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Heroin deaths on rise

Police report 11 confirmed heroin-overdose deaths since start of this year, which is up from seven t

Posted: October 24, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 24, 2012 2:00 a.m.

On average, someone in the Santa Clarita Valley has died from heroin every month this year, officials on the frontline battling the drug reported Tuesday.

And, if suspicions held by law enforcement officers are confirmed by toxicology tests, heroin has figured in the deaths of 19 local people this year, including 11 confirmed overdose victims, four other victims whose causes of death are pending toxicology tests, and four heroin addicts who killed themselves.

Last year saw seven confirmed heroin deaths total.

“Somebody better pay attention to this because if we thought the ’70s were bad for drugs, that’s nothing compared to what we’re seeing now,” said Cary Quashen, who heads Action Family Counseling.

“Heroin is so emotionally addictive that the first time you try it, you get emotionally addicted,” he said Tuesday.

“And, after a few times of smoking it, you’re physically addicted,” he said. “If kids tell you, ‘If I’m smoking it, I’m not going to get addicted,’ that’s crap. Yes, you will.”

19 heroin deaths

Since January, there have been at least 11 confirmed heroin-related deaths in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to Investigator Bob Wachsmuth, who heads the Juvenile Intervention Team at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

In that same time frame, four heroin addicts killed themselves, he said.

“And right now, I have three (possible) heroin deaths pending,” he said.

When he undertakes the unenviable job of tallying heroin deaths, Wachsmuth said he only includes victims under the age of 40.

If he included older victims, then 51-year-old Jeff Donnelly would be on his list of pending heroin overdose victims, he said.

Donnelly’s body and that of his 29-year-old girlfriend, Christine Towner, were found Oct. 15 in their studio apartment in Newhall.

Towner is one of the three women Wachsmuth believes died of heroin. She is counted among his “pending” until toxicology tests come back. Her family has already blamed heroin for her death.

Also on his list of suspected victims is 22-year-old Carlie Coulter, found dead of an apparent heroin overdose in a Santa Clarita Valley hotel room Oct. 10. Her family, too, has blamed her death on the drug.

Lt. Craig Henry of the Los Angeles County Department of the Coroner said Tuesday: “Heroin is the most overdosed drug of illegal drugs.”

About Donnelly and Towner, Henry said: “Their toxicology tests are pending but they had a history showing a pattern of substance abuse.”

“Heroin addiction is unbelievable,” Wachsmuth said Tuesday.

“It may take an addict a dozen times of detox and rehab before there are results,” he said. “And, even then, they’re addicts for life.”


Wachsmuth vigorously promotes two programs he says are effective at keeping kids aged 11 to 15 from heroin.

One program deals specifically with kids busted for marijuana use.

“It all comes from marijuana users,” he said. “That’s not to say, of course, that all marijuana users become heroin addicts — of course not.”

Young marijuana users are given the option of following a criminal charge through court or attending a drug awareness program such as those offered by City of Hope and Action Family Counseling.

Wachsmuth’s other recommended program is the DFYiT program, which supports clubs of drug-free kids in junior high schools.

According to both Wachsmuth and Quashen, Santa Clarita Valley has become the poster child when it comes to a community dealing with heroin, which has invaded suburban communities across the country.

“We’re becoming a model for other cities,” Wachsmuth said.

Quashen, who oversees Action clinics in 14 local areas and into Kern County, said: “When it comes to education, information and prevention, I think we (Santa Clarita Valley) are on the forefront of that — other cities are copying Santa Clarita.”


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