“Upsurge” in heroin cases not unique to SCV

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The proliferation of heroin in the Santa Clarita Valley which, by early indications, claimed the life of a Castaic man Sunday and sent eight heroin overdose victims to the hospital Monday, convinced a local mom to send her addict son out of state for his safety.

“My son is a recovering heroin addict and has been clean since July,” said Lori Bledsoe, who set up a Facebook page to help other struggling parents called SCV Heroin Addiction.

“We moved him to Idaho to get him out of here,” she said. “My family was one of the lucky ones. Thank God.”

Escaping the proliferation of heroin and heroin-like prescription meds called opioids may prove difficult, according to officials contacted by The Signal Wednesday.

“It’s not unique to Santa Clarita,” Special Agent Timothy Massino of the Los Angeles office of the Drug Enforcement Administration told The Signal.

“These overdose episodes are on the uptick in the area,” he said. “And, it is a concern.

“We are not near the epidemics we see in the mid-West and on the East Coast. But, it’s a threat,” he said.

Since Sunday, the SCV has seen nine heroin-related cases, including one fatality blamed on an apparent heroin overdose Sunday and eight heroin overdose patients treated at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Monday.

“We’ve seen an upsurge in overdose cases in our emergency department in the last 24 hours,” hospital spokesman Patrick Moody told reporters at a “hastily called” press conference Tuesday.

United appeal

The DEA’s Citizens’ Academy Alumni Association has scheduled a press conference Thursday afternoon with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Department to speak about the “heroin crisis,” Massino said.

“We’ve seen heroin take hold of several areas,” he said.

At Thursday’s conference, when Coroner Chief Ed Winter speaks about heroin-related deaths he can point to the case of David Alexander Esquivel, 28, of Castaic, whose body was found in the restroom of Bouquet Canyon Park Sunday night.

Winter, joined by agents of the DEA and FBI, is expected Thursday to unveil a new initiative in fighting heroin and opioid abuse.

In their joint statement issued Wednesday, they said: “With the damage to families from abuse of prescription/opioid drugs continuing to increase at an alarming rate, leading law enforcement and community service organizations are teaming up to announce new educational initiatives and a unique way families can take action.”

Troubling stats

The latest statistics released by the California Department of Public Health show a sharp upturn in the number of heroin overdose deaths across the state since 2012.

There were 561 heroin-related deaths in 2014 compared to 355 reported in 2011. By comparison, however, there were 1,449 deaths attributed to opioid overdoses in 2014 compared to 1,563 in 2011.

In the Santa Clarita Valley, heroin claimed the lives of 11 people in the Santa Clarita Valley in 2015.

Cary Quashen, Henry Mayo Executive Director of Behavioral Health and Director of Action Family Counseling who deals with SCV drug addicts every day, told The Signal in July: “We have an opioid epidemic in Santa Clarita.”

“The abuse of heroin and opioid drugs is worse than ever,” he said.

On Tuesday, he echoed those concerns.  “When we see eight people coming to the emergency room with overdoses we have to get the message out there.”

Message sent

In a letter sent last month to health care providers and to medication prescribers including those in the SCV, Dr. Karen L. Smith, the state’s Public Health Officer told them: “The overuse of prescription opioids has become a national epidemic.”

When researcher Al Hasson, of The UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Program, read about SCV’S rash of overdose cases in The Signal Tuesday, he called the newspaper about some troubling observations.

“The purity of heroin has gone up and the cost has come down,” he said.

Hasson also said the rash of overdose cases witnessed in the SCV is not on the scale of epidemics documented by researchers “in New Hampshire, Vermont, Cincinnati and other parts of the mid-West.”

UCLA’s Integrated Substance Abuse Program conducts research, provides research training and clinical training, and arranges treatment for substance abuse disorders.

“We’re seeing this problem nationwide,” he said.

[email protected]

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