[Noozhawk’s note: This article is part of Day 1 in Noozhawk’s 12-day, six-week special investigative series, Prescription for Abuse. Related links are below.]
Noozhawk is the most fun I’ve ever had professionally, and I think the thing that excites me the most is that there’s no roadmap for where we’re going.
We’re pioneers in the New Media world. We have to rely on our inner entrepreneurs and look for opportunities where they are, not where we expect them to be.
A case in point: Late last year, I received a phone call from Martha Shirk, program consultant for the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. She asked if we might be interested in applying for a fellowship to explore a public health issue in our community. Believe it or not, we actually had a couple of issues on our radar and I leaped at the chance.
A few months later, our application was accepted and we embarked on a quest to explore the misuse and abuse of prescription medications in Santa Barbara County. Today, we begin Prescription for Abuse, our 12-day, six-week special report on what we found.
It’s not a pretty picture. Just as it is in our country, drug abuse is out of control in our community. In what will come as a surprise to many readers, however, the problem is not limited to illegal narcotics like cocaine, heroin and marijuana. Some of the most often abused drugs — and the most addictive — are perfectly legal medications prescribed by one of the professionals you trust on the most personal of levels, your doctor.
All age levels are affected in some way. Among youth, the intentional abuse of prescription drugs is shockingly common. Seniors are more likely to be misusing prescriptions. In between, well, almost all of us are guilty of carelessness when it comes to controls or disregarding instructions — or worse.
For the last several months, Noozhawk reporters Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli and the rest of our team have been researching, interviewing and compiling what I think you’ll agree is a comprehensive and engaging look at this issue. We’ll be establishing an independent baseline of the local problem and how it affects health care, education, law enforcement, criminal justice, addiction and treatment, and our culture and society. Later in the series, we’ll turn our attention to what we as a community can do to educate ourselves about prevention and controls, and how we can perhaps reverse this very troubling trend.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Along the way I’ve been impressed with the candor and determination of local medical administrators, physicians and nurses who are working tirelessly to get control of the problem. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown and District Attorney Joyce Dudley have graciously gone above and beyond to make their top officers, detectives, prosecutors, investigators and data available to us.
Santa Barbara County is blessed to have a number of first-rate addiction and treatment programs like Zona Seca, the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, Recovery Road Medical Center, Full Spectrum Recovery and many more. Several of the programs are available at very little cost.
Equally important are the collaborative relationships we’ve established. The Santa Barbara Foundation quickly grasped the educational value of this project and signed on as a sponsor, as did the Mosher Foundation, Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals and Zona Seca. KEYT — through the efforts of news director C.J. Ward and Smith Media vice president and CEO Mike Granados — agreed to partner with us and will be introducing additional reporting resources as the series progresses.
One of our most exciting discoveries, however, was already right there on our homepage: The Santa Barbara Teen News Network we’ve had the privilege of sponsoring for the last year. In July, we asked Trixie Geyer, associate director of the Patricia Henley Foundation, which funds the program, if the sbTNN students would like to shoot a few public-service announcement videos for us. Ashley Almada, Garrett Geyer, Hailey Sestak and Billy Spencer immediately agreed, and in about a two-week period they filmed, edited and produced nearly three dozen videos with many of the sources in our stories. Beginning next week, we’ll be introducing them throughout our series, but you can click here to view the first one. You’re going to love them!
Finally, a note about the timeline of Prescription for Abuse. Each day of the series will represent a specific theme, and we’ll be publishing the themes on Mondays and Tuesdays for six weeks. We know few of you want to hear about drugs for 12 consecutive days so we thought this schedule would provide consistency and continuity, while allowing you to reflect on and respond to what you’re reading. Equally important, we know we’ll be interacting with you as we go so we wanted to build in time so that KEYT and Noozhawk could follow up on your tips and provide additional context and resources for you.
As Noozhawk’s founder and publisher, I’m proud of the work our team has done to bring attention to this most important issue. We’re honored that our company has this opportunity to serve our community in this way and with this project. We think we will be making a positive difference in Santa Barbara, and we hope that you will join us to ensure that we do.