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Our View: Fighting back against heroin

Posted: January 29, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 29, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Over the last few months, the city of Santa Clarita, local schools, the Sheriff’s Department and The Signal have been working hard to bring into the spotlight a deadly and growing problem that has moved into our valley recently: heroin.

Yes — even in this affluent suburban community full of educated people with high incomes, award-winning schools and rated one of the safest communities in the country — drugs are a serious issue, and heroin is fast becoming a major threat, especially to our local youth.

In our population of roughly 250,000, we lost six people — mostly in their teens and early 20s — to heroin overdoses last year, and several more suffered near-fatal episodes. We’ve also seen dozens of our young residents go into rehab to try to overcome life-threatening addictions — sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

The majority of these individuals are not the pale, back-alley junkie stereotypes of decades past. These are high school and college students. These are teens and young adults. These people could be your neighbors, your kids’ friends, a classmate or, quite possibly, your own children.

The drug trade has made heroin more accessible than ever in the SCV, and it’s cheap enough that even a part-time high school job can fund a habit. There is also the possibility of a first-time-use lethal overdose due to the increased potency of the drug being found in the area by local law enforcement.

Some of what we’ve been dealing with has been chronicled throughout this month in The Signal’s four-part heroin series, with the last installment focusing on how our problem closely mirrors the events that unfolded in the Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas, in the 1990s.

The community of similar size, similar demographics and similar level of income to the SCV faced a nearly overnight shift in its perception of teen drug use when lethal heroin-overdose cases tripled every year for three years, and near-fatal overdoses numbered almost 100.

And we’ve taken lessons from Plano and other sad stories like it and used them as examples of how to get ahead of the problem before it destroys our community from the inside.

As in Plano, Capt. Paul Becker and the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station have been vigilant in cracking down on both large-scale and smaller dealers to help slow the flow of heroin into the SCV. The city and schools have been advocating education to parents and students to warn of the dangers of the drug, as well as explaining the warning signs of heroin use and addiction. Efforts are being made, but we mustn’t lose focus.

But even with all the anti-drug resources in existence, heroin can always find a way in, as Plano can attest. Though use in its local youth has dropped off since the ’90s, the sleepy suburb still buries an average of nearly four residents a year who fell to heroin.

What we face down the road is not an overnight fix. It’s not even a five-year fix. Truth be told, there is no real end to heroin making its way into the Santa Clarita Valley and its young residents as long as there is a supply and dealers to distribute it.

But what we can’t do is turn our backs on the problem — and especially not on the teens and young adults who need a helping hand to pull them back from the edge.

Let’s make 2012 the year we start reversing the trend and keep our kids from ending up as sad statistics.

We need a collaborative effort to take on this wide-reaching and deadly problem. With all this in mind, we’re calling on the schools, local law enforcement and the city to further rally together in an educational summit to formulate a long-term plan on how to best remedy our growing drug problem.


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