said.
“Heroin has been the fallback drug to meth,” he said. “I also think we might be seeing a more purer form than people expect.”
Clearly young people are using heroin, experts said.
Freng advises parents to be mindful if their children suddenly have a new group of friends. Parents also should pay attention if their children, for no explanation, lose interest in activities that once were important to them or if their physical appearance drastically changes.
Parents need to talk to their children, he said. There is less drug education going on in schools and fewer intervention specialists in middle schools and high schools, Freng said.
“I don’t think kids are really understanding the dangers of messing with drugs,” he said.
Despite the stereotype of a heroin as a hard-core street drug, people from all social and economic backgrounds get hooked, experts say.
“There are bankers and attorneys lined up outside methadone clinics, not just street people or scruffy drug addicts from Capitol Hill in Seattle,” Freng said.
Gahagan lived with his parents just outside the Mukilteo city limits.
Boushey said Gahagan’s death has hit his daughter and her friends hard. He hopes that the tragedy will help teach other young people a lesson about the dangers of experimenting with drugs. He also hopes the community will pay attention.
“We need to look at this as a serious problem and not just think it won’t happen to our kids because of where we live or think our kids won’t be the one who tries the drugs because they go to Kamiak,” he said. “Drugs are prevalent everywhere.”
Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or firstname.lastname@example.org.