California Suburban Teens Transition from Painkillers to Heroin

KQED, the public media station for Northern California recently did a series of stories on the increase of suburban California teenagers who are transitioning  from using painkillers to black tar heroin.

California Watch, a reporting initiative started by the Center for Investigative Reporting, posted this story and video (shown above) on August 15th, 2012 in collaboration with KQED’ California Report.

California Report’s reporters Sarah Varney and Erin Marie Daly reported their own story in conjunction with an audio segment which premiered on KQED’s NPR radio station 88.5 fm on Wednesday, August 15, 2012.

Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in America, killing 40 people each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In California, there is now a new facet to the crisis: young pill addicts who are turning to heroin, sometimes with fatal results. The trend is hitting hardest in wealthy enclaves around the state.

In Orange County, as fatalities from prescription drugs continue to rise, in recent years heroin overdoses among young people have nearly doubled. And in some parts of the county it has been a season of funerals for young lives cut short.

Joey Whynaught, 23, was found dead in his bedroom on April 5. At a memorial for Whynaught at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, an uncle strummed an Armenian folk melody before an altar awash in lilies. As video images flashed across a monitor, a friend described Whynaught’s frenetic lifestyle.

Macphee and other recovering addicts told us they crossed the threshold from prescription drugs to heroin when their addiction reached five pills a day or more. At that level, Mexican black-tar heroin, abundant in California, is a cheaper high.

“You get more bang for your buck,” said Macphee. “A gram of heroin is the price of one pill. And a gram of heroin could last you three or four days. One pill could last you a couple of hours.”

Few hard statistics are available on the number of young people in California moving to heroin from pills. But interviews with drug treatment experts, doctors and other public health officials suggest a marked increase in heroin use.

Dr. Robert Winokur oversees the emergency department at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, and another hospital in Laguna Beach. Winokur said in the past two years he’s seen more and more young people dying from heroin.

Popping or snorting prescription narcotics is dangerous, but injecting heroin directly into the bloodstream is a fatal shock to some young bodies, especially if pills are also in the system, Winokur said.

This kind of drug abuse is not limited to Orange County. Addiction specialists in the Central Valley report heroin is replacing methamphetamine among some young people. Douglas Bodin, a San Francisco Bay Area treatment expert with clients around the state, says pills and heroin used to be an issue for one out of every 20 of his patients; these days it’s more like one out of every two or three.

(Online Source: California Report.org)

Read full story here

Read part 2 of this story here

At Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS)  we offer a treatment program for adolescents who abuse prescription drugs.  Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Program  provides intensive outpatient treatment, professional assessment and prevention education in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

ACS also provides monthly prevention workshops, Esther’s Pledge Substance Abuse Prevention Workshops, for teens and parents in the San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, to educate the public on the effects and signs of substance abuse.

For more information on the Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Program or the Esther’s Pledge Substance Abuse Prevention Workshops please contact

Connie Mayer, Director of Outpatient Counseling Services at 650.424.0852 ext. 104 or info@acs-teens.org or call (650) 424-0852 ext. 200.

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