By Jim Shilander
Several local drug and alcohol addiction experts, and one San Clemente student, put a real face of substance abuse in San Clemente, especially among teenagers, Monday at San Clemente High School.
The event followed a weekend in which eight students faced disciplinary action after being found drunk at the SCHS football game Friday. The San Clemente Collaborative put on the event, after making substance abuse in San Clemente one its targets for the year.
The student, Henry Hockett, 17, said he’d started drinking and doing drugs at age 14. He said that from the start, he knew he didn’t smoke or drink in the same way other people did.
“I didn’t feel comfortable,” Hockett told the crowd. “I felt like the black sheep of my family.” Hockett said he had been to eight different treatment centers, and had attempted suicide seven times.
“Every single thing that I’ve done, I wouldn’t take back,” Hockett said. He thanked his parents who had, he said, continued to support him throughout his life even as he was, in his own words, “a bad son.”
Hockett also stated, from personal experience, what people in the city were up against. “San Clemente, but also why there was reason for hope.
“San Clemente does have a huge drug problem, so I’ve witnessed. But it also has a recovery community. I’ve definitely not been the youngest person at the meetings I’ve attended.” The danger, he said, was in the wide availability of alcohol and drugs throughout the city.
“I knew before I started smoking weed where I could get it. I knew exactly where to get it, and got the money for it.”
Hockett said he was now living in a sober-living facility, which helped to strengthen his resolve to stay sober.
A number of recovery professionals on the panel stressed the importance of talking with younger children about drugs frankly. Mission Pacific Coast Recovery counselor Chris Knippers noted that it was important for parents to go beyond simply teaching their children to say no to drugs, but also how to handle social situations in which alcohol and drugs might be offered. He also cautioned that availability of both drugs and alcohol was a major issue in many households.
San Clemente counselor Josh Beauchaine said his practice had come to focus primarily on drug and alcohol work over the last several years. He said the key for parents was to be open and honest with their children.
“There’s a real fear of open dialogue. This generation of children is highly supervised, but the actual substance of interaction is somewhat limited.” He’d seen the biggest changes behaviorally, came in homes where fathers had come to spend more substantive quality time with their children. He said the easy availability of hard drugs in San Clemente was disturbing.
“Heroin is as easy to get as marijuana at San Clemente High School,” Beauchaine said.
Mike Darnold, a drug and alcohol counselor at Dana Hills High School, said being on campus had let students to be more open about what’s troubling them. Darnold said he’d seen his referrals to drug and alcohol treatment drop by 76 percent since coming into the school, but he aid that still meant he sent 27 students to long term treatment last year.
Martin Pennington of Mission for Michael, a drug and alcohol treatment facility, said he had met children as young as 12 in meetings. One 12-year-old had actually said he’d been sober for two years.
“I asked, ‘What were you doing at 10 years old that you finally hit rock bottom,’” Pennington joked. “But you can get anything you want on this campus. I can make two phone calls to get anything you want in San Clemente.”
San Clemente Police Services said Wednesday that there had been five confirmed deaths by overdose over the last year in San Clemente. Two of those were intentional suicides. Another eight were possible overdoses.