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Bill Macfadyen: Drugs, Sex, Surf and Turf Top This Week’s Noozhawk Digest

Best of Noozhawk 01.06.12 includes an exclusive story that our journalists had been chasing for months

1. Santa Barbara Doctor Arrested on Federal Prescription Drug Distribution Charges

Even before Noozhawk reporters began the research that would result in our Prescription for Abuse series last year, we were hearing about Dr. Julio Diaz. At almost every juncture in our investigation of the misuse and abuse of prescription medications, his name popped up.

Despite the smoke, we found no flames. Allegations could not be verified. State databases returned nothing out of the ordinary. Fellow doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement officials refused to go on the record. In the end, we had little of use.

Within minutes of posting our first story of the series on Sept. 12, however, we received an email from a parent of an addict who had been a patient of Diaz’s. Within an hour, we had been contacted by several more.

By the time our series concluded six weeks later, we had talked to an astonishing number of family members of Diaz patients. Many of the patients were addicts. Some were in rehab but most were making a precarious walk down a road of no return. A couple were speaking on behalf of loved ones who had succumbed to addiction’s fatal grip.

The stories they told were heartbreaking, but their clarity was surprising. Without trying to sugarcoat the circumstances, they just wanted help for their sons, for their daughters, for their spouses, for boyfriends and girlfriends. They were bewildered that their complaints had been ignored ... for years.

While it’s still not clear what medical oversight authorities were doing, it turns out that law enforcement was doing its job in the methodical process that it takes to gain an indictment. It remains to be seen whether it’s enough to gain a conviction. Diaz, 63, of Goleta, was arrested Jan. 4 on federal drug trafficking charges. He will be arraigned in U.S. District Court on Jan. 19.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper was at Diaz’s Milpas Street office when Drug Enforcement Administration agents led him out of the clinic after his arrest. She and fellow Noozhawk Giana Magnoli quickly broke the story, which was retweeted around the Twittersphere and picked up by numerous TV newsrooms around Southern California, including KEYT, a Prescription for Abuse sponsor, and KTLA.

2. Drug Investigation Links Santa Barbara Doctor’s Prescriptions to 11 Patient Deaths

Soon after Diaz’s arrest, Noozhawk received a 75-page affidavit from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that outlines the lengthy investigation by the DEA, Santa Barbara police and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. The document describes dozens of cases of alleged overprescribing of painkillers, some of them in staggering amounts. The affidavit also outlines 11 drug-related deaths of Diaz patients, as well as some sensational charges.

3. Mammoth Lakes Community Reacts to Arrests of Two Men Accused of Sex Relations with Teen Girl

Acting on a tip about suspicious emails, Santa Barbara police launched an investigation of two Mammoth residents — one a Mammoth Lakes Unified School District trustee, surgeon and former chief of staff at Mammoth Hospital — who allegedly had repeated sexual contact with a Santa Barbara teenager.

On Jan. 4, KEYT broke the story that Santa Barbara detectives and Mammoth Lakes police officers had arrested Dr. Andy Bourne, 46, and Joe Walker, 48, on charges of illegally contacting a minor for sexual activity.

Bourne and Walker, who apparently maintain part-time homes in Santa Barbara and reportedly are friends with the victim’s family, were extradited to Santa Barbara County and jailed with bail set at $1 million each.

4. High Surf, Strong Winds Expected Off Santa Barbara County Coast Through Saturday

After those first three stories, we could all use a shower. Or we could go surfing.

High surf brought breakers of 12 to 15 feet to much of the Central Coast this week, with even higher sets reported in many areas. The waves are expected to diminish Saturday afternoon, but the National Weather Service warned that the surf could continue to generate dangerous rip currents.

After an absolutely glorious week of “winter” weather, Saturday is forecast to be slightly cooler — daytime highs in the low 60s — but still sunny. It looks like more balminess is in store for us, though, with temperatures expected to be near 70 again Sunday.

5. On Santa Barbara’s Westside, Two Competing Views Emerge of Business as Usual

Following up on a discussion topic with Noozhawk’s Let’s Talk Westside online public-engagement project, staff writer and Westside resident Alex Kacik took a closer look at the community’s business climate. Ambling along San Andres Street, the heart of the Westside, he talked to business owners about the area’s advantages and disadvantages, and found a healthy difference of opinion about what’s there or not there.

But we want to hear what you think about this and other issues. Click here to join the conversation on Let’s Talk Westside, part of the larger THRIVE Westside initiative currently trying to identify ways to improve the area.

Let’s Talk Westside is a partnership of Noozhawk and the nonprofit Just Communities. Lead sponsors are MarBorg Industries, Wells Fargo, Southern California Gas Co. and Paul Cashman of State Farm Insurance.

Additional Let’s Talk Westside sponsors include the Academy of Koei-Kan Karate-Do, Business First Bank, El Zarape Mexican Food, Griffith & Thornburgh LLP, Meridian Group, Paper Moon Printing, ParentClick.com, Presidio Sports, Santa Barbara Community Housing Corp., Santa Barbara Home Improvement Center and the South Coast Community Youth Cultural Center.

THRIVE Westside is a partnership of Harding University Partnership School, McKinley School, La Cumbre Junior High School, San Marcos High School, the Santa Barbara Unified School District, the James S. Bower Foundation, Just Communities, One Nation Foundation, the Orfalea Foundations and the Santa Barbara Foundation.

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