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10/12/2012 02:40 pm ET

Carlie Coulter, Santa Clarita's Sixth Heroin Overdose Death This Year, Reflects Larger SoCal Problem

Alamy

The day after a Southern Californian 22-year-old died of a heroin overdose, her family joined other families who have lost a son or daughter to heroin to plead for an end to the epidemic.

Carlie Coulter, who had been struggling with addiction since she was 18, died of an apparent heroin overdose Wednesday, NBC reports. At an emotional press conference Thursday, her mother said, "It's such a wasted beautiful life. She was my best friend. My heart is so broken right now."

Coulter is the sixth Santa Clarita young adult to die this year from a heroin overdose, according to the Santa Clarita Valley News.

“I have been in this field for 30 years, and, in the last two years, what has gone on with this drug heroin is by no other words disgusting. Enough’s enough," Cary Quashen, founder of Action Family Counseling and Action Parent-Teen Support Group, said Thursday. "We are burying way too many kids here in Santa Clarita.”

And it's not just Santa Clarita, which is about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Heroin use by young people has become an epidemic in middle and upper-income neighborhoods in Orange County and across Southern California, as California Watch first reported.

Many of these young users start with prescription pills, such as Oxycontin or Xanax, and then switch to heroin because the high is stronger for a fraction of the cost, according to the Orange County Register.

And the problem is made worse by the fact that more young people are smoking heroin rather than injecting it. Smoking heroin used to be rare because it didn't provide much of a high, but now more potent forms of the drug make it more popular to smoke, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports. Without the stigma and evidence of track marks, heroin in a smokeable form is showing up at parties where it wouldn't before.

Carlie's brother commented to the Tribune Thursday after his sister's death that he thinks there is some denial about the prevalence of heroin addiction in Santa Clarita, partially because the city has a median household income of more than $80,000 -- nearly 50 percent above the county's.

Coulter would have turned 23 years old on Nov. 7.

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