Many of the newest agents in Washington's flourishing drug scene wear brightly-colored plastic "jelly bean jacket" windbreakers and tennis shoes. They romp on playgrounds and go to school, sometimes. They hawk their wares to passers-by who openly cruise schoolyard outposts, or act as "holders," delivering purchases for their drug-dealing elders. They market marijuana, pills, PCP and even heroin to an ever-hungry clientele that often includes their playmates.
These children, many in their early teens but an increasing number 12 years old and younger, are also among the newest drug users in the nation's capital, feeding their habits with profits from their own drug sales, snorting, swallowing and shooting up, imitating their peers and parents, sometimes doing it with them. The number of juveniles arrested for drug abuse offenses increased by 26 percent between 1978 and 1979, and many expect that by the end of this year, it will approach the record high levels of the middle 1970s, when Mexican and Southeast Asian heroin fueled a drug epidemic here.
Jimmy, the 8-year-old Southeast Washington boy with a three-year heroin habit, is not alone.
"I deal with four children between the ages of 10 and 12 who are on heroin," said a counselor at a neighborhood services center in the Shaw area of the city, not far from the 14th Street Corridor. "My main problem is marijuana and pills. The city is just full of children selling them, using them, smoking them . . . you can find them 10 and 12 years old all over the streets, especially in Northwest."
Yet the problem is not limited to one section of the city.
Inside Friendship Education Center on Livingston Road SE last week, Principal Larry Page said he was not aware of any of his students using drugs. Outside the school, however, one 17-year-old and his 12-year-old brother boasted to a reporter about sharing marijuana cigarettes. "Whenever I get some pot, I share with my little brother," the older one said.
"I found out reefer makes me feel really good," the 12-year-old said. "We smoke a little bit every day after school. My mother knows about it. We have a big marijuana plant growing under a hot light at home. We saving it for the winter when snow is on the ground and we can't get out."
And like Jimmy, whose family told a reporter from The Washington Post that he was introduced to heroin at the age of 5 by his mother's boyfriend, drug abuse begins at home for many of these child prodigies of the narcotics world. They take great pride in doing as the grown-ups around them do.
"I like to deal with big people," Jimmy told a reporter during an interview two weeks ago in his home. He and his close friend, Darrell, 9, prefer the atmosphere of Jimmy's home, which is also a shooting gallery, to school, the playground or almost anywhere else.
"Sometimes I go with Darrell and we hang for awhile," Jimmy said, "but a lot of the time, we just be watching the people, and they be laughing, talking and sitting around . . . Something always be happening."
A third generation heroin addict who says he some day wants to deal drugs like his mother's boyfriend, who is his idol, Jimmy has grown philosophical about why people buy marijuana and PCP from the older boys with whom he hangs out in various spots near his home.
"It don't mean nothing to be smoking herb or wack (PCP), it's just a way to be cool and hang. People buy it to get themselves together while they in school . . . School be the thing they need some help to deal with, so they come out and buy some s----. Lots of people in school need to be smoking some herb or wack."
A vast and often overlooked drug culture is slowly emerging among the city's youth, festering in the shadows of the nation's capital.
While there have been no recently reported deaths resulting from juvenile drug abuse, many believe that grim possibility grows as more children become involved. The problem, which is acknowledged by police, often is overlooked by school administrators and teachers who either insist that it doesn't exist, or say they feel powerless to intervene. But social workers and community volunteers who spend large amounts of time on the streets say the problem of youthful drug abuse is clearly visible and continually growing.
"One problem in quantifying [juvenile drug abuse] is that the private sector is very reluctant to report," said Frederick Green of Children's Hospital, and the chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Child Neglect and Abuse. "We're at the same stage with drugs today as we were when the term "child battering" was coined in 1960 -- there's virtually no data base."
According to Melton Williams, one of the District's youth drug counselors, "90 percent or more of the youth who take drugs, including alcohol and marijuana, are introduced to drug use by relatives and friends.
"The majority of the kids who use drugs don't use one drug," Williams said. "They might use alcohol and marijuana along with PCP, for example."
"We've talked to children in the elementary schools, and the level of conversation that the kids used about drugs could cause. There is no other way they could describe that unless they had the experience."
One drug counselor said, "I've never heard of parents shooting up their kids, like Jimmy, but I believe it goes on. It's just that they keep it secret. It's such a terrible thing that even the worst kinds of parents would [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
"I have one case where two children were returned to their mother from a foster home. They were a girl of 13 and a boy of 14. First thing you know is the three of them are shooting up together. We found out through house visits. We made the decision to turn it over to authorities and the children have gone back to a foster home. We are free to decide whether or not to keep a case confidential."
In the past three years, from 1977 through 1979, the number of drug-related juvenile arrests has continued to increase. There were 268 such arrests in 1977, 259 in 1978, and 327 last year. While figures for the current year are not yet available, law enforcement officials agree that the numbers are not likely to show a decline.
"We have had 8-year-olds in here who sold heroin," one police detective said last week. "We don't know of any who are using it . . . but in certain neighborhoods these kids are streetwise . . . they see the people riding around in Cadillacs dealing, and they just follow suit." It is not unusual to see children 8 and older selling marijuana at schools or on street corners, he added.
Police officials said privately last week that one of the most common uses of children in narcotics sales is as "holders" -- persons standing around the corner from drug dealers who hold the drug until the purchaser comes to get it. At other times, children are used as innocent-looking couriers.
A drug counselor said that discos sponsored by the D.C. Recreation Division are one place where a lot of drug abuse by teen-agers and younger kids goes on.
"It's very open -- in the parking lots and everywhere. If you just look at most of these kids, you know they're high or they go right up to each other and exchange drugs and money in the open. If it looks like they're shaking hands or dancing together, it's probably a dope deal going down. It just isn't a big deal to these kids."
Many of these children spend the money they earn from drugs to buy candy, sports equipment and clothing -- the kind that most of their peers cannot afford. But an equal number use it to supplement household income in families racked by unemployment and poverty, according to many neighborhood drug counselors. To these children, drug-dealing represents a viable way to squeeze good money from a system they believe has closed other doors to them. Heroin, on the streets of Washington now in higher quality and at lower prices then before, has provided lucrative business opportunities for many, and the high demand for marijuana and PCP among young drug abusers gives many children an easy entree into the world of narcotics.
To their peers, who can only envy the life-style that money from drug dealings brings, many of these children become heroes whose behavior is to be emulated.
The older teens who deal, Jimmy said, "use the money for they business or they threads, and you got to have some money to get the ladies (he laughs) . . . . I just be watchin' to see what they do. They don't hardly let none of my friends hang with them, but they know I'm cool . . . and the thing I like best is just to hang with the bigger dudes."
Children in the area close to Jimmy's age know him and of his involvement in drugs. "He's bad," says one 11-year-old who adds he doesn't have the "same s---" Jimmy uses, but "I can get some bam (preludin) . . ." Another boy, 10, says of drugs, "I don't see nothing wrong if you be feeling good and make some cash, too. Me and my friend can get you some herb if you need it."
And even the publicity of Jimmy's plight, which led to widespread discussion of drug abuse in Washington, could have an adverse effect, according to Bob King, director of commmunity services for the 14th Street Project Area Committee.
"Jimmy will become a folk hero, just like Bruce Grifffith," King said, referring to the small time dope dealer and accused police killer shot down earlier this year by District police.
"The kind of kids we're talking about have so little to look up to that when someone they can identify with gets some publicity, that person becomes a hero. I know it sounds crazy, but kids out on the streets will start talking about, 'He's my Jimmy.' It'll become part of the slang, that kind of thing. They'll even make up songs."
Gordon White, director of community services for the Southeast Neighborhood House, says that there are a "tremendous" number of subteenagers who abuse a variety of drugs and alcohol. White said he has never seen anyone as young as 8 who was addicted to heroin, but knows of many teen-agers who are.
Insitutions that could help stem the problem are of little help, he added.
"As far as the schools are concerned, any teacher who may have noticed 'Jimmy' wouldn't have done a thing about it because he would cause them no trouble . . . if a kid is doing nothing more than nodding off in class, why he's just one less troublemaker that the teacher has to deal with . . . under the circumstances prevailing in the schools, the teachers take a noninterest approach," White said.
Apathy, too, contributes to the problem, White said, noting that there are "very few real neighborhoods where people take an interest in each other" in the District, and that most people are "just plain afraid" to become involved in anything tied in to drugs. "Even helping a little child on drugs means that you open a long trail which is going to lead to others and maybe to yourself. Who wants to risk that?
"I call the children between 2 and 12 the lost generation. Ten years from now, when they're in their teens and twenties, thats what they'll be lost."