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

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

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This article was written by Noozhawk Staff Writer Giana Magnoli as part of Day 6 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


Deputy DA says earlier intervention, rehabilitation are key to keeping kids off drugs and alcohol, and out of a life of crime
Monday, September 26, 2011

Name: Von Nguyen

Location: Santa Barbara

Occupation: Prosecutor

As a Santa Barbara County deputy district attorney who works with young offenders, Von Nguyen knows what the community’s children are up to.

Prosecutors can make the biggest difference in Juvenile Court, since earlier interventions and rehabilitation might help juveniles avoid a life of crime, she said.

“If we can redirect their behavior so we never see them in adult court, that would be ideal,” Nguyen said.

Juvenile court can be a volatile environment since it may be the parents’ first time they’re aware of exactly what their child has been doing.

“As much as you like to think you know, there are a lot of things the parents don’t know, and sometimes ignorance is bliss,” she laughed.

Being a parent herself makes her more empathetic to understanding both sides of the cases.

“I see the parents of the victims or the juveniles, and how painful it is for them because that’s your child,” she said. “I try to think about that when I’m determining a fair and just resolution to a case.”

In more than 75 percent of the juvenile cases she’s handled, she said the child had either tried alcohol or marijuana or had smoked marijuana regularly. And they report that access is easy.

Nguyen has worked drug cases in the North County office and was just assigned to the South Coast’s major narcotics unit, but she is truly troubled by the frequency of drug use in the juvenile cases that she sees.

Adolescents in her cases don’t usually use prescription medications exclusively, but they turn to them to avoid detection for their drugs of choice, which are typically alcohol or marijuana.

“It’s a text away, the drugs,” she said of how easy it is for kids to obtain them.

“The possibility of becoming an addict is so real now, because of the different levels of potencies and type of drugs and how much more accessible everything is,” Nguyen said. “Our kids are in much higher danger of being addicted.”

Nguyen keeps a close eye on her own medicine cabinet if only to make sure her children’s friends don’t help themselves. But she realizes many families don’t share her concerns.

“Part of the problem, too, and I can say this because I am a parent, is we’re scared to know what they’re doing,” she said.

“I’ve seen parents come in and we tell them, ‘We found X, Y and Z on your child,’” she said. “The parents aren’t saying, ‘Oh, my God, I had no idea,’ but they’re saying we didn’t have a right to search, or ‘it’s just pot, it’s just this or it’s just that.’”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.