In-depth: How some are helping to fight the heroin epidemic affecting Bay Area teenagers


WALNUT CREEK (KRON) — Drug use in the suburbs is not new, but the Centers for Disease Control confirms the problem with heroin is getting worse.

It is in our schools and in our neighborhoods. And the CDC reports it is killing kids in greater numbers.

On Wednesday night, KRON4’s Vicki Liviakis introduces us to those in the Bay Area who are helping to stem the epidemic.

You’d never know that Tom Aswad was a junkie. Aswad is a successful Walnut Creek businessman who hid his $250 a day heroin habit from his wife.

Now clean for many years, he runs the rehab group called Support for Recovery.

His clients include East Bay teenagers.

“And parents don’t even associate that their children might be using opiate drugs or even transitioning into the heroin,” Aswad said.

But he says he sees too many teens who are hooked on heroin.

“I’ve got a report from one of our local school districts that there’s six-to-seven ambulance rides per day of young people, drug abuse, going to the hospital,” Aswad said.

And some of those kids end up at John Muir Regional Medical Center.

“When they come in and they’ve overdosed, and you wonder which ones gonna be the next one,” Dr. Fred Von Stieff.

Dr. Von Stieff is an addiction specialist otherwise known as Dr. Detox.

“Detoxed 30,000 people….Nothing is perfect, but at 30,000 detoxes, I’ve never had a death,” Von Steiff said.

Von Stieff has written a book called the Brain in Balance.

“The opiates in heroin, man you get a lot of dopamine,” Von Stieff said.

He says heroin changes the brain and that’s what makes opioids so seductive and quitting so hard.

“We can detox people but the condition or the neurocognitive structural changes of the brain are lagging behind our detox,” Von Stieff said. “….Some people call that wet brain. Some people say that’s why people relapse.”

Part of his arsenal is Narcan, a life-saver when administered in time to stop an overdose from becoming deadly.

Dr. Von Stieff is on a mission to make sure kids don’t start in the first place. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports opioid and heroin use is skyrocketing.

In 2015, more than 52,000 people died from overdoses, a record high.

“You know that you’re fighting to try and do something about it,” Von Stieff said. “But they just keep on coming. But you don’t know why and you don’t know how to stop if because it’s too big out there.”

Aswad calls the epidemic a silent injustice and an American tragedy.

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