In Suburban Dallas, Loosening "Cheese" Heroin's Deadly Grip

Another round of deaths have another round of North Texas parents trying to wipe out a deadly combination of heroin and cold medicine.

But Maxwell, the UT Austin researcher, says the elusive kingpin doesn't really exist, at least not anywhere near Flower Mound. "Our studies with cheese heroin users a couple of years ago found that it was not some big dealer selling to kids," she says. "But they all knew small-time dealers, relatives, etc., and they were buying a $10 piece of heroin, adding a diluents powder, and producing $20 of heroin, so they could snort $10 and sell $10 to buy more heroin. It was like a horizontal distribution network of small-time dealers, uncles, neighbors selling to next-door neighbors."

"They just took a lot of people who needed help and put them in jail," Jen says. "And all the people they needed to arrest are still chilling, doing what they do. Still, to this day. In Dallas."


On a warm night in mid-June, Kathy O'Keefe sits upstairs in the meeting room of a church kindergarten in Flower Mound. The church's gym is directly below, and the faint echo of basketballs thudding against floors and backboards can be heard through the floor. On the table in front of O'Keefe sits a collection of purple and green rubber bracelets, emblazoned with the name of her drug awareness and prevention group, founded just after Brett's death: Winning the Fight, or WTF for short — a favorite phrase of Brett's that Kathy repurposed.

Kathy O'Keefe, whose son Brett died at age 18 from a heroin overdose. "This is an old problem that just keeps coming up," she says. "People need to understand, it's not a problem with the rich or the poor. It's all the way across the board. It's everywhere."
Taryn Walker
Kathy O'Keefe, whose son Brett died at age 18 from a heroin overdose. "This is an old problem that just keeps coming up," she says. "People need to understand, it's not a problem with the rich or the poor. It's all the way across the board. It's everywhere."
Pastor Rob Reid of Rockpointe Church was a teenage junkie during the heroin epidemic in Plano in the 1990s. "Nobody got the whole Plano thing until three years later," he says. "People looked back and said, 'Wow, 18 kids have died, this is a real problem.'"
Taryn Walker
Pastor Rob Reid of Rockpointe Church was a teenage junkie during the heroin epidemic in Plano in the 1990s. "Nobody got the whole Plano thing until three years later," he says. "People looked back and said, 'Wow, 18 kids have died, this is a real problem.'"

Two other mothers of high-school age kids sit cross-legged, purses in their laps. A few friends of Brett's are here, too: two dark-haired sisters, a blond guy with a sweet expression and edges of tattoos poking out of his pant legs and shirt sleeves, and a slim young man with a baseball cap pulled low. It's an usually sparse turnout, Kathy says. The meetings are usually full. After the indictments, they had to move into a bigger auditorium, to make room for all the worried parents.

"Love those earrings," Kathy says to one of the mothers, a woman with dangling silver crosses in her ears, and a drawn, worried expression.

The purpose of WTF meetings, Kathy says, is for young people to teach parents about drugs, to explain slang and behavior that might be difficult for them to parse on their own. "I'm not rehab, and I wouldn't want to be," she says firmly. "This is all about education."

Rob Reid, the pastor, comes in the door, his tiny blond daughter by his side and a bag of Sonic in hand. Kathy asked him here tonight to tell his story. He's pale and burly with a red buzz cut and an easy smile; of his nine tattoos, he only regrets one: "Thug Life," emblazoned on his stomach.

At 30, he's almost exactly between the ages of the kids and parents. He's introduced to one of the young men, slaps his hand in greeting, and flops down on the couch. Kathy rummages around in a cupboard and emerges with a coloring book and a container of crayons for Reid's daughter, who goes pop-eyed with awe.

One of the mothers talks first. She suspects her 16-year-old son is using again. "Everything's kinda swept underneath the rug here," she says of Flower Mound. "Nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to admit their kid has a problem. Until recently, I didn't even know how many kids had died. You'd think everybody would be talking about it."

Everyone in the room shares the mom's frustration over the way Flower Mound's high school and school district handled the indictments: with near-total silence.

District officials didn't respond to interview requests, and Flower Mound High's principal, Paul Moon, politely asked the Observer to leave his office when asked for comment. But a recent Flower Mound High grad says the school's only response was a warning on the school loudspeaker to keep discussion about the indictments "quiet" and "within the school." School officials also had a group come to the school to perform for the teens. The performance was, the student says, a bizarre series of skits about the dangers of teenage depression, cutting, drinking and drug use, combined with a strong religious message. "They did this skit that represented all the bad things in our lives being destroyed by a white man in white clothes with long brown hair," he says, chuckling. "It was just taken as a joke. No one really gave a crap about it. Even afterwards, some teachers were joking about it."

The 16-year-old's mom tells the group that her son has already been through rehab once, though she can't recall the name of the facility. "It's by the Nordstrom Rack," she says. "Isn't that terrible? That's how I know." Now, she says, her son is "worse than he's ever been." She awoke at 7 a.m. the other day to find him with six other teenage boys in her house, all of them drunk. He's rude, she says, and hostile toward her and his father.

"You do know the language and how he speaks to you is the drugs, right?" Kathy asks her.

"It sure looks like him," the woman says, with a dark chuckle.

When Reid finally speaks, he addresses this woman first. "Your description of your son reminded me a great deal of myself," he says. He fiddles with ketchup packets as he describes his multiple stints in rehab. He went through nine before he finally got clean at age 21, through a Christian program called House of Isaiah, in East Texas. "Every time in my life I thought it couldn't get much worse," he says, "it always did. I had a unique ability that way." He remembers getting in "some kind of altercation" at one hospital he was in. "I slapped a nurse," he says. The teenage girls across the room giggle helplessly.

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