Ed. note: This story is the first in an occasional series looking at Santa Clarita Valley residents who are in recovery or part of the constant struggle with the disease of addiction
For the new year, one of Alex’s resolutions will probably be the most important one of her life: staying clean.
After more stints in rehab and with counseling than she could count on both hands — all but the last one due to pressure from outside sources, family, friends or the courts — she’s committed to sobriety.
Alex, 28, who asked that we not use her last name, recalled countless run-ins with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, to the point where she knew several of them.
“(Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Detective) Bill Velek would always try and offer me help,” she said, “but I never really wanted it.”
However, the members of the J-Team never gave up on her, she said.
“I’d been arrested three times in a month. And I was pregnant. They showed up at my mom’s house and said, ‘Hey, if we can get you into treatment, would you be willing to go?’”
The difference this time, she said, is that she’d had enough.
Another difference this time: “That I have hope today. I just do things differently. I’ve completely gotten out of my old ways. I’ve found a new life and new people and I’m working with a sponsor and all that stuff,” she said. “And I really appreciate and value everything.”
So far, she’s one of the lucky ones. For many, battling addiction ends with disease, jail and death.
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station has a special team that focuses its efforts specifically on fighting the disease of addiction in the SCV. The Sheriff’s Station’s Juvenile-Intervention Team, or J-Team, doesn’t just focus on juveniles, they try to help any young adults and those who are struggling with addiction from becoming one of the following statistics.
In 2011, the city of Santa Clarita recognized it was not immune to a national opioid crisis which is still today considered an epidemic; and in response, the city launched a “Heroin Kills” campaign.
In 2012, 16 people died from drug overdoses; in 2013, the number went down to four; in 2014, it was five; in 2015 it was 10; and in 2016, it was eight. So far this year, there have been five confirmed deaths caused by overdoses, and one more suspected. There are often other factors that kill those using methamphetamine and opioids, such as heart disease, which is why the J-Team only counts those that it can clearly attribute to drugs alone. The number of lives affected is much higher.
Sgt. Bob Wachsmuth is part of this team that has decades of experience in dealing with drug abuse in the Santa Clarita Valley and hopes to stem the tide. The tragedy they face every day is daunting, but their efforts are galvanized by the successes they see, as well.
How it started
Alex moved to Santa Clarita when she was not yet a teenager, and eventually “fell in with the wrong crowd,” she said. At around 15, she began to experiment with drugs.
Her story highlights how addiction isn’t necessarily fueled by a traumatic experience, hardship or a medical condition, and it can happen to anyone, anywhere.
She attended Holy Family in Glendale, but started to get into trouble when she moved out here and attended Saugus High, she said.
“And then everything kind of like kicked off when I was 18,” the 28-year-old said Thursday. “I went to private, Catholic school for like 10 years and then I moved out here and, I was just curious. I didn’t have a crazy childhood or anything.
“That was pretty much it: I just started hanging out with the wrong crowd,” she said. “It was all fun, and then it was no longer fun any more.”
Her first real consequences came after high school graduation, but she didn’t realize it at the time. She had a child, but, addicted to heroin and unable to take care of herself or her baby, she handed custody over to her mom, who’s still the child’s primary caregiver. The child’s father fought Alex’ mom for custody, but that ended after one night several years ago when he dropped the child off, then fatally overdosed on heroin.
However, Alex was still struggling to get clean at that point.
It wasn’t until members of the J-Team caught up with her in the wash, several years later, that the team was able to make an impact. Alex was pregnant once again, eight months along, and having been arrested three times in the previous month, with the child’s father in jail for being a felon in possession of a loaded firearm, she made a decision.
“I was so tired. I was so scared. I had no insurance and I had no way to get back into treatment,” adding that she’d been more than a dozen times, but it didn’t work because she was just doing it “to get people off my back. I was scared, I was strung out and pregnant.”
She credits the J-Team with saving her life.
“When Bob (Wachsmuth) opened the door for me, I’d just given up and said, ‘OK, I’m going to do this.’”
The message from Wachsmuth and Velek, who’d talked to her several times, finally took.
Her second child, who was born addicted to heroin, is now clean, healthy and almost 2 years old. She has more than 10 months of sobriety under her belt, and this time around, her outlook has completely changed.
“The difference is the consequences,” she said. “When I first got clean, when I was in rehab (Wachsmuth) went with me to every court case. I had all my charges dropped because the judge saw this detective in there vouching for me, who saw that I was doing good.
“He had a big role in saving my life.”
She also mentioned how Action Family Counseling founder Cary Quashen and the staff at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital helped her and her baby detox after she agreed to seek help.
She’s recognized her motivation and how that’s changed everything.
“I was strung out and pregnant and homeless, and because he was able to help me out…” she said. “Now I’m sober not for any court cases, but because I appreciate everything in my life now. My head is in a different place. And Sgt. Bob had a huge role in that.”
Now she’s in a structured sober living facility, and looking to move home in February, when she’ll have one year sober.
“I just do things differently (now). I was in such a dark place for such a long time, that i didn’t think my life would change,” she said. “I just generally wanted to get clean so I can experience the good in life again. I appreciate having my family im my life,” she added, noting she’s been able to establish positive relationships with both her children with help from family and friends.
“I can’t imagine being back on the streets,” she added, “and doing what I was doing.”