Plenty of middle-class kids in Santa Rosa got addicted to prescription pain pills in high school, but it wasn't like committing crimes or shooting heroin — that was for street junkies, said O.G., a former Montgomery High School student.
The serious crimes and heroin, those would come after high school.
"My story's not unique," said O.G., 23, a lifelong Santa Rosa man who now is successfully working through a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program.
Meeting recently in a downtown coffee shop, he told his story of high school addiction to pills and how it led to crimes, arrests, shooting up heroin and, eventually, a near-fatal overdose.
Now, he has one final chance to clean up his life. If he fails, he knows he will be sent to prison.
His story illustrates the new face of heroin addiction in Sonoma County. Like O.G., a growing number of heroin addicts are teens and young adults who come from middle-class and upper-class neighborhoods, according to local law enforcement and public health officials.
O.G. was about 15 and a sophomore when it all started. The youth was growing up in Bennett Valley, had three close friends and enjoyed playing Little League baseball.
"It started out at Montgomery, dabbling in the pills," said the young man, who asked to be identified by his initials.
One of his friends introduced the foursome to Vicodin pills. The friend's mother initially had given her son some but then cut him off, so he began stealing them from her, said O.G.
When her prescription changed to OxyContin, a more potent synthetic heroin-style narcotic used to relieve severe pain, the four friends began dividing up one pill each day, continuing to go to class and play sports.
Then one pill became two pills. And four friends became more friends and the knot of Oxy users amongst eastside Santa Rosa teens expanded.
Bennett Valley seemed to be the epicenter, he said. The teens were replacing drinking or smoking pot with the pills, thinking "they are just pills. They're not drugs," said O.G. "It was what the cool kids were doing."
But the addictions grew and if they couldn't find the pills in family medicine cabinets, they needed money to buy more. Some had it. Others began stealing pills and belongings from family, friends and strangers.
Late in his sophomore year, at age 16, O.G. was kicked out of Montgomery for a marijuana violation. He briefly went to Piner High, where he had "no friends and no pills."
He took the proficiency test to be done with high school.
By the time he was 17, he and his friends began making daily trips to San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood, where they could find someone to sell them OxyContin, $25 for an 80 mg pill.
"White, middle-class kids, they knew what you were there for," he said.
They'd buy about 30 pills, some for them and some to sell for $35 or $40 each back home so they'd make money to go back to San Francisco's "pill hill" and repeat the cycle.
Sometimes they made two trips a day from Santa Rosa to San Francisco. Sometimes they were midnight runs.
"I wanted it every day. I didn't think how deep it would take me," O.G. said.