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Heroin drug targets middle school students

DALLAS – I interviewed a 10th grader the other day, and I can't get her story out of my head.

Fifteen-year-old girls usually don't have much to say that adults would consider "newsworthy." I should know – my oldest daughter is 15, and while I care deeply about the mundane dramas in her life, I doubt reporters would line up to relay those dramas to the world.

But Mariela Torres' story shook me. She's a cute, bright girl. Everybody seems to like her.

It was one of Mariela's friends who first offered her "cheese" when she was just 13 years old. Mariela had never used any drugs before that day. "Cheese," she was told, wasn't really a drug – it would just make her feel happy.

Here's what Mariela didn't know.

Cheese is the slang name for a mixture of black tar heroin and Tylenol PM. The substances are combined and come out looking much like parmesan cheese. The resulting product is sold for as little as $2 per hit. 

Image: Mariela Torres
NBC News
Mariela Torres, a 15-year-old Dallas 10th grader, who was addicted to the mixture of black tar heroin and Tylenol PM called "cheese."

Kids in the Dallas-area are buying "cheese" with their lunch money, according to media reports. They're snorting the stuff up their noses – often at school – and dying in alarming numbers, according to the Dallas County medical office.

A recent study by the Dallas Independent School district determined that more than 5,000 kids have tried cheese. More than two dozen have died of overdoses. Most, like Mariela, first take the drug in middle school.

That's shocking. Middle school students are being targeted by drug dealers and turned into heroin addicts before they reach high school. 

Getting treatment
The lucky ones, like Mariela, find treatment. After more than a year of use, she was put through detox, then more than three months of rehab.

I visited the rehab center Mariela attended. It was filled with kids. The average age is 15, but there were heroin addicts there as young as 12. It's heartbreaking and infuriating.

Today, Mariela is drug free, but she knows people who are still using.

"It makes me want to go do it again," she told me. "But I know I shouldn't, because I don't want to go back through the same things I was going through."

Mariela is a good kid. I could tell that immediately. She smiles freely and looks you in the eye when she speaks. She has her whole life ahead of her. She's even thinking of trying out for her high school soccer team. 

I pray she makes it through her recovery and get the chance to play.