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Intersections: Acceptance as a means of prevention

May 29, 2012|By Liana Aghajanian

This is the last in a four-part series exploring the impacts of heroin use on the greater Glendale area.


In 1897, German chemist Heinrich Dreser catapulted two drugs to international fame, making the Bayer pharmaceutical company a household name. One was aspirin. The other, heroin, marketed as a cough suppressant, was an alternative to morphine and its addictive qualities. It only took a year for the truth to unravel. Bayer stopped making heroin in 1913, and the drug's sale and manufacture were banned by Congress in 1924, but the chaos had already been created.

Over a century later, American suburbia has been playing host to an increasing teen heroin addiction, and there's almost always a gateway to the highly addictive drug: prescription painkillers.

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According to data released last November by the Centers for Disease Control, the death toll from prescription painkiller overdoses has more than tripled in the last decade. In 2010, 12 million people reported using painkillers nonmedically, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

In La Crescenta, prescription painkillers are a common gateway to heroin. It's a town whose main strip-mall-spattered boulevard is filled with as much community spirit as it is cars full of families, a town where Bela Lugosi once came to seek treatment for his morphine addiction and a town where residents, according to some, remain largely unwilling to confront the realities of drug addiction.

Dr. Dagmar Liepa runs the “Reclaim Your Life” inpatient, medically supervised detox program at Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City. In the last few years, she has seen a spike in the number of patients from the La Crescenta area in their 20s who are addicted to heroin.

Much of the initial encounter to opiates comes through pills, she said.

“When they have trouble getting pills, whose street values are going to be higher, that's often when they use heroin as a substitute because it's cheaper.”

Patients voluntarily come to her when they have had enough of a life full of addiction.

“It really gets to a point where it becomes too painful to be addicted and that's when people think about treatment, if they can't stop on their own, they realize they may need to help stop this cycle.”

She helps them get through the most difficult part of heroin and opiate addiction: withdrawal.

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