Precipitous Rise In Heroin Use Among Affluent Teenagers In Upland

(April 5) Upland, which lies at the base of Mt. San Antonio and is known as the City of Gracious Living, is one of  San Bernardino County’s more upscale communities. Situated between the well-to-do college town of Claremont to the west and more modern but equally affluent Rancho Cucamonga to the east and imperiously standing uphill from Ontario and Montclair to the south, the city boasts bustling commercial corridors along its major east-west arterial, Foothill Boulevard, i.e., Old Route 66, as well as down Mountain Avenue, which Intersects Route 66. Upland’s showcase feature is Euclid Avenue, with its 65-and-one-half-foot wide median that once was the route for a trolley car that ran from Ontario up to the base of Mount San Antonio. The median, with pepper trees planted by community founder George Chaffey back in the late 1800’s, lies between the rows of impressive houses lining  the east and west sides of Euclid, seemingly  competing with one another as statements of grandeur, a number of which cross over into the category of mansions as Euclid reaches San Antonio Heights.
Nevertheless, the stately homes, the impeccably manicured lawns, and the overall veneer of gentility belies a darker and seedier reality: In Upland, the use of heroin among teenagers and young adults is running at epidemic proportions, surpassing all other cities in the county, indeed beyond that of inner city neighborhoods in the most crime ridden sections of Los Angeles.
A paradox lies at the root of the problem, one that has turned conventional wisdom upside down. Most assume drug use, and particularly hard narcotic use, to be the province of the lower classes.  The reality, however, is that the children of the well-heeled are particularly vulnerable to predatory drug dealers because their parents’ affluence in many cases enables them, at least in the primary stages of their addiction, to support their habits.
The city of Upland is not much different from most other Southern California cities in that it has its own impoverished class, with 9.1% of its families and 12% of the population living below the poverty line. Some 30,490 of the city’s total 73,732 population, or 41.4%, live in rental housing units. A significant number of those, however, live south of Foothill Boulevard. It is those households and their less impressive earning power which brings down the median Upland household income to $48,734, and the median income for a family living in Upland to $57,471. Remarkably, the use of heroin among young people is virtually unheard of among youths living in the poorer section of town.
North of Euclid is a different story. Median income there increases to $83,458 per household and $92,601 per family. Throughout the city, according to the 2010 Census, 65.6% percent of Upland’s population is categorized as white. North of Foothill, more than 80 percent of the residents fall into that category.
Among those upper middle class and even wealthy predominately Caucasian families in northern Upland, an alarming number of children of high school age have sampled or experimented with opiates of one kind or another or have been exposed to peers and classmates who have done so. In many cases, casual use has grown into addiction.
Readily available among Upland High Students are prescription opiates such as oxycodone, which is widely known by its commercial name, OxyContin;  percocet, which is also known as endocet; dextropropoxyphene, also known as Darvocet or propoxyphene; and codeine. Morphine, for reasons that are not entirely clear, does not appear to be widely distributed among teens in Upland.
Simultaneously, heroin in many forms is available. White heroin, brown heroin, black tar heroin and opium paste can be had with relative ease.
Beginners are likely to smoke heroin in their initial experience with it. Snorting, i.e., sniffing or inhaling it, is also a way neophytes acclimate themselves to the drug, which can induce nausea. Users report that the drug taken in quantity initially can prove unpleasant, with nausea and vomiting being a common side effect. Some experimenters with the drug never make it beyond that stage because of the unpleasant feeling it can initially induce in some. Those who persist with it, however, invariably find it insidiously inviting even if the nausea persists, as all opiates work on the central nervous system to block any sensation of pain by interrupting  neurotransmission.  Use of the drug can in a relatively short period result in psychological dependence, tolerance and addiction. As use continues, physiological dependence can set in to the point that ceasing use can result in withdrawal symptoms that include severe pain, nausea, intractable headache, alternating chills and heat flashes, extreme irritability and muscle, joint and bone ache.
In time, users typically gravitate to injecting the drug intravenously.
In some cases within Upland, though reportedly mostly just across the city limits, purveyors of heroin have set up shop, targeting it seems, Upland youth specifically, apparently as a consequence of their access to money to purchase the drug.  The Sentinel is informed  that “major” dealers operate out of  San Antonio Heights, the unincorporated county area just north of Upland, and Rancho Cucamonga, in particular an apartment complex there. Both San Antonio Heights and the city of Rancho Cucamonga draw their law enforcement service from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
No hard statistics about the prevalence of heroin use among Upland youth is available from any public sources. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests the problem is widespread.
Horror stories of children as young as 15 being caught in a near death grip of addiction abound. The family of one Upland  16-year-old learned of his affinity to heroin only after he was using $150 worth of the drug per day. He was taken to a clinic in Orange County, where he was subjected to treatment that mitigated but did not entirely reduce the excruciating ordeal of withdrawal. His mother, who with his father removed the boy to a private school outside of Upland to isolate him from his peers, told the Sentinel “I pray every day he will stay clean.”
Another father, who owns a business and residence in Upland, told the Sentinel he was startled to learn that both of his teenage children, students at Upland High, were smoking heroin regularly, along with opium paste when it was available. Divorced from the children’s mother, his method of dealing with the problem was to curtail both his son’s and daughter’s freedom, ensuring that they came directly to his place of business after school, where they went to work under his watchful eye.
Many Upland parents, it seems, are oblivious to their child’s or children’s use of or addiction to heroin. Some miss or fail to recognize the tell-tale signs and symptoms of heroin use. The generous monetary allowances some parents provide to their children allow the younger set to experiment with the drug and gradually fall into its clutches. With the development of a more serious habit or addiction, the monetary demand of sustaining heroin use can lead to ongoing or episodic theft, acts which can betray to parents, eventually, that something is amiss. When parents become aware of such a situation, they find themselves in a terrible quandary. Even the most resourceful parent is ill equipped to deal with a child’s drug addiction. But bringing in law enforcement or other public authorities to deal with the issue can result in criminal charges being filed against their child or children.  For that reason, many go it alone, struggling to resolutions of greater or lesser effectiveness in overcoming the challenge. Others turn to professionals, doctors or clinics offering  a specialized practice in overcoming heroin dependence, utilizing a multitude of detoxing strategies, including substituting codeine, methadone or  buprenorphine for heroin and gradually weaning the patient from those substances, which likewise have withdrawal implications, though less violent and less intense than heroin withdrawal.
Meanwhile, Upland city officials have been pursuing a drug enforcement policy that was in some measure out of step with the serious inroads achieved by heroin pervaders in the community.
Between 2009 and 2012, the city expended just over $420,000 in an effort to prevent G3 Holistics, a marijuana clinic which opened in 2009, from operating in Upland. The city succeeded in temporarily closing down the G3 Collective in August 2010 after the city filed an injunction in West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga, but that injunction was stayed by G3 owner Aaron Sandusky’s immediate appeal of the city’s blanket prohibition of medical marijuana dispensaries. On November 9, 2011 the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Riverside ruled that Upland’s banning of clinics did not contradict Proposition 215, the 1996 law that approved medical marijuana in the state, but Sandusky appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Ultimately, the city’s legal efforts against the clinic failed to shutter the operation, as the matter remained unresolved in the state court system, complicated by the consideration that in 1996 California Voters legalized the provision of marijuana to medical patents in possession of a valid prescription from a licensed physician as a consequence of the passage of Proposition 215. Ultimately, Sandusky was forced to close his operation not through the effort of the city but rather through action of the federal government, in the form of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who undertook a November 2011 raid against the G3 clinic and then followed up with a prosecution of Sandusky and his associates in federal court, obtaining a conviction and prison sentence against Sandusky under the much more stringent and less ambiguous federal law.
Thus, the $420,000 legal effort against Sandusky proved to be superfluous and diverted money to the city attorney’s office that might have been provided to the police department to beef up operations devoted to dampening, if not eradicating, the contagion of heroin use among Upland’s youth.
Upland Police Chief Jeff Mendenhall, while not denying the existence of a heroin use problem among the city’s youth, offered his view that “I’m not aware that it’s limited to Upland.” He said that describing the situation as an epidemic is “not a fair” characterization. “I don’t know how much is being used in Upland on a daily basis,” he said. He expressed skepticism that the elevated use of heroin or other opiates in Upland could be attributed to the affluence of the families of those who have fallen under its sway.
With regard to whether he believed the city’s energetic and relatively well funded efforts to drive medical marijuana clinics in general and one such clinic specifically out of town squandered monetary resources that might have been better directed to intensifying enforcement efforts aimed at heroin trafficking and use as well as other hard narcotics, Mendenhall said such a question “puts me in a box I do not want to get into. Marijuana is not only a federal issue, it is a state issue and local issue. The city council sets policy. Their position was the G-3 clinic violated the zoning code and they tried to rectify that. I support them on that.”
Mendenhall said he would ask the department’s narcotics division to make recent heroin-related operations and arrest data and records available to the Sentinel, but that material was not provided by press time.
Upland’s narcotics division functions under the aegis of a joint task force with the Ontario Police Department, which is headed by a lieutenant employed by Ontario PD. There have been suggestions that with narcotics operations headquartered and supervised outside the city, those calling the shots may be less sensitive to the nuances within the Upland community than are Upland police officers who constantly work the city’s streets and are answerable under a hierarchy based within the police department.
Former Upland Police Chief Martin Thouvenell told the Sentinel that heroin is not a new law enforcement issue in the City of Gracious Living.
“When I first started with the department and was working patrol, that was a pretty big problem,” he said. “We had a lot of that on Campus (Avenue) south of Thirteenth (Street). We pretty much cleaned that up. I can’t say what geographical area they would have gone to now. “
That heroin has made a comeback does not surprise him, Thouvenell said. Nor did he believe that it was necessarily the case that heroin had become a drug of affluence in Upland, though he acknowledged sustaining such a habit was expensive.
“Drug use and the types of drugs that are prevalent are cyclical in nature,” he said. “You will see trends come and go.”
He did not jump to the conclusion that a task force based outside the city is at a disadvantage in addressing an uptick in heroin use within northern Upland.
“I can tell you that at the time I was a member, our narcotics task involved Upland and Montclair, and we pretty much spent equal time in each city. Just because a task force is based in one geographical area doesn’t mean that the effort would be slanted. They will go to the area were the problems are. Even if the task force is based in Ontario, I would think they will be responding to the trouble spots in Upland.”

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