1. "Before it's too late" learning life after heroin

Kenneth "James" Fusca, Jr., 19, sits in his father's Saugus home on Friday, May 5, 2017. James was living on the street after rolling his truck, until he reached out to his mother for help in overcoming his heroin addiction. He'd been using heroin for about 10 months; smoking the opiate for five months, then switching to injection for about five months. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Intervention for a heroin addict

By Jim Holt, Signal Senior Staff Writer

Just a couple of steps across the lush lawn of their sunny Saugus home, past the flourish of white roses out front, a girl opens the front door to greet Cary Quashen who has arrived with a promise to bring drug intervention to her heroin-addicted older brother, and save his life.

Quashen, Henry Mayo Executive Director of Behavioral Health and Director of Action Family Counseling, has come to take James Fusca to rehab in Piru – if all goes according to plan.

He shakes the hand of the Fusca’s father, Kenneth, who gives him a brief recap of how the “burden” of heroin has broken his family and led them to this moment - lies, broken promises, kicking his son out of the house, then allowing him to move back into the garage.

At that moment, heroin’s ultimate toll appears on the staircase, as 19-year-old James Fusca ambles slowly down the carpeted steps to join Quashen and his father at the dining room table.

Father and son have the same lean face with a sharp angular bone structure. James is actually Kenneth "James" Fusca Jr., but the similarities end there.

The health effects of a two day drug withdrawal contort the younger man’s face. His mouth remains open as if locked. His eyes are half-shut, they fail to focus.

“You look like s---,” Quashen tells him, wasting no time on chit chat.

Quashen tells the dad to sit by his son. He tells to son to take his father’s hand.

“I want you to repeat after me, ‘Dad, I love my drugs more than you,’” he tells James.

There’s a pause, a brief silence but then Quashen tells the young man again. “I want to tell your dad, ‘Dad, I love my drugs more than you.’”

Quietly, still holding his father’s hands, now looking at him, he says: “Dad, I love my drugs more than you.”

The words are barely out of the young man’s mouth when Quashen asks him: “Is that true?”

With a gut-wrenching sob, the son blurts out. “No.”

The father, up to this moment strong and resigned to the intervention, is now in tears. He hugs his son, this time, through his own tears.

The next words out of the addict’s mouth are his own.

“Dad, I love you so much. I’m so sorry for all the bullshit I’ve put you through,” he says.

Quashen tells father and son to stand up. “Give your dad a hug.”

They hug.

Quashen, looking on, tells them: “This is what drugs take away.”

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James cries as he holds his father's hands while repeating "I love my drugs more than you" at Cary Quashen's, of Action Family Counseling, direction, before Quashen asked James to say "I love..." and fill in the rest with whatever he wanted to. "I love you so much" is what he chose. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

James grips his father, Kenneth Fusca's hands as they discuss James' addiction. James has only been off heroin for two days at this point. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Quashen hands James to his father for a hug after an emotional exchange in Kenneth Fusca's home on Friday, May 5, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Rocky road

The rocky road taken by the Fusca family to have arrived at this moment of desperation has been seven years punctuated with drug-motivated episodes of lying and stealing, betrayal and alienation.

James Fusca’s parents divorced when he was five years old. His father an architect, his mother in sales. At 12, they brought him to Quashen for “stealing cigarettes, smoking weed” but, “he wouldn’t listen to Cary (Quashen) and would back talk.”

Seven years later, James is living on the street. Some of his homeless friends were among the nine who were treated for heroin overdoses at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Apr. 24. One died.

“Eventually, I got kicked out,” James told Quashen. “Then two months later it (the truck) flipped. They gave me another chance to live in the garage and I f---d that up.

“I’ve kicked heroin five times,” James told him. “But every time I wouldn’t enjoy life sober.

“For three days I would walk around and do normal s---t, but I didn’t enjoy life.”

Most recently, his 15-year-old sister, Sienna, found his syringe containing heroin in the living room. Sienna photographed the find and sent the images to her parents.

Last week, the SCV saw nine heroin-related cases, including the death of David Alexander Esquivel, 28, of Castaic, found April 23, in the bathroom at Bouquet Canyon Park. The next day, eight people suffering heroin overdoses were treated at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.

On the third day, Quashen joined hospital staff at a hastily-called press conference to alert the public about a particularly potent batch of heroin in the SCV.

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A tear rolls down James' cheek as he hugs his father. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Fearing the worst

When James’ mother Sunny Ludlow, who lives in South Carolina, read about the rash of heroin overdoses cases in SCV, she feared the safety of her son and turned to Quashen in desperation.

“I have been waiting for a call that he is dead,” her text to Quashen reads. “I heard about the overdoses last week and just melted thinking it could be him. It took me a day to find out he was not one of those poor kids.

“He called me crying on Tuesday, May 2 asking me to help him,” she told Quashen. “He said he can’t do it anymore and that he wishes he could just die.”

The intervention moves to the front door. Quashen grabs the overnight bag and reminds James to bring his toothbrush.

James wants to bring his cell phone.

“No phones,” Quashen tells him. “You’re going to rehab, not Disneyland.”

But, when it comes to happy endings, Quashen has a few of his own.

When he arrives at the rebab center in Piru, two of the rehab patients whom he brought there two years ago run out and hug him.

So when people ask him how he does it after 30 years, Quashen says with a smirk: “I have to look at the ones we save.”

James rests his head on his hands as Cary Quashen talks about the difficulties James will face in in-patient rehabilitation. He admitted to having injected so much heroin it should have been enough to kill him, on several occasions. After a string of heroin overdoses in Santa Clarita last week, a few of which were James' friends, he reached out to his mom for help, and she sent an email to Quashen. Quashen asked James to read the email aloud. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Cuts along James' feet cause him to walk with a limp temporarily. He sustained them from living on the streets before he asked for help. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

James' 15-year-old sister, Sienna Fusca, gives him a hug before he heads to Action Family Counseling's rehab facility in Piru. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Quashen hugs Sienna as he reassures her that they're going to help her brother overcome his addiction. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Still feeling withdrawals and so far without medication to ease withdrawal symptoms, James lays back on the stairs as his sister brings him down a pair of socks, and his father brings him his shoes before Quashen takes James to rehab. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
Sienna and James sit on the stairs of their Saugus home as James puts his shoes on. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
Top: Kenneth Fusca hugs his son as James prepares to head to in-patient rehab. Center left: James calls a friend to let them know he won't be reachable via his phone while he stays in rehab, where phones aren't allowed. Center right: James opens the door to Quashen's black Escalade to head to rehab in Piru. Bottom: Cary Quashen and James walk up to Action Family Counseling's in-patient rehab facility, left, in Piru on Friday, May 5, 2017. Photos by Katharine Lotze/The Signal
James sits quiet as Quashen briefly explains his situation to counselor Albert Alcala before he sits down with James to complete his intake forms. In an informal conversation with another counselor, James mentioned he'd also used methamphetamine. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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Katharine Lotze/The Signal

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