2012-07-12 / Community
Nonprofits join forces to send anti-heroin message to teens
T.O.-based Regenerate Films is producing PSA
That’s the message of an upcoming public service announcement being created by Regenerate Films, a Ventura County-based organization dedicated to giving young people a voice through multimedia.
Regenerate is working with Not One More, a nonprofit that aims to stop heroin and other drug abuse. The PSA is a response to the recent spike in heroin use in the area.
Matt Salit, who sits on the Not One More board, said he left his hometown of Simi Valley to join a hockey team in 2005 and returned to a shocking scene during a visit months later.
“When I came back, all my friends were doing drugs all of a sudden,” the 25-year-old said. “It changes people. . . . (Drug users) steal from their best friend, then help you look for it after they stole it. You don’t want to be around them anymore.”
Salit said at least 20 friends and acquaintances have died from heroin overdoses. Others are in rehab or in jail because of the drug. His best friend, Miraj Amin, died from heroin in April last year. Salit joined Not One More to honor Amin’s memory.
In Simi Valley, there have been nine heroin-related deaths and 37 overdoses since 2010, said Sgt. Craig Dungan of the Simi Valley Police Department. There were no deaths in 2012, he said, but the numbers don’t include Simi Valley residents who may have died outside the city.
“Overdoses can be unreported,” Dungan said. “Unless a hospital calls us, we wouldn’t know about it. That number can be higher.”
In the Conejo Valley alone there have been seven heroin-related deaths, 43 overdoses and 487 arrests since 2009. In the jurisdiction of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, which includes T.O. and Camarillo, there have been 14 heroin-related deaths and 69 overdoses since 2010, according to senior crime analyst Stacie Snow.
These statistics were the inspiration for the PSA, which will be shown on the Internet and, eventually, television.
The PSA, according to Regenerate board member Roland Woerner, is a 30-second spot depicting a wide-eyed child dreaming about a limitless future. The hopeful image segues to an adult heroin user. The bright visions turn black.
Woerner, a senior producer at Current TV, said the idea came from speaking with the community’s youth.
“We’re here to amplify young people’s voices,” said Woerner, a resident of Moorpark. “We want young people to tell us what they want. We’re the mentors.”
Creators hope the PSA will be more effective because it’s being produced by the same demographic it seeks to reach, said Regenerate board member Cindy Rakowitz of Agoura Hills.
“Young people listen to (each other),” said Rakowitz, CEO of Blackman Rakowitz Public Relations in Encino.
With the goal of promoting social change through the area’s youths, Regenerate Films was founded in 2002 by David Lee Miller, a writer, director and producer, and Mark Barker, a developer of commercial real estate properties.
Barker first brought up the issue of heroin abuse in the county at a Regenerate board meeting. The widespread problem surprised some, including Rakowitz, whose three children are in their 20s. Regenerate reached out to Not One More to launch a local drug awareness campaign.
The nonprofits are working to create a campaign model to use in Ventura County and nationally, Woerner said.
As part of the development process, about 50 young people were invited to Four Friends Gallery in T.O. on June 2 to brainstorm ideas for an anti-heroin PSA and a smartphone app listing resources and services to combat heroin use.
A 24-hour help line is also planned.
Three hours of discussion revealed a theme: Heroin addicts keep it a secret.
“When somebody is messed up and dependent, it’s something you hide,” Rakowitz said.
Through a media campaign that may also include a Web series and documentaries, Woerner hopes to reach not just addicts but the people around them.
“A lot of schools won’t acknowledge the problem. Parents are blindsided,” said Woerner, who has two daughters in college. “I see parents just like me with kids addicted or dead.”
Susan Klimusko, who founded Not One More after her son Austin died from a heroin overdose in January, hopes to educate the community with the help of Regenerate and reach kids at schools starting in sixth grade.
“I remember talking to my boys about it,” Klimusko said. “You’ve signed your soul over to the devil (by using heroin). . . . Kids already addicted will be in a battle for the rest of their lives. It’s very sad. They can get clean, go to prison or end up dying. That’s their journey. Once you become an addict, you’ve crossed the line of no return.”
Klimusko and Salit said many prescription pill abusers transition to heroin.
Salit had hockey teammates who were prescribed painkillers after being injured. They then switched to using heroin. Other heroin users he knows started with Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders.
“Everyone’s got that mentality that ‘It’s not going to happen to me. I’m not going to be the one who overdoses,’” Salit said.
Depression and boredom can also lead to drug use, he said.
“Heroin is going to be here forever,” he said. “You’re not going to take heroin away. The best thing to do is to take the ‘want’ away . . . (and) keep kids busy.”
Woerner said the collaboration between Regenerate and Not One More will last beyond the PSA.
“We’re here to serve the communities around us,” Woerner said. “This is a long-term campaign (to address) a long-term problem. As long as we can get youth involved to help us, we’ll help them.”