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New Orleans' 'Katrina Generation' struggles with drugs and depression

Suicides are up and hard drugs are more prevalent – trends that are both linked to the hurricane's legacy, experts say.

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Months before her death, 16-year-old Madeleine Prevost was hard at work on a high school art project, a self-portrait she did not share because it, like the subject, was a work in progress.

The painting now hangs in her mother's New Orleans home, and in some ways it is a portrait of more than just a single girl. It is a portrait of an entire generation of young people here commonly labeled "the Katrina generation." Instead of childish features, the girl inside the frame "looks like a 40-year-old woman," says Mary Prevost, Madeleine's mother. "It's definitely not a child."

Even with the floodwaters gone and rebuilding efforts in progress, many teenagers in New Orleans are struggling to cope with Katrina's legacy – destroyed homes, schools, neighborhoods, and loss of friends and even pets, says Jullette Saussy, emergency medical services director for the city. At the same time, cheap drugs have flooded the streets of New Orleans after Katrina.

While there are no data linking drug-related deaths or suicides to post-traumatic stress, parents, teachers, and healthcare experts like Dr. Saussy say they are seeing a rise in suicides, high-risk behavior, and clinical depression among young people. Madeleine, for instance, died of a heroin and cocaine overdose in 2008, and more than 45,000 children here are struggling with mental-health issues related to Katrina, according to a December 2007 study by Mental Health Weekly.

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