Fellowship Story Showcase
Rich Detty Bears Burden of Not Knowing Extent of Dead Son’s Drug Use
This article was written by Noozhawk Staff Writer Lara Cooper as part of Day 3 in Noozhawk's 12-day, six-week special investigative series. Related links are below.
The Noozhawk's Prescription for Abuse series is a special project exploring the misuse and abuse of prescription medications in Santa Barbara County. Our series is a result of an exciting and unique partnership with USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which awarded Noozhawk a California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship to undertake this important work.
Through our reporting and presentation, we will establish an independent baseline of where our community is with respect to the misuse and abuse of prescription medications; how the problem is affecting health care, education, law enforcement, criminal justice, addiction and treatment, and our culture and society; what we as a community can do to educate ourselves about prevention and controls; and how we can perhaps reverse what appears to be a very troubling trend.
Noozhawk staff writers Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli are the lead reporters on the project, and they've been assisted by managing editor Michelle Nelson; reporters Alex Kacik and Sonia Fernandez; interns Kristin Crosier, Jessica Ferguson, Tim Fucci, Kristen Gowdy, Jessica Haro, Daniel Langhorne, Alexa Shapiro, Sam Skopp, Erin Stone and Sarah Webb; photographers Garrett Geyer and Nick St.Oegger; content producer Cliff Redding; and Web development staffers Will Macfadyen and Edgar Oliveira.
Ashley Almada, Garrett Geyer, Hailey Sestak and Billy Spencer of the Santa Barbara Teen News Network filmed more than two dozen public-service videos featuring many of our story sources.
The project is sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation in partnership with KEYT, sbTNN and Zona Seca. The Annenberg School is assisted by the Renaissance Journalism Center at San Francisco State University.
» Rich Detty Bears Burden of Not Knowing Extent of Dead Son's Drug Use
Name: Rich Detty
Location: Santa Maria
Looking back, Rich Detty can’t say for sure whether his son, Cliff, was addicted to prescription medications. He’ll never have the chance to ask; Cliff Detty died in April 2010 while in restraints at Santa Barbara County’s Psychiatric Health Facility.
For Detty, the drug abuse question and the true condition of his son’s mental illness still haunt him.
Cliff Detty, 46, of Santa Maria, had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by county psychiatrists, but that diagnosis was not revealed to his father until shortly before his death.
A decade before, Cliff Detty had undergone two knee surgeries after an injury on the golf course where he worked. After the last operation, he was to stay overnight at the hospital where he was being treated. But that changed when a nurse told Detty and his wife that they would have to take their son home because he was out of control.
“A nurse came out of the waiting room and said ‘We’ve got him on enough drugs to knock out a horse, and he’s still yelling for more. You’ve got to take him home; we can’t handle him,’” Detty recalled.
“He had an incredible tolerance,” Detty said of his son.
A physician sent the Dettys home with a powerful painkiller for their son. Detty doesn’t remember what the drug was, but says it was enough medication for seven days.
“Within two days it was gone,” he said.
After a second refill quickly disappeared, the doctor refused to reauthorize another prescription. When Cliff Detty showed up at the doctor’s office to demand one, “he started yelling ‘Give me that damn prescription,’” Detty said.
Because Cliff Detty only lived sporadically at home and was out on the streets much of the time, it’s difficult to tell how large a role drug abuse played in his life. The younger Detty had been arrested before for marijuana possession, and had spent five months in jail. At the time of his death at the county Pychiatric Health Facility in Santa Barbara, Cliff Detty has a significant amount of methamphetamine in his system.
Detty still has a dozen or so bottles of medication he found in his son’s car. Some of them are still full with prescription medicines like Naproxen that Detty knows his son didn’t take. Others are stronger. Two of the bottles contained hydrocodone pills, and are empty.
Detty said his son never took any of the Vicodin that Detty had in his medicine cabinet. Before her death from cancer, Detty’s wife, Mary, also had painkillers in the house, but those were never taken either.
“I think about that and wonder if we all misjudged him and he was truly just a victim of mental illness, and the drugs had little or nothing to do with his condition,” Detty said. “I guess I will never know for sure.”