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KSBY Investigates: Central Coast drug epidemic - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

KSBY Investigates: Central Coast drug epidemic

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The Central Coast is seeing a dangerous trend: a rise in accidental deaths due to prescription drug overdose.

Unintentional overdose deaths from opioid medications like Oxycodone have quadrupled in the past 17 years, according to the National Institute on Drug and Abuse.

The addiction struck close to home for a Lompoc woman who agreed to share her story to help others. 

"It made me more fearful. I knew I didn't want to die," explains Macy G, 24.

Macy says she grew up in a good home with family and friends who loved her. At 18, her life would take a dramatic turn. 
"My first drug was Oxycodone," she says.

Macy was using Oxycodone, and then heroin, because it was cheaper. 

The Champion Center in Lompoc has seen the pattern all too often. The center is a new narcotic abuse treatment facility. There aren't many like it on the Central Coast.

For many people who live in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, their addiction gets too far before treatment is even an option.

"75 percent of young adults who get started in addiction with narcotics start on prescribed medications. When they can no longer obtain those medications legally, they tend to gravitate to cheaper and more accessible drugs like heroin," explains Jeff Henrich, the Program Director at The Champion Center.

However, with accessibility comes fatalities. Coroners reports from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties show on average two people died a week in 2015 from overdoses.

In the past four years, deadly overdoses have climbed from 64 to more than 90 on the Central Coast.
Detective Jason Caron of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Coroner's Office says it's not just the deaths that have law enforcement concerned.

"The amount of people that go to the emergency room is five to ten times more than the actual overdose cases that result in someone's death," says Detective Caron.

Dr. Dane Howalt, a local doctor who treats addiction in San Luis Obispo, says stopping the cycle is not easy.

"The best I have heard people say is that they feel the way they thought they were supposed to feel all the time," explains Dr. Howalt.

It is a story of recovery, though, for Macy G., who is four years clean now -- her longest stretch yet. Each day is a step to a new normal and each step has a purpose.

"That there is hope, that there are people there for you. That is what I needed, was a little bit of hope. And you start believing and trusting that you can turn your life around and that you can do this," Macy says about the message she wants to spread to others who suffer from addiction.

In 2014, Proposition 47 was passed and a number of drug-related offenses were reduced to misdemeanors. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's office says that change often eliminates jail time and limits users' access to professional help.

If you or a loved one is seeking help due to substance abuse, below is a list of hotlines and local agencies.

Central Coast Narcotics Anonymous
(800) 549-7730

NA Santa Barbara
(805) 569-1288

Dr. Dane Howalt - Internal, Geriatric, & Addiction Medicine

(805) 541-4034

The Champion Center

Cottage Residential Center

Intervention International

805-769-6902

San Luis Obispo County Drug & Alcohol Services

SLO County Prescription Drug Drop Off Locations

Santa Barbara County Prescription Drug Drop Off Locations

Aegis Treatment Centers
Atascadero 805-461-5212
Santa Maria 805-922-6597
Santa Barbara 805-964-4795

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