8th Grader dies of overdose – Media silent

b6fc9d2c155111e3931722000a1fc67c_6The other day, an 8th grader at Niguel Hills Middle School in Laguna Niguel, CA died of a drug overdose. The cause of Branden Stock’s death was Vicodin, one of the most commonly prescribed drugs.

The only media report of his death was on Channel 5 News. His school and the district said nothing at all beyond their confines. He died at home alone. Imagine finding your child or your best friend cold and lifeless and there’s nothing you can do. His friends held a memorial service at Salt Creek Beach, where I spent many days in the water surfing like Branden was said to have loved to.

The death of a child is the most painful thing a parent goes through. No one should have to endure this burden. And yet his parents will carry this sadness for their entire lives. His friends will remember for a while and then more rarely and maybe a few will remember to pray for his soul sometimes over the course of their lives.

That the death barely made the news is indicative of the problem. Drug abuse begins in 6th-8th grade now. Kids are experimenting and going through new emotions and have left the cocoon of grade school. And the availability has never been greater. The taboos are gone. “Everyone is doing it.” I heard the same thing when I was a kid. And here we are 40 years later and we’re still getting it wrong.

And it’s not just public schools. It’s everywhere. Catholic schools, prep schools. If you go to the parking lot of Gelson’s in Newport Beach you can usually score within minutes. The Port Streets in Newport are considered one of the last bastions of the Ozzie & Harriet lifestyle and the drugs and alcohol usage by kids is pervasive. Laguna Niguel and every town in Orange County are the same.

Prescription drugs are the new battlefield. Vicodin, Codeine, Oxycontin, Zanax, Opana, Percocet, and Valium are all being abused at record levels. Between dirty doctors, pill shopping, and stealing from mom & dad’s medicine cabinet it is an epidemic. That people can even obtain some of these drugs like Opana, which is prescribed for very limited applications, indicates how awry the system is. And it is hitting 12 & 13 year olds, those who haven’t got a clue, the worst.

And after they can’t find the prescription drugs or can’t afford them, heroin lurks in the background ready to offer a brown haze from which there is little chance of escape. $80 for an Oxycontin or $6 for a bindle of Afghan white or black tar? This is the reality on the street here in the OC.

The Orange County Register did an article a few weeks back on heroin abuse in our high schools. The number of OC kids trying heroin has doubled since 2006. And once heroin has you it is a monkey on your back that is very difficult to remove.

And a lot of people just don’t want to know. Two girls were caught recently smoking heroin in a bathroom at Laguna Beach High School. “The girls caught smoking was an “isolated incident,” Laguna Beach High Principal Joanne Culverhouse said.”

30 years ago when I lived in Dana Point, Laguna Beach High School had one of the worst drug problems in the county. Nothing changes much, it seems. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

In San Clemente, the community has bonded together through CURE, which links the church, counselors, schools, parents, other stakeholders and the kids. We need such programs in every city. Every loss of a child is one too many.

Education is vital and we need to get to the heart of the matter and educate parents and children about the consequences of bad choices. We have the resources. But first we must recognize the problem honestly and without blinkers.

Drug abuse and self medication are the scourges of our times. Between addiction and mental health issues we have responded in a woeful manner. We must open our eyes and our hearts to this plague.




24 thoughts on “8th Grader dies of overdose – Media silent

  1. Matt,

    When my kids were young, I was involved in a parents’ group that was doing its best to fight drug and alcohol abuse by kids in our towns. Between the towns there were about 20,000 residents. There were less than two dozen parents who became actively involved. Denial was indeed the prevailing attitude. When we put on programs, it was always the same people who showed up, and they were generally the ones who were already doing the right things. It seems that nothing has changed, and that things are actually getting worse.

    One reason that I believe this to be the case is that so many of today’s parents have been through the drug experience themselves, and have a kids will be kids attitude.

    We also have a popular culture that in many ways glorifies drugs, especially marihuana.


      • Keep on thinking that. Marijuana and alcohol are gateway drugs whether you like it or not. 20%+ of the population have addiction prone genetics and personalities. 7-8% of the population is addicted. Most addicts start with one, the other, or both.

      • The gateway myth is a fallacy based on correlation. Correlation is NOT causation. When roughly 11 percent of all people who’ve tried pot move on to harder drugs, it’s not a gate way. It’s the fact, pot is still the easiest and most accessible drug available.

        FYI, this article touched on a real gateway…the perscription pill. Something you chose to ignore, which is part of the issue. Pills are expensive and don’t get as good of a high as heroin. They’re both opiate based.

      • lol jeff you have no idea what the fuck you’re saying. (to name a few) dilaudid, opana, and fentanyl high = so much better than h. also, (with the exception of codeine and morphine pills) prescription painkillers are opioids (which are semi-synthetic and synthetic opiates). more people use h than prescription pills because it’s way cheaper. not because the high is better. and the ones that are addicted to pills eventually move to h.

  2. Matt,

    Thank you for writing such a thoughtful post. This is such devastating news! An 8th grader? This is insanity! When one parent loses a child, we all lose! Everyone should care about this drug scourge that is wiping out so many young people, wake up! This is an epidemic. Think this can’t happen to someone in your family or to a friend? Think again. It is happening in every city across America. It is a crime how little is being said or reported about this case. Staying silent on this matter does not help matters. This tragedy has the potential to bring awareness to parents and young people alike, but as usual the school district is missing the opportunity to open much-needed dialogue.

    I know the heartache first-hand since I lost my 22 year old son almost 4 years ago. Sadly, I know too many people just like me. Addiction is a horrible disease and is very hard to overcome once its victim’s brains have been hijacked. Myself and countless others are having to find ways to survive our devastating loss. We are forever changed, forever heartbroken.

    Joe is right, it is always the same people that show up to any program put in place to educate and bring awareness to the problem. We keep preaching to the choir but the parents that need to be getting these messages are rarely in attendance.

    SOLACE Orange County, a support group for those that have lost a loved one to substance and also for those who are currently struggling with a loved one’s addiction meets weekly in Mission Viejo at the Norman Murray Center. We provide awareness, compassion and empathy to those that find themselves in the middle of this nightmare. It is a safe place to fall, where judgement and societal stigma towards those affected is never welcome. For more information, please contact Margie Fleitman at notimeformom1@gmail.com or (949) 874-1047.

    My sincere condolences to Brandon’s family. I know the journey ahead of them, and it’s a very long road.

  3. Good article, this point needs to be broadcasted across our county. I am 19 and have seen firsthand the destruction that drugs and specifically prescription drugs have caused. Orange County society is gilded and shallow, no one is willing to accept the fact that we have an epidemic among our youth. Hopefully when the people wake up they will see all the names of youth taken so young by drugs.

  4. It’s called opana…. Not opama. Good article, but make sure u get your names right because as a recovering pill addict, it doesn’t look good when people don’t get the names right of the substances. And I’m sure the same goes for people still using. You need to know what you are talking about so you get respect

  5. Great job Matt! Even with typos! To bad this isn’t what the news starts with everyday. Teens & children!! Its more interesting to report who’s been shot or robbed. Besides the narsacistic media it’s starts in elementary school and the parents need to be a huge part of the journey. We have randomly drug tested out 3 sons since each was 14, nowadays it should be 10! We have 2 adult children and one whose also 14. It’s a commitment both parents and the child make and it’s a continued effort until they become adults. It’s been A LOT of work but well worth the sacrifices we’ve made to make sure our kids stayed away from drugs.

    • You can if you want it. It’s Afghan white now, purest and cheapest it’s ever been. Afghanistan supplies 95% of the world’s illegal opiates. It’s a $3 – $4 billion business and we did nothing in 12 years to do anything about it.

  6. I’m 15 and have grown up in Monarch Beach my whole life. I’ve been totally blinded to the fact that you can score in the Gelson’s parking lot. Theres a lot of things I didn’t know about my home town I guess.

  7. I love the article and agree with your views on this pressing issue. If you are interested, a friend and I published an article in the Laguna Hills High school News Paper about three years ago called, “Heroin Use is on the Rise.” You may be interested in comparing the current issue to that of a different cohort. Not much has changed and it is quite upsetting.

  8. tragic indeed…though the narcotic (hydrocodone) in the Vicodin probably did not kill the poor boy. it would take quite bit of pure hydrocodone to kill a person, even a 13 year old boy. it was the acetaminophen that killed him. Acetaminophen kills more people than an other drug, believe it or not.

  9. I am 20 years old, 2 years out of highschool and I know too well how true this story is today. I was addicted to opiates for my entire highschool career starting with vicodin in 9th grade. By 11th grade I had moved on to heroin because it is much cheeper. At this point I was desperatly trying to stop while trying to keep it a secret at the same time. I almost didnt graduate an worse, I could have easily died. A few of my friends did die, one came back to life after 15+ minutes of no pulse, more than a few didnt graduate highschool. This story is too familiar…. We need o teach kids that it is okay to get help, not to pretend like everything is fine… The kids need help and the fact that this ki is in 8th grade breaks my heart because that was the last innocent year I had.
    -San clemente high school, class of 2012

  10. Wow this article is so on point. My 20 year old son is struggling with a heroin addiction right now and just like you said it started with oxy and then he moved on to the more affordable/better high Heroin! This is so heartbreaking and is a real problem in Orange County right now! My heart breaks for this young boys family. Please keep bringing attention to this epidemic

  11. This was a good kid I was just beginning to talk to him it’s sad how things come and go so fast he was just smiling and laughing with me 2 days before he died I could have been this guys way out of drugs 😢 R.I.P Brandon I love ya Bruh

  12. All the comments are worth reading and remembering. It would be great to forward these messages to Dr. Phil McGraw, for his show.
    Roy Richardson, PhD
    Member of the Orange County Alcohol, Drug and Advisory Board.

  13. Interesting is the absence, in all of the above responses, of any mention of the loss of family/ loss of father living in the home/ lack of parenting skills/ lack of love in the home. I know that not all drug related deaths happen in dysfunctional homes, but folks, please, can we start taking about WHY a kid turns to drugs/alcohol/pot? In my own case, I turned to pot, mescaline, and alcohol when I was between 16 and 18 because I had a lot of pain from living in a highly dysfunctional home where there was little or no sense of being loved and cared for. Drugs, in and of themselves, do not sit there as guilty parties in a scheme to bring your kid down. They are accessible, yes, but something inside a youth drives them to try a drug for the first time. A difficult or unloving home situation produces fertile ground for a kid to turn to drug or alcohol abuse. Why is this such a hidden issue? It’s the elephant in the room that nobody wants to notice, because it makes us all guilty of not caring enough for each other. Jesus Christ ultimately pulled me out of a life that would have continued on in despondency, probably with a lot of alcohol use if not heavier substances. Just saying.

  14. Brandon was an old friend of mine back in elementary school and middle school (before he transferred). I remember how me, him, and my one other friend used to game at my house playing computer games and on my xbox 360. I also remember whenever I hung out at his house we would have to walk his dog and how his family had one of those electric fireplaces that was covered by a glass panel and you could just flip a switch and it turned on. The biggest memory though was how confident and funny he was, he was a good person. I’m in college now and am taking a philosophy class which got me thinking about him. It is really sad how a life was cut so short, I agree, there just isn’t enough education on the dangers of certain drugs

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