FRESNO - The medicines that are supposed to relieve pain are now killers among the well-to-do in Fresno county.
Last year alone, 81 people died because of prescription drug overdose.
What's more shocking are the people who are doing it - we're talking well-to-do housewives and teenagers in north Fresno and Clovis.
"I was PTA president, I was my son's soccer coach, I was the perfect mom from the outside, but nobody knew what was going on inside," said Julie Valles of Fresno - a former painkiller addict, who is now sober.
"All I know about is Clovis West, because both my boy went there, is that drug use is pretty prevalent and that's a fairly affluent school," said Dr. Richard Guzzetta of Touchstone Recovery Center in Clovis.
More and more people are getting high off of prescription drugs, and more and more people are dying from them.
The number of deaths shocks the Fresno County coroner, who's been doing his job for 26 years.
"I'm only seeing the fatalities, you can imagine how many people are out there who have not yet died from their abuse," said Dr. David Hadden, the Fresno County Coroner.
81 people in one year died - people mostly in their 40's and 50's-accidentally or on purpose - because of prescription painkillers.
"The other death we see that disturbs me the most is automobile accidents. It's still below automobile accidents but every year it gets closer together," said Dr. Hadden.
The "it" pills are hyrdrocodone, which include vicodin and norco, morphine, and now the most popular pain pill of choice... Oxycontin.
Many of them had a cocktail of drugs in their system when they died, like mixing painkillers, with cocaine and methamphetamine, or sedatives and alcohol.
"The medicine cabinet can be more dangerous, because you think, Oh well, it's prescribed by the doctor but some of those drugs are extraordinarily potent," said Dr. Hadden.
Clovis Unified officials denied an interview for this story, but Kelly Avants with the District, released this statement in response to the proliferation of prescription drugs among students on their campuses:
"Clovis unified has an extensive drug prevention and awareness program, that incudes everything from classroom curriculum and peer counselors to the facilitating of a random drug screening program.
Clovis unified takes our zero tolerance policy on drug use or sales extremely seriously.
If we discover a student has violated this policy on one of our campuses, there are immediate consequences that take place, including a recommendation for expulsion from our school district."
"It's very prevalent in these young affluent kids in Clovis, they think it's not a street drug, they don't think it's dirty like meth, they think it's medicine, it's from a doctor, so how could it hurt me," said an undercover narcotics detective with the Clovis Police Department. We are not revealing his identity because he works undercover.
When used as directed by a doctor, one Oxycontin relieves pain for 12 hours, without the euphoric side effects.
But Clovis police say many kids in Clovis take Oxycontin like it's candy.
"What they do is take the pill, they scrape off the colored coating, and they crush the pill up and break it down into a powdered form, and when you break it down you destroy the time-release... and they cut it into a line and they snort it like you'd do cocaine, or they inject it, we have kids now who are smoking the pills.. smoking the vapors that are coming off of the pill," said the undercover detective.
Nicknames for Oxycontin include "oxy", "oc's", "80's", "orange chicken", "jelly bellys", "skittles", "illies".
Narcotics detectives say kids can get them easy, at school, or in their own neighborhoods.
"It could be somebody going into their grandmother's kitchen cabinet, it could be somebody who is a patient that gets maybe 180 pills a month and only uses 60 but they sell the remainder on the street so they could make some cash, it could be somebody with a complete drug dealing set up, where they go specifically target a doctor, and believe me, these people know the doctor's names," said the undercover detective.
Clovis police say prescription painkiller addiction, specifically an addiction to Oxycontin, is an expensive habit.
On the street, one pill costs about $40 to $50.
The undercover officer we spoke with says, when addicts can no longer afford to buy Oxycontin, most turn to black tar heroin because it's cheaper and produces a similar high.
Next in our series, we will show you how taking these legally prescribed drugs - could turn criminal.
And how Clovis narcotics detectives, are dedicating their resources to putting sellers and users, behind bars.
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