Skip to main content.

Donna Genera Has Seen the Price and Perils of Drug Addiction from All Sides

Fellowship Story Showcase

Donna Genera Has Seen the Price and Perils of Drug Addiction from All Sides

Picture of Bill Macfadyen

This article was written by Noozhawk Intern Daniel Langhorne 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.


Day One:

» Quiet Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse Taking a Toll on Santa Barbara County

» After Losing It All, Former Drug Addict Looking Forward to Renewed Life

» USC, California Endowment Unite to Support Health Journalism at the Source

» Bill Macfadyen: Prescription for Abuse Project Is a Series of Opportunities

Day Two:

» Local, National Statistics Reveal Alarming Jumps in Misuse and Abuse of Medications

» Marijuana Use Trends Higher, Especially Among Young Adults, Sparking Public Health Concerns

» Alcohol Plays a Role All Its Own in Setting the Stage for Local Abuse, Overdoses

Day Three:

» Understanding Addiction Key to Dealing With Prescription Drug Abuse

» Donna Genera Has Seen the Price and Perils of Drug Addiction from All Sides

» Rich Detty Bears Burden of Not Knowing Extent of Dead Son's Drug Use

Day Four:

» Escalation of Drug Overdose Deaths Includes Increased Presence of Prescription Medications

» Santa Barbara Teen News Network Adds Another Dimension to Prescription Drug Abuse Series

» Dr. Chris Lambert Sounds Warning on Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol

Day Five:

» Local Oversight of Prescription Medications Is Far More Focused Than State, Federal Controls

» Elderly Are Particularly Vulnerable to Both Misuse and Abuse of Prescription Drugs

» Second-Generation Pharmacist Peter Caldwell Fills a Vital Role with Patient Health Care

Day Six:

» Early Education for Parents and Youth Emerges as Critical Tactic to Thwart Drug Use

» Student Highs Can Lead to Tragic Woes with Addiction's Hook Just One Fateful Step Away

» From an Early Age, Shereen Khatapoush Saw the Horrors of Substance Abuse

» As a Parent Herself, Prosecutor Von Nguyen Brings Empathy to Job in Juvenile Justice

Day Seven:

» Law Enforcement Fights Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse from Outside and Inside

» Sheriff Bill Brown a Strong Supporter of Re-Entry, Drug Abuse Treatment Efforts

» Speaking from Experience, Zona Seca's Kevin Smith Keeps Drug Abusers on Road to Recovery

Day Eight:

» Prescription Drug System Is Rife with Loopholes, Fraud and Lack of Oversight

» For Clinical Psychologist Neil Rocklin, Addiction Education Can't Begin Soon Enough

Day Nine:

» Drug Abuse Treatment Programs, Expertise Are Plentiful on South Coast

» Dr. David Agnew Sees Pain as Pathway to Abuse But Cautions Against Overreaction

Day Ten:

» Awareness, Disposal Key Elements to Reversing Tide of Prescription Drug Abuse

» Dr. Joe Blum Keeps Focus on His Veteran Patients Despite Health-Care System's Restraints

Day Eleven:

» Operation Medicine Cabinet Gets the Drop on Prescription Drug Disposal

» Lacey Johnson Gives UCSB Students an Education in Dealing with Drug Abuse and Addiction

Day Twelve:

» Santa Barbara County Officials Look for Solutions in Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse

» Noozhawk Journalists Recount Lessons Learned from Prescription Drug Abuse Series

» Annenberg Fellowships Take a Diverse Approach to Community Health Journalism

» Dr. Nancy Leffert Champions Antioch University's Role in Fight Against Substance Abuse

» Professionals Working in Addiction Field Often Share Roots at Antioch University Santa Barbara

Abuse counselor driven by her past to help others with their future
Sunday, September 18, 2011

Name: Donna Genera

Location: Santa Barbara

Role: Clinical director

Donna Genera says bartenders are therapists without degrees.

From her tranquil East Arrellaga Street office with trickling water fountains and a touch of Asian spirituality, this addiction warrior seems far from anything less than serene.

As a former bartender and drug dealer herself, Genera’s work as the clinical director of Full Spectrum Recovery & Counseling Services is informed by her years on the supply side of addiction.

“It’s that personal experience,” she said. “And to say intimately, ‘I remember.’ ... I know what that’s like.”

Genera was introduced to bartending and dealing drugs as an unemployed environmental design major living in San Francisco. After moving to Honolulu in the early 1970s, she says she started dealing hallucinogens, cocaine and marijuana.

“We were making an awful lot of money,” Genera said. “It seemed like such a good life until the Hawaiian mafia found out about us.”

Despite having a small operation, Genera claims she was chased off to another island and then to the Mainland because the gang viewed her as competition. Realizing life as a dealer was getting her nowhere, Genera got out for good.

While managing a bar in Ventura, Genera was told by patrons and coworkers that she was a good listener and would make a good therapist. After seeing an advertisement for Pacifica Graduate Institute, she enrolled in a clinical psychology course.

Genera’s calling to help people with their compulsions was propelled by her sister’s addiction to opiates, which started out as an innocent treatment for childhood migraines.

After a long history of abusing prescriptions, mixing substances and treatment centers, Genera’s sister committed suicide.

“These are things I specialized in ... and I couldn’t even keep my sister alive,” Genera said.

The loss taught her the difficult lesson that she couldn’t save everyone.

Genera got her start in counseling during her internship at then-Pinecrest Hospital — now part of Cottage Health System — where she worked in the family violence center. At the time, 85 percent of the center’s population was using substances.

Today, Genera works with four family and marriage therapists treating compulsions that include substance use, gambling and sex.

Despite Santa Barbara’s veneer of a well-to-do paradise, Genera says methamphetamine and heroin are more common than people think.

“One of the things that is so frustrating for our team is how much wealth can buffer and hide a problem,” she said.

Genera meets wealthy parents who throw money at their children’s addictions by getting the best lawyers or paying off people — without realizing they are making the problem worse.

Prescription drug abuse is the most insidious addiction she encounters, however, particularly during this recession.

“I think there’s a lot of stress in our world and people are self-medicating because of it,” Genera said.

It is fulfilling for her when she sees one of her clients able to turn her life around.

“It’s rewarding, it’s satisfying and (it) enriches me to do this kind of work,” Genera said. “I’m still working 10- to 11-hour days, and at my age and having done it that long, that’s crazy. If I didn’t love what I do, I wouldn’t.”

Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.