(Part two of a three-part series)
Last winter, Cyrus Moinzadeh stepped off a plane in Los Angeles, and after spending the evening with his aunt, boarded a southbound train to San Diego with a couple hundred dollars and a propensity for OxyContin.
In a voice message Moinzadeh left for his mother prior to boarding the train, the 23-year-old Torrey Pines High School graduate told her she could pick him up on Sunday Dec. 16, 2007, and take him to any treatment center she liked; he was ready to kick his opiate addiction. Unfortunately, the only thing Kiyan Yazdani picked up that Sunday was her son’s belongings from the morgue.
By all accounts, Moinzadeh’s relationship with OxyContin — a prescription pain reliever that produces a similar high and similar withdrawal effects to heroin — was rocky from the onset. Within a month of first snorting the drug, Moinzadeh — a charismatic young man who resembled a young Jon Belushi — fell into a two-week coma. He then battled his addiction through several treatment centers over the next two years in Mexico, Cuba and finally Costa Rica, which is where he’d been just prior to his death.
Heartbroken and angry over her son’s death, Carmel Valley resident Yazdani started the CyMo Foundation to “promote and sustain a local initiative of love, health and happiness.” With her fledgling foundation — run by family and Moinzadeh’s friends — in place, Yazdani teamed up with The Matt Grant Luke Perlatti Memorial Foundation, or MGLP, to bring the increase of opiate abuse in the county and the hardship of recovery to the forefront.
“People don’t realize (opiate addiction) is like a cancer … if you don’t keep it in check it will grow back in your bones,” Yazdani said.
As more teens and young adults turn to their parents’ medicine cabinets to get high, a dangerous undercurrent of abuse is occurring due to the powerful nature of opiate prescription pills. With the addictive nature of the opiates and the high street value of pills, like OxyContin, users may turn to heroin, a cheaper but equally effective way to get their fix. Regardless of which opiate they use, once the cycle of abuse begins the addict ultimately only has three choices—death, recovery or incarceration.
According to the Community Epidemiology Working Group, a panel of researchers who track drug use in 16 metropolitan areas, in San Diego County opiate addiction — which they separate from heroin addiction and includes OxyContin, Vicodin and Hydrocodone — is the only category of drug addiction in which there has been an increase in treatment admission over the last five years.
And more telling of the dangerous crossover between prescription opiates and heroin is the Justice Department’s 2008 National Drug Threat Assessment, which states the abuse of prescription narcotics, like OxyContin, as a precursor to heroin is an “emerging concern” to law enforcement and public health officials.
A few months ago, the CyMo and MGLP foundations began sponsoring a young woman we’ll call “Loren,” who was an acquaintance of Moinzadeh. Lauren’s $21,000-a-month treatment for heroin addiction at a recovery center in Orange County is more than many people can afford.
Loren is the first of many adolescents and young adults Yazdani hopes to help by eventually establishing a rehabilitation center that will not be a financial burden on families seeking treatment for their children.
The cost of an inpatient recovery program averages $7,000 per month, but can easily run between $10,000 and $40,000 a month, according to a survey by the National Substance Abuse Treatment Services.
In Vista, Sage Hornung, 32, is wrapping up a court-ordered residency program at the Alpha Project’s Casa Raphael. Now in the final phase of the program, which oversees the transition of participants into the workforce, Hornung has his own car and weekends free to visit his parents in their Encinitas home.
“I used for so long I never had any clean time, I just didn’t know any different,” Hornung said. “I’m clean, I have fun, I laugh, and I enjoy my day now, without drugs.”
After nearly two decades of heroin use and jail time, Hornung, who’s now seven months clean, understands the life-altering line he’ll be walking for the rest of his life. “If I get high once, I’m not going to stop,” he said. Hornung has lost several friends to heroin addiction, including Christian Clutter of Encinitas who died of an apparent heroin overdose in July.
Among addicts, experts contend opiate users are the most susceptible to relapse due to the physical and psychological effects of prolonged use. It’s estimated that more than 90 percent of opiate users will relapse compared to 75 percent of alcoholics.
However, Kamran Zafar, an addiction specialist at the Del Mar Psychotherapy Group, said he doesn’t focus on the high relapse rate, but instead works with the addict to turn the “lapse” into a positive tool for their recovery.
Zafar said opiate users are not only plagued by psychological dependence on the drug, like cocaine and methamphetamines users, but they also have to deal with the physical dependence. Even before an addict enters detox, he said “the user has to overcome the physical part and fear of what they will go through if they don’t use and how much pain they are going to have to go through (during treatment).”
“The whole part of recovery really is teaching them to cope with life on life terms,” Zafar added. “The detox is a very small part of the recovery. That’s why a lot of people who go through detox think they’re cured but sooner or later they relapse because they have not learned what the cause of (the addiction) is; they’ve only focused on the treatment.”
Further, Zafar said it’s imperative that while the addict is in therapy, their family should also seek counseling.
“They have to understand the addict is changing and they have to change too or else there is going to be a lot conflict in the house,” Zafar said.