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Paul Becker: Heroin and Oxycontin kill far too often

Posted: September 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

I have been working tirelessly for well over two years in direct partnership with the city of Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County, school officials and community leaders with one primary goal: to stop teenage drug use, addiction and senseless overdose deaths in our community.

I formed the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station’s Juvenile Intervention Team, or “J-Team,” in July 2010. Team members and community leaders worked together to outline a comprehensive strategy to address growing concerns regarding drug and heroin use and availability and overdose deaths in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Through the J-Team, we sought to stem the tide of drug use, availability and demand within our community. We focused on a multi-layered approach involving enforcement, intervention and education.

When forming our plan, we carefully studied our local problem and all reported overdose cases. We have since continued detailed tracking of all overdose deaths in the Santa Clarita Valley since January 2010, with our primary focus on cases involving those under the age of 40. What we have found is that many cases have had similar characteristics in the events that led up to the eventual overdose.

Commonly, eventual drug addicts start at a very young age, usually 12 or 13, using addictive substances such as alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana. They then, eventually, gateway into more serious drug use, which can involve prescription medications found right in the home, such as Xanax and Oxycodone. Finally, when they have trouble sustaining the same highs or they can’t find or afford the other substances and the addiction has begun to take over, they continue their progression into methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or other serious drugs. Generally, heroin, methamphetamine and opiate use are referred to as the substances used near the end. Of the 24 overdose deaths in Santa Clarita since the tracking began in 2010, 20 of them involved white men at an average age of 25 with the youngest being just 16 and the oldest being 37.

It became apparent to me that we needed early intervention and enforcement to identify and help would-be addicts before they managed to gateway, year after year, into serious and deadly drugs and the point of no return on a path to addiction and eventual overdose.

Along with our traditional enforcement efforts, which can involve following up on crime tips, patrol drug arrests, search warrants, surveillance and investigations into known or suspected drug dealers and users, we implemented a practice where key enforcement personnel are notified anytime a teenager is arrested or cited for any drug-related offense, such as marijuana possession.

Deputies assigned to the J-Team then follow up on the arrest, involve school resource deputies and other investigative entities, and work together using early enforcement and intervention in an effort to keep the teenager from continuing down the same pattern of those who wind up progressing into heavy addiction and in some cases overdose. In other words, catch and help our troubled youth early before it’s too late.

Since the program began, our aggressive enforcement efforts have resulted in the processing of more than 350 crime tips resulting in 117 arrests. The J-Team and other enforcement components have made nearly 160 arrests for heroin, 128 for marijuana, 151 for methamphetamine and cocaine, 84 for prescription medications, and 13 for other drugs, such as LSD and mushrooms.

Our intervention efforts have resulted in 300 addicted Santa Clarita teenagers and young adults being placed into sustainable rehabilitation programs.

We began a nationwide search in an effort to find the most comprehensive and effective educational drug prevention program. We found a program called Drug Free Youth in Town that caught our attention.

Santa Clarita team members traveled to Miami to learn first hand about the program and determine if it could work in Santa Clarita. With a 99.6 percent success rate in Florida, the answer for Santa Clarita was a resounding yes!

We strongly believe our three-pronged approach – Enforcement at an early age; intervention, placement, and sustainable rehabilitation for those already struggling with addiction; and drug prevention/education through existing programs will help us realize success in our fight against drugs. The aggressive implementation of the new Drug Free Youth In Town program will help our youth avoid drugs altogether.

DFYIT is a youth-based club made up of teenagers who have already committed to staying away from drugs and alcohol and want to hang out with others who have made the same pledge to live a drug free life. It has been established at all middle and high schools throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

Working together with a plan we can stop these powerful addictive substances from invading our homes and poisoning our youth.

Capt. Paul Becker is the chief of police for Santa Clarita and can be reached at pbecker@lasd.org.

 

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