“All my friends were very similar to me, academically driven, gifted
in athletics, and fun all-around people, and this is just what we did —
someone would say, ‘Let’s bring a keg and some weed up on Mount Tam’
and off we’d go.”
But with the help of a wealthy boyfriend who had easy access to drugs,
Long’s use escalated quickly and she became addicted to cocaine. “I was
under a ton of pressure from school, my parents, all these extracurricu-
lars, and drugs became my escape and release,” she says.
At UC Santa Cruz, she continued to get straight As — while driving to
Today she’s active in drug policy at the county level, eager to help make
the Tenderloin as often as four times a week to score drugs. “I graduated
in the top 10 percent of my class at UC Santa Cruz and I was a full-blown
heroin addict — I lived a totally double life.”
Long wasn’t alone; among her group of high school friends there
were numerous near-misses, and one friend died of an Oxy Contin
overdose at UC San Diego just after Christmas break. “There was a lot
of loss of life among my group of friends,” Long says. “These were smart
kids who came from good families, struggling with addiction and not
knowing what to do.”
Long was one of the lucky ones — if you can call it lucky to watch
your life unravel, she says. But four and a half years ago, living out of
her car and panhandling in the Tenderloin, she asked her family to help
her go into treatment.
changes so that what happened to her doesn’t happen to others, with pos-
sibly even worse consequences.
A. J. TORCHON WAS only 19 — a Novato High School graduate just a few
months into his sophomore year at UC Santa Barbara — when he died of
an accidental painkiller overdose.
Blindsided and anguished, his parents, Ric and Jeannette, made
a decision they didn’t even realize was unusual: they put the cause of
death in his obituary. “A woman from the paper called me and said,
‘Are you sure you want to say this? People don’t usually want that
information in there.’”
But the Torchons did, hoping that by being open and honest they could
alert other families to the dangers they’d missed.
“When people, especially in affluent communities, think about people
dying from drug overdoses, they think of people who are addicted,” says
Ric Torchon. “But A. J. wasn’t an addict. Parents don’t realize that a drug
overdose can happen the first or second time someone uses a drug.”
“One of the hardest things in this situation is the stigma that’s attached
to it,” says Susan Kim of Novato, whose son, Trey Lagomarsino, died of an
overdose of prescription cough syrup in 2013 at the age of 23.
“You’re going through this horrible tragedy, and you don’t want
the shame of being judged,” she says. “But if we don’t speak about it,
if we don’t make the information public, how will anyone else know
what’s going on? I raised three boys here in Marin and had no idea what
the kids were taking.”
“NO ONE IS TRACKING the numbers and communicating them to par-
ents,” says Mark Dale of San Rafael, founder of Families for Safer Schools
and chair of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Advisory Board for the Marin
County Board of Supervisors. “And the silence is killing us.”
Dale should know; he almost lost a son to drug overdose not once but
twice, an experience that set him on a mission to get Marin’s schools and
communities to begin sharing data on overdoses, ER visits, and other
drug- and mental health–related incidents.
“The schools are concerned about their reputations, afraid parents
will find out about these incidents and the school will be painted as a drug
school,” says Dale, whose son was only in middle school the first time he
overdosed. “But every school in Marin has lost kids to prescription drugs
or a combination of drugs and alcohol. And we’re not hearing about the
size of the problem.”
And how can we expect kids to be brave enough to speak up, asks Dale,
if we aren’t?
“Every time a child dies, the parents go to the child’s friends and ask,
‘Did you know he or she was doing this?’ and the answer is always ‘ Yes,
but we didn’t know how to help and we were afraid of getting him in
trouble.’ I’ve seen so many situations where nobody had the courage to
tell the parents to get the child help.”
IF WE CAN SAVE ONE OTHER FAMILY FROM
GOING THROUGH THIS HELL, IT’S WORTH IT.
— JEANNETTE TORCHON, PARENT WHO LOST
A CHILD TO DRUGS
THE STIGMA IS AS DANGEROUS AS THE DRUGS.
— MARK DALE, FAMILIES FOR SAFER SCHOOLS