2012-05-10 / Community

Forum offers sobering dose of reality

Conejo’s heroin, prescription pill problem not going away, speakers say
By Stephanie Sumell

Newbury Park resident Michelle Treiber says she can’t stand to think about drugs.

“I can’t even watch a movie with people shooting up or snorting,” said the stay-at-home mom. “The thought of my kids or kids’ friends doing it is a huge nightmare.”

On April 26, Treiber took her two teenage sons and their friend to the city’s fourth heroin and prescription drug awareness forum since March of last year, which took place in the Scherr Forum Theatre at the Civic Arts Plaza.

The event, which drew about 300 people, was sponsored by the Thousand Oaks Police Department, Ventura County Behavioral Health, Conejo Recreation and Park District and Conejo Valley Unified School District.

The goal of the forums is to educate the public about the signs of opiate addiction and behavior changes associated with heroin and pill abuse, a lesson Trieber was ready to learn.

“Having teenagers, drugs are something I worry about,” she said. “I wanted them to get more information than what they get in school.”

Cmdr. Brent Kerr of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Offi ce, the event’s moderator, said heroin and prescription drug abuse continues to run rampant in the Conejo Valley, even as public awareness of the issue increases. Kerr was responsible for forming the coalition of local agencies last year to address the growing problem.

“Since January 2009, there have been seven deaths, 43 overdoses and 487 arrests associated with heroin in the Conejo Valley,” said Kerr, whose son is a recovering addict.

According to Sgt. Eric Hatlee, head of TOPD’s crime prevention unit, in March in Thousand Oaks there were 19 heroin-related arrests, two overdoses and two deaths.

Dr. Matthew Beatty, the assistant director of emergency medicine at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center, offered a few more statistics.

In the first four months of 2012, the ER has handled 117 ambulance calls for opiate-related overdoses. Two years ago, in 2010, a total of 198 overdose calls were handled over the entire year.

“In about two years’ time, drug overdoses will overtake car accidents as the most common cause of injurious death,” Beatty told the audience. “So right after teaching your kids the value of wearing seat belts, you should probably have a candid talk about drugs.”

Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis, another member of the panel, called the area’s drug problem a battle.

“This isn’t something you can arrest yourself out of (or) treat your way out of, (and) prevention only has so much impact,” he said. “It’s everyone working together and every piece of the pie pulling on the same rope.”

One of the biggest messages at the forums has been to remind residents to properly dispose of their unused prescriptions, as these pills often wind up in the hands of teenagers or other drug abusers, Hatlee said.

The sergeant said that every sheriff’s station in the area has a drop-off box for unneeded medications.

On April 28, in accordance with National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, community members dropped off 122 pounds of prescription medications at the East County Station on Olsen Road.

“That’s a lot of medication that’s no longer accessible to kids and other people,” Hatlee said. “Prescription medications can be dropped off at any time.”

Before the forum, representatives from various drug treatment and awareness programs set up booths in the theater’s lobby to answer questions about their organizations.

Angela Carrillo, the clinical outreach manager for Center for Discovery, said the organization treats preteens and teens with drug problems, eating disorders and mental health issues.

The organization has 11 residential treatment centers throughout California and Washington, and offers free community support groups and social events for kids in recovery. Most forms of insurance are accepted.

Carrillo said she was happy with the turnout for the forum.

“The (Thousand Oaks) area has a stigma with admitting that there is anything going on,” she added. “I love that they’re getting past that.”

Hatlee said there will likely be another forum in the fall.

“I was happy with the forum,” he said. “The turnout was good, but I would like to see more people from the Conejo Valley there. . . . We’re trying to get the community involved and get the word out.”

Treiber said parents can’t be too careful.

“I think that people think that they’re on top of things enough and stay vigilant—it won’t happen to them—(but) this could happen to anyone,” she said. “More people need to take advantage of these forums.”

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