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Rich Detty Bears Burden of Not Knowing Extent of Dead Son’s Drug Use

46-year-old Cliff Detty had been diagnosed with mental illness but father wonders whether drugs also played a fateful role

[Noozhawk’s note: This article is part of Day 3 in Noozhawk’s 12-day, six-week special investigative series, Prescription for Abuse. Related links are below.]

Name: Rich Detty

Location: Santa Maria

Role: Father

Looking back, Rich Detty can’t say for sure whether his son, Cliff, was addicted to prescription medications. He’ll never have the chance to ask; Cliff Detty died in April 2010 while in restraints at Santa Barbara County’s Psychiatric Health Facility.

For Detty, the drug abuse question and the true condition of his son’s mental illness still haunt him.

Cliff Detty, 46, of Santa Maria, had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by county psychiatrists, but that diagnosis was not revealed to his father until shortly before his death.

                                Prescription for Abuse  |  Complete Series Index  |

A decade before, Cliff Detty had undergone two knee surgeries after an injury on the golf course where he worked. After the last operation, he was to stay overnight at the hospital where he was being treated. But that changed when a nurse told Detty and his wife that they would have to take their son home because he was out of control.

“A nurse came out of the waiting room and said ‘We’ve got him on enough drugs to knock out a horse, and he’s still yelling for more. You’ve got to take him home; we can’t handle him,’” Detty recalled.

“He had an incredible tolerance,” Detty said of his son.

A physician sent the Dettys home with a powerful painkiller for their son. Detty doesn’t remember what the drug was, but says it was enough medication for seven days.

“Within two days it was gone,” he said.

After a second refill quickly disappeared, the doctor refused to reauthorize another prescription. When Cliff Detty showed up at the doctor’s office to demand one, “he started yelling ‘Give me that damn prescription,’” Detty said.

Because Cliff Detty only lived sporadically at home and was out on the streets much of the time, it’s difficult to tell how large a role drug abuse played in his life. The younger Detty had been arrested before for marijuana possession, and had spent five months in jail. At the time of his death at the county Pychiatric Health Facility in Santa Barbara, Cliff Detty has a significant amount of methamphetamine in his system.

Detty still has a dozen or so bottles of medication he found in his son’s car. Some of them are still full with prescription medicines like Naproxen that Detty knows his son didn’t take. Others are stronger. Two of the bottles contained hydrocodone pills, and are empty.

Detty said his son never took any of the Vicodin that Detty had in his medicine cabinet. Before her death from cancer, Detty’s wife, Mary, also had painkillers in the house, but those were never taken either.

“I think about that and wonder if we all misjudged him and he was truly just a victim of mental illness, and the drugs had little or nothing to do with his condition,” Detty said. “I guess I will never know for sure.”

                                Prescription for Abuse  |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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