Punked-out, self-taught chef Tyeson Jack Collester had just signed a television contract for a cooking show, “The Hungry Punker,” on the day he died as a result of an accidental drug overdose of morphine on Jan. 19, 2006 in Laguna Beach.
Through her strife over losing a loved child, Collester’s mother Judy Bostwick Kelly rose like a phoenix to birth a new venture that mixes retail and spirituality. Her Pure Light Candle Studios in Laguna Beach and Irvine stock an eclectic blend of Balinese treasures that also provide a venue for candle making that encourages friends and families to spend precious time together.
“My thought process since my loss is that if you can feel good about what you do and what you create in life, it puts positive energy out there for everyone,” said Kelly, 55, who also lives in town.
The stimulus that inspired Kelly’s business is now leading her to more directly address what some describe as an epidemic among teens and young adults in Orange County who are dying due to overdoses of prescription drugs. She is investing in a film that exposes the problem.
In Orange County, in 2007 the number of teen deaths from prescription and over-the-counter drugs increased by 67 percent, more than double the number of 2005, according to a comprehensive report recently published by the county Health Care Agency’s Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Team.
In the same study, California was ranked third highest among states in overall misuse of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs, which includes prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives. Just 24 percent of OC teens reported that their parents had talked to them about the dangers of abusing prescription and over-the-counter drugs, the report says.
“At some point, I think everyone needs to take more steps to recognize whether someone close to them is suffering from a drug problem and identify resources available to them,” said Laguna Beach police detective Larry Bammer. “Unfortunately, I don’t think is it widely recognized when it is someone close to them. People tend to think the problem is isolated to certain areas and not an epidemic across the nation.”
Laguna police have twice hosted “take back” days, where anyone can anonymously drop off prescription medication. A total of 20 pounds of medication was dropped off during the most recent Oct. 29 collection.
“We get everything under the sun,” said Bammer, including antibiotics, cancer medication, and oxycodon and Fentanyl, powerful pain medications.
Police are developing training for Laguna Beach High School faculty to help them identify drug abuse among students, Bammer said.
Parent Natalie Costa, head of Laguna Hills’ Performer’s Academy, was clueless about prescription drug use among teens until a friend of her teenage daughter, Mark Melkonian, died from an accidental drug overdose of oxymorphone and diazepam last May. “I had to escort my daughter to her first funeral. I was mortified by all these kids losing their friend,” said Costa of Laguna Niguel.
She asked Brent Huff, a Los Angeles acting teacher she hired at Performer’s Academy, to meet with a group of eight parents who had lost their children due to prescription drug overdoses.
Huff was taken aback by the hidden epidemic. “I’m a parent and the thought of losing a child is heart wrenching,” said Huff. “In South Orange County it is like Pleasantville; there is money, people are conservative and it’s a great life. Who knew what was really going on down there?”
After meeting with grieving parents, Huff decided to take action by co-writing and directing “Behind the Orange Curtain,” a documentary on the hidden world of prescription drug abuse in Orange County, with producer Zac Titus, of Los Angeles, and Costa as executive producer.
“The goal is to get information out there,” Huff said. “Parents are talking to their kids about alcohol and smoking pot but they are not talking to them about prescription drugs. Kids are going to dirty doctors and getting opana and oxycodone to get high.”
Writers Titus and Huff compiled over 40 interviews for the documentary, including one with Kelly about the loss of her son. Using footage from demos of his cooking show, Collester’s story is told a cautionary tale for parents and teens to learn about the dangers that come with prescription drug abuse.
“The film is well done and has a very important message. It is not about accusing anybody or blaming anybody; it is about educating,” said Kelly, who recently hosted a fundraiser for the film at Pure Light Studio in Irvine, which allowed the producers to meet their $43,500 fundraising goal in 18 days.
“Behind the Orange Curtain” was funded through kickstarter, a website that allows filmmakers to retain their rights to creative works while hosting a forum for private donations to see the project through post-production. If the goal of the project is not met within 30 days, donors receive a full refund.
The filmmakers hope “Behind the Orange Curtain” will be accepted for screening at independent film festivals and eventually in local schools.
“Prescription drug abuse is the dirty little secret that people aren’t talking about and we are hoping that after this documentary people will start talking about it,” said Huff.
“If I can help even one kid to make the choice to stay away from drugs then it is worth it,” said Kelly.
To view the trailer, visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1485951547/behind-the-orange-curtain-rx-drug-death-epidemic
Cal State Fullerton Hayley Toler is an Indy intern.