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Heroin use, deaths declining in the Santa Clarita Valley, detectives say

Posted: March 4, 2014 6:28 p.m.
Updated: March 4, 2014 6:28 p.m.

Narcotics Detective Bill Velek displays a box of drug paraphernalia he uses to show parents what to look for around the house. Signal photo by Jim Holt.

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Fewer people in the Santa Clarita Valley are using heroin compared to the alarming numbers witnessed two years ago, local narcotics detectives said this week.

“We’re finding fewer new entrants when it comes to heroin usage,” said Investigator Bob Wachsmuth, who heads the Juvenile Intervention Team at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

Documented deaths from heroin totaled four in the Santa Clarita Valley in 2013, Wachsmuth said, compared to at least 16 in 2012.

“We’re not seeing it at the street level, and that’s a good sign — a really good sign,” said narcotics Detective Sgt. Thomas Carter.

Wachsmuth — who was recruited by now-retired Capt. Paul Becker to confront the tide of heroin use seen in 2012 and the year before — credits heroin awareness programs for turning the tide.

“We attribute the drop in heroin usage to programs like the ‘Heroin Kills’ seminars and DFYiT,” Wachsmuth said. “Heroin Kills” is a public-awareness program launched by Santa Clarita city officials and the Sheriff’s Department. DFYiT, for “Drug Free Youth in Town,” is a high school and junior high school anti-drug program, a collaborative effort of local school districts, the city and the Sheriff’s Department.

“We believe that through education and enforcement, we’ve been able to keep the numbers down,” Wachsmuth said of heroin users.

Key to the success of awareness programs is family involvement, Wachsmuth said, and simply showing family members what to look for goes a long way to curbing the heroin problem.

That’s where Narcotics Detective Bill Velek comes in. The detective, also a J-Team member, has a box of drug paraphernalia he uses to show parents what to look for around the house.

Syringes, of course, are an obvious giveaway, but Velek’s demonstration drug box includes less obvious drug paraphernalia such as blackened spoons, line-marked tin foil and plastic tubes used to prepare and ingest heroin.

“I haven’t seen an increase in usage since this year started,” Velek said Tuesday.

What he has seen an increase in, however, is a “consistent” request made by local parents to learn more about heroin or about heroin treatment programs from those already struggling with addiction.

“We always get calls by family members,” Velek said. “I can’t force people into a heroin-treatment program, but I’ll tell them the programs that are available. That way they can find a program that works for them in their area.

“A lot of times I will tell people about out-of-state programs,” he said. “In the past, I’ve directed people to treatment programs in places like Florida and Northern California, all across the country really.

“A lot of times families will send (heroin addicts) to where they have family,” he said. “They might have relatives in Ohio and because the family is there, that’s where the treatment will take place.”
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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