By Mary O’KEEFE
“That’s what these drugs do. They become your normal. They become your everyday.”
That statement was made by 15-year-old La Cañada High School student Vincent Dioguardi at Monday night’s discussion on Drug Trends in our Community. The event was held at the Lanternman Theatre in La Cañada and was conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept./Crescenta Valley Station.
“The drugs are in our community, they are here and we want you to know what’s out there,” said Deputy Cynthia Gonzales, community officer from the CV Station in her introduction.
The idea for the event came from the station’s Community Advisory Committee. This is the same group that a few months ago held a seminar on identity theft scams.
About 60 people attended the drug and alcohol conversation that was led by Deputy Eric Matejka from the Crescenta Valley Station with Det. Maloney from the LASD Narcotics Bureau. Matejka is the La Cañada community officer and works as the La Cañada High School’s resource officer. The pair spoke on what trends they have witnessed.
Drug use is nothing new in the Crescenta Valley; however, the names of the drugs have changed and they are much stronger than they were 10 and 20 years ago and much more available.
“We talk to students and they tell us all about drugs,” Matejka said.
It is not just those kids who might be using drugs that talk but many kids who don’t use and are still aware of what the drugs are and where they can get them.
Matejka and Maloney listed a variety of synthetic drugs like Bath Salts, Ecstasy and Spice. They are known as designer drugs that also include LSD and methamphetamine. These are drugs that are chemically created in a lab. Matejka pointed out that a lab could be an apartment or garage. These designer drugs could also include synthetic marijuana that is often sold over the Internet, and some are legal.
It is difficult to stay ahead of these types of drugs legally, Matejka said.
“We can [outlaw] one type of drug but then the [designers] change just one chemical and it’s legal,” he said.
Ecstasy and Molly are synthetic drugs that are often used at raves. Raves are dance parties that are held at a variety of places including the Angeles National Forest.
“Like the Electric Daisy Carnival coming up in Las Vegas,” Matejka said.
Raves have created a culture that invites the use of these types of drugs.
Matejka added he has found references to raves and invitations to “come and get your Molly.”
The drugs are dangerous for a variety of reasons including that they are not produced in a legitimate lab and are not tested. Those taking the drugs cannot be certain what chemicals are actually being consumed.
Synthetic marijuana is another dangerous drug. Matejka showed a video of a boy getting high. From just one drag of the pipe, the boy quickly descended from a happy kid to a screaming boy curled up in the backseat of his friend’s car.
“We are hearing more about cocaine in the area [of La Cañada],” he said. Cocaine is a strong stimulant that can be very addictive and very expensive. Methamphetamine, another drug Matejka said is on the rise, is also a strong stimulant and is also extremely addictive.
He said that the popularity of prescription drugs is on the rise and that he is seeing more and more people addicted to prescription drugs.
“These are pills [that are in your] medicine cabinet,” Matejka said.
Marijuana is still the drug that is most prevalent in the area. Although there have been more restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries they are still easy to find.
“There cannot be any dispensaries in the [unincorporated areas of the] County of Los Angeles but in East Los Angeles there are 39,” Maloney said. “They are popping up all over the place.”
He added the areas around several of the dispensaries are seeing an increase in crime.
“They are very bad for the community,” he said.
The city of La Cañada
Flintridge has an ordinance against the dispensaries as does the city of Glendale.
Throughout the discussion Matejka and Maloney shared with the audience the drug paraphernalia collected over the years from local high school students.
Matejka told parents not to be afraid to question their kids if they have concerns, to check their phones and to know their friends. He and Maloney told the audience that drugs are out there, they are in their community and they would be surprised how much kids know about drugs.
Angelique Shirvanian, program director with Action Family Counseling, continued that theme by telling the audience that drugs are not limited to some types of neighborhoods and only some types of kids.
“Sixty percent of the teens we see in Pasadena are from the La Cañada and La Crescenta areas,” she said. “Deputy Matejka said it is out there and that is true.”
Action is based in Santa Clarita but has centers throughout the area. Shirvanian works out of the Pasadena office. She said there are several ways kids move to drugs and alcohol including influence by their peers and by families who make it acceptable at home. She reminded the audience of a commercial that was released some time ago with the tagline, “Don’t be your child’s drug dealer.” It pertained to the abuse of prescription drugs.
“The one place your [child] should feel safe is home,” she said.
She suggested that parents drug test their children, even those as young as 12 years old – not because they think their child is on drugs but to give them an out.
“They can say, ‘Hey guys, I can’t do [drugs] because my dad tests me,’” she explained.
And if anyone had any doubts that drug use was happening in the area those doubts disappeared the minute 15-year-old Dioguardi began to speak.
“I went to one of these [seminars] a year ago and that was when my mother first thought I might be smoking weed,” he said.
When in elementary school, he learned that drugs were bad. There were events when officers came to the school and told students how dangerous drug use could be.
“I never believed what the officers were saying was true,” he said. “I never thought it was a bad thing … I never learned how to say no.”
He was first introduced to marijuana when he was 11. A friend asked him if he wanted to try it and he said yes.
“From that point on everything changed,” he said.
Growing up he had been bullied a lot in elementary school and getting high made him feel better.
“How this high makes me feel is how I want to feel,” he said. “This is where I want to go in my life. I want to be a stoner.”
It quickly went from an occasional high to a constant one.
“When I was 13 years old I was smoking every day,” he added.
He found that everything the officers had said about warning signs like getting in trouble and dropping grades were now part of his life. He was known as a stoner and “everyone wanted to be around me.”
“I was that kid you tell your kids not to hang out with,” he said.
A pattern developed of his getting into trouble and school issues including “ditching” class after class.
“Then it really started going downhill from eighth to ninth grade,” he said.
His mother arranged for him to attend St. Francis High School and his family hoped that getting him away from his friends at public school would be a new start for him. But it wasn’t; he just found kids who wanted to get high at the new school.
“In ninth grade I tried coke (cocaine) for the first time,” he said. “I fell in love with coke.”
His grades started slipping, and he transferred back to LCHS where he continued the pattern of getting high and lying to his parents.
“I couldn’t see what it was doing to my family. I couldn’t see I was keeping my mom up at night [worrying],” he said. “It didn’t click in my mind. I don’t think a lot of kids my age think about [what they are doing to their families].”
When he started tenth grade he began dealing drugs because he had to sell to supply his addiction. He missed classes and didn’t think about the consequences. Then one morning around 2 a.m., when he was getting high in his basement, his parents came downstairs. They smelled marijuana.
“I am thankful for that day,” he said. “If that didn’t happen I probably wouldn’t be standing here today.”
He recognized his pattern and knew that he was heading deeper and deeper into drug addiction. His mom got him into Action and he has been going to counseling sessions and AA meetings ever since.
He now knows he has these addictions and that he is not the type of person who can have one drink or try one pill. It had gotten to the point where he did not know how to be normal without being high.
“Now I am proud to say I am an addict. I know my boundaries,” he said. “And I am not saying all your kids are addicts.”
He added that some kids can get high once and that’s it, but some are like him.
“We have a saying in [counseling]: ‘One is too many and a thousand is never enough,’” he said.
Now Dioguardi is five months sober. He has a girlfriend who attends the Church of Latter-day Saints. He has started attending that church and has decided to join the faith. He has made friends who are positive and are now part of his family.
He added it is important to leave the friends who get high, to step away from the influence.
When the floor opened for questions, it was asked if a parent finds out that another child is using drugs or drinking should that child’s parent be told. Matejka said he understood why parents would be worried about crossing that line with another parent.
“I would have loved to have someone who knew my son was doing drugs to have told me,” said Dioguardi’s mom. “I could have gotten him help earlier. Please say something.”
“The reason Vincent is doing so well is because of the way his family is handling this,” Shirvanian said. “Some parents don’t want to get involved. Some are in denial, but [his mom] is there 100% for her kid. She is the one who said he could speak about [his addiction] to his own community.”