Experts, former addicts discuss path to sobriety following heroin overdose rash

by Cougar News Contributor 1,178 views0

By Leon Jones

Bradley Bolek was a welding student who also had interest in the music industry while attending College of the Canyons. However, in solitude he was battling a 2-year-long heroin addiction.

“I was using heroin every single day,” Bolek said. “About six or seven shots a day.”

His daily usage? About half a gram.

“If anybody were to do that their first or second time they would die no doubt,” Bolek said.

For one week, the 21-year-old student has been in an Action Family Counseling rehab facility.

After a rash of heroin related overdoses sent Santa Clarita’s emergency room numbers surging in April, local drug addiction experts are encouraging drug seekers to ask for help.

“Occasionally we see little spikes where there may be a difference in the quality or the content of drugs being ingested,” said Dr. Bud Lawrence in a press conference Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital arranged less than 24 hours after the eight overdoses.  

Within the span of three days from April 23 to April 25, that difference in quality contributed to the heroin overdoses of 10 people — nine were transported to the emergency room.

Of the 10 total, one person, 28-year-old David Alexander Esquivel, was pronounced dead at Bouquet Canyon Park in Saugus, Los Angeles County Coroner officials confirmed.

During the hospital’s press conference, one speaker compared injecting heroin to a game of Russian Roulette.

“Potentially, people that are using the drug are expecting to get a certain amount of effect,” said Dr. Lawrence. “But if the drug was stronger than they expected, they’d have no way of knowing until they take it. Heroin has a very rapid effect once injected.”

Emergency responders discussed some of the effects that make heroin injection so deadly, and some signs one should look for when distinguishing a possible user.

“It’s pretty much going to slow your respiratory drive,” said Brian Clayton, a firefighter with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “That’s why they die. A lack of oxygen to the brain and heart.”

But Dr. Lawrence noted that Narcan (naloxone), an opiate antidote for drugs including heroin and prescription pain pills like morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone and Vicodin, according to stopoverdoseil.org, is available at local pharmacies.

“You can actually go to the pharmacy and ask the pharmacist to purchase it without a prescription,” said Dr. Lawrence. “They’re making an attempt to make it available to the family or people who think that they are at risk.”

“Those of us who happen to know someone who is in a circle of addiction, please be aware that there is something dangerous out there,” said Dr. Lawrence during a press conference. “Please take appropriate precautions, ask appropriate questions, and please find a safe environment—if at all possible stop using.”

For law enforcement, the overdoses presented an opportunity to inform the public of services offered to help the situation.

“We’re not there to just arrest and prosecute,” said Detective Bill Velek of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s station Juvenile Intervention Team.

The law enforcement group specializes in investigating narcotics use amongst youths under the umbrella of what they call the J-Team.

“We try and reach out to the parents,” he continued. “We talk to the kids, so we can get that conversation started and let them know that we are there to help.”

Cary Quashen, the director of Action Family Counseling said that many struggle to escape the shadows of drugs and seek sobriety.

The longtime addiction specialist explained that rehab admittance is skyrocketing for those transitioning into adulthood.

“What really scares me the most is if you look at drug and alcohol treatment center these days our adolescent population is dwindling,” Quashen said.

“Parents aren’t wanting to put kids in treatment because it’s only pot, and if you look at our adult residential treatment centers we’re exploding, from 18-25 years old.”

Fitting the age profile, Bolek found himself in one of those centers.

“I got out of jail, and told my parents what happened,” said Bolek. “They freaked out and packed all my bags and took me here.”

Bolek started using drugs when he was around 12 to 14 years old, and got hooked on heroin about two years ago he said.

These stories intertwined after sheriff’s deputies found Bolek in his car, high on the highly addictive, yet deadly heroin.

Quashen attributes rapidly declining adolescent admittance prior to age 18 to parents neglecting to curb smoking and use of drugs including marijuana.

“I’m going to get them when they’re older, and they’re going to be in a lot more crisis, Quashen said.

In most cases, recovery begins with an environmental change.

For Bolek, breaking bonds with his past friends is the hardest decision he’s faced.

“I know if I talk with them and hang out with the same people, I’m going to go right back to where I was,” he said.

However, the 21-year-old said that some of the best consoling comes from other addicts seeking rehabilitation.

“Anybody that’s feeling they’re alone, if you feel like you’re trapped go seek help,” said Bolek, explaining that many addicts feel alone in the world with their troubles. “No matter what the hell your issue is, there’s always going to be someone out there with the exact the same story as you.”

Velek explained how the J-team in Santa Clarita focuses on seeking treatment for users, rather than incarceration.

“Our main focus is to stop the drug use in any way we can,” said Velek. “The best way to stop the drug use is to get them into treatment, and educate the families.”

For various treatment centers:

Action Family Counseling

22722 Soledad Canyon Road, Santa Clarita, CA 91350

(800) 367-8336

The Way Out Recovery

28118 Bouquet Canyon Rd

Santa Clarita, CA 91350

(661) 296-4444

**Louie Diaz contributed to this report