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Film reveals prescription drug abuse in Orange County

Documentary chronicling 15 Orange County families debuts Wednesday at Newport Beach Film Festival.

May 01, 2012|By Joanna Clay
  • A movie still from "Behind the Orange Curtain."
A movie still from "Behind the Orange Curtain."

While most parents think to check the liquor cabinet or smell their teen's breath after a party, some are realizing that youths are turning to a much more elusive drug.

Without a thought, you see it everyday when you open the medicine cabinet and brush your teeth: prescription drugs.

"Behind The Orange Curtain," Brent Huff's first documentary to hit the big screen, examines the abuse of prescription drugs by chronicling the stories of 15 Orange County families, and speaks to addicts and parents. It premieres at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday at Triangle Square Cinemas, as part of the Newport Beach Film Festival.

He was first turned to the subject by friend Natalie Costa, of Laguna Woods, whose daughter lost a 17-year-old friend to a prescription drug overdose. Costa researched the topic, he said, and realized that several young adults in Orange County had similar stories, with tragic endings.

The movie was filmed all over O.C. — from Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach to San Clemente and Dana Point.

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Last year, Huff drove down from Los Angeles to meet with 12 parents, some of whom lost their children to pills or and others with children who were addicted. Huff said while many might assume the parents might have been hands-off or turned a blind eye, he said the trend was quite the opposite. Most of the parents were incredibly close to their kids, however they had no idea that their children were even trying prescription drugs.

"They were looking out for smoking pot, drinking, Ecstasy," he said.

Instead, teens are trying Oxycodone and Opana, both opiate narcotic analgesics, and others such as Xanex and Valium. Because a doctor prescribes it, many kids don't consider it dangerous, the film points out.

Huff said the parents found out their kids were crushing Opana, a time-released tablet, and snorting it like cocaine, which can produce deadly results on first use.

Oxycodone can cost about a dollar a milligram, Huff said, so making an 80-mg pill costs $80.

In the film, former addicts recount going to "dirty doctors," physicians that would prescribe them highly addictive prescriptions at the drop of the hat for money.

The habit is costly and eventually kids turn to cheaper drugs with same results — like heroin.

While heroin users conjure images of track-marked arms and strung-out expressions, Huff said "a heroin user can now look like your everyday cheerleader."

"It's not like pot where you can smell it, or alcohol where you can see it. It's not cocaine with a runny nose," he said. "You can't tell they're high."

Besides open communication, Huff said, one of the most important factors was for parents to pay attention to a child's friends.

You can tell a kid not to drink or not to do drugs, he said, but really the most preventative measure is that they surround themselves with other kids that don't use.

Experts say to pay attention to their social circles and start a dialogue at as early as 10 years old, Huff said.

"First graders are going to school with fifth and sixth graders and learning from them," he said.

He hopes the film serves as an opportunity for parents to broach the tough subject with their kids.

"I didn't have a clue, most parents don't," he said. "Without trying to overstate it, I think [the film] can save lives."

joanna.clay@latimes.com

Twitter:@joannaclay

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