Suddenly, the buzz among my peers over dinner and drinks has turned to the television show “Breaking Bad.”
Whether you’re a fan of the show on cable, on DVD or perhaps a casual channel surfer like me, there is a morbid fascination with the tale of a teacher-turned-meth-mogul and the characters around him.
Which brings me to the subject of this column: The existence of an underworld of a sophisticated drug industry just below the surface of many communities.
Along the Highway 101 corridor from Westlake Village to Camarillo in Ventura County, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department has taken aim at a prescription pill underworld involving crooked doctors and pharmacists. The Highway 23 corridor from Thousand Oaks to Simi Valley also is a prescription-abuse hot spot.
The drugs of choice are OxyContin and Vicodin, and it’s possible for one doctor, working with a cooperative pharmacist, to put thousands of illegal pills on the street in one day.
If you are not aware, these two drugs are highly addictive and many experts believe that people who can’t wean themselves from addiction or can’t get more prescriptions often turn to heroin.
Concerned about the proliferation of illegal prescription drugs in neighborhoods better known for upscale demographics and corporate headquarters, in early August, Sheriff Geoff Dean launched what’s commonly known as the Pharma Task Force.
It is aimed at figuring out who is doing what and for how much. A lot of the work involves going to court to get a warrant for a wiretap — apparently it’s not so easy when you’re not the National Security Agency. Simi Valley’s police department, the Sheriff’s Department and the Ventura County District Attorney have contributed staff.
The task force will take a deeper-than-usual dive into the health care industry.
One goal is to reach out to all 192 pharmacies in Ventura County to get them to report incidents of abuse or fraud when it comes to prescription drugs.
The explosion in prescription drug abuse in Ventura County, and notably the Conejo Valley, has become a personal tragedy for Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy, whose son was arrested Aug. 12 on drug and money laundering charges. The arrest took place just a year after he pleaded no contest to charges stemming from an investigation into illegal use of human growth hormone.
During the past year, the Conejo Valley was rocked by charges that Scott London, a senior partner at CPA firm KPMG and businessman Brian Shaw were involved in an insider trading case in which Shaw profited handsomely from stock tips from London. The arrest of Shaw and London struck like a thunderbolt and sent shock waves across the area.
The Parma Task Force arrests, and there have been a few already, have not been felt with the intensity of the Shaw-London affair. But the explosion in prescription drug abuse is a stark reminder that life has its share of risks.
Bryan Cranston, the part-time Carpinteria resident known mainly as a comedy actor and voice over artist, created a whole new persona for himself with his starring role in Breaking Bad. But watching a TV show out of curiosity or fascination with great acting is one thing.
Turning your own life into a real time version of Breaking Bad is only a few missteps away, but it’s a really, really bad idea.
• Contact Henry Dubroff at [email protected]