A Granite Bay dad’s wild attempt to save his OxyContin-addicted son
Brad DeHaven calls it “our family’s dirty little secret.” By age 17, his oldest son, Brandon, was selling and developing an addiction to the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin.
DeHaven and his wife Lisa were ill-equipped to deal with Brandon’s problem. Here was what seemed to be a normal, upstanding Granite Bay family. A financial planner by trade, DeHaven was “your typical dad” for his two sons; he coached baseball and soccer and football. Brandon and his father worked together on building a 1967 Chevelle, and “Brandon loved it. We loved working on it together,” he said.
But from about age 16, Brandon’s favorite hobby was getting high. “I didn’t realize I was really addicted to it until I turned 18,” Brandon told SN&R.
There was the usual drinking and smoking pot at Brandon’s school. Cocaine and mushrooms, too, and pills like Vicodin. But the prize was OxyContin, sometimes called OCs (they’re printed with the letters O and C, leading to nicknames like Orange Counties or Ocean Cities or oatmeal cookies) by the people who abuse them. The strongest, an 80-milligram pill that comes in a light green color, often goes by the name Green Goblin. It’s also popularly called “hillbilly heroin,” though it’s hardly cheap. At $40, $50, $60 dollars a pill, Oxy had a certain brand-name appeal.
“Granite Bay was hugely into OxyContin,” Brandon explained to the SN&R. “Heroin has this reputation as being dirty somehow. But we’ve all been taught that pills are OK.”
The time-release coating on an OxyContin makes it harder to abuse. So Brandon and his friends would crush and snort their Oxy pills. After that, he graduated to putting the powder on a piece of aluminum foil, heating the underside of the foil and inhaling the fumes with a stem pipe—basically a ball-point pen with the ink cartridge removed.
The popularity of OxyContin became something of a preoccupation for the Roseville police department. In fact, one narcotics officer told SN&R that for years illegal OxyContin was the main drug targeted by the department in undercover operations.
But they never ran a sting operation quite like the surprising one DeHaven set up, in order to snare two drug dealers and keep his son Brandon out of prison, or worse.
Looking back on what his father did for him, Brandon said, “I don’t know what to say about it. I don’t know any father who would have done what he did. I’ve never even heard of it.”
Brandon was 19 when he first tried to get off of OxyContin. “The first time I kicked, I didn’t know what was coming,” Brandon explained. He was abusing the painkiller as well as cocaine and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax.
His parents put him on lockdown at the house, and tried to help him through violent withdrawals. They gave him Pedialyte to keep him hydrated, and watched as he heaved up his guts and rocked back and forth on the floor. “I was completely delusional,” he said. “I didn’t even know where I was.”
During these harrowing periods of withdrawal, DeHaven would watch his son sleep, just like so many fathers do when their children are small, and not be able to look away until he saw Brandon’s chest inflate and know for sure his son was still breathing.
Despite the awful experience of detoxing in front of his parents, Brandon slipped back into using. By age 20, he was out of the house, and in and out of his parents’ lives. When he did show up for family events, he was always late, and usually high.
There were other obvious signs of Brandon’s sliding deeper into the drug lifestyle. “You watch their body shrinking up,” said DeHaven. “He was skeletal.” Brandon hid the weight loss under baggy but designer clothes. He cultivated what DeHaven calls “the baller” look.
“He didn’t have a job, but here he was wearing name-brand jeans and sweats and jackets that cost $200, $300,” DeHaven recalled. “You’d go by his house and there’s three big-screen TVs and six cameras sitting on the table. So where is he getting all this stuff? He’s dealing, obviously.”
And it appears he was a somewhat successful drug dealer. Brandon used spreadsheets and held “team meetings” with associates, and had amassed a sort of profoundly esoteric knowledge about the black market in prescription drugs. He sold to students at first, then to their parents, then to a larger customer base.
“Granite Bay, Roseville, Rocklin, Auburn, some parts of Elk Grove,” Brandon explained. Then Sacramento State, and eventually fingers in UC Los Angeles and CSU Long Beach. He told SN&R that he was making as much as $100,000 a month at one point. At the same time, he had “a $1,000 a day drug habit, between the Oxy and the coke.”
Brandon became more and more alienated from his family, especially his father and his younger brother.
“You give up for a while,” DeHaven explained. “I used to tell Brandon, don’t call me when you get busted. Because you will get busted. It doesn’t ever end any other way. Either you are going to get busted or you are going to die.”
By the time he got busted, Brandon was finding it harder to find “scrips,” reliable sources with OxyContin prescriptions who would sell the drugs to him. The TVs and cameras were gone. He was having a hard time scraping up enough just to get a few pills. “It was a real low point. Before, I would go to the mall and spend five grand, and it wasn’t anything. Then I was hocking anything I had left.”
He’d gone from being a dealer who could supply himself with what he needed to being a junkie.
One afternoon, his mom was helping Brandon to “get his life together,” making a budget, helping to run some errands to take care of parking tickets and other bills that had piled up. At some point, Brandon got a call on his cell phone and told his mother he had to run another errand, saying, “I’ll be right back.” He didn’t come back, but his parents didn’t think too much about it, since these types of disappearances were pretty routine for their son.
The DeHavens were watching TV late that night, when somebody started banging on the back door. It was a friend of Brandon’s there to let them know their son had been arrested by the Roseville police. He had been calling friends to get bail, and he hadn’t called his parents. After all, his father had warned him not to call when this day came.
Brandon spent the night in the Roseville jail.
The mystery call that Brandon had taken while running errands with his mom had come from a friend asking Brandon to sell him some Oxy. What Brandon didn’t know was that friend had been arrested the day before. Brandon went to meet the friend at a motel in Old Roseville, and when he knocked on the motel-room door, it was answered by a Roseville undercover officer. Police came out from bushes and from around corners and tackled him to the ground.
But it turned out that Brandon didn’t have any drugs on him. Broke, he’d been unable to come up with the drugs for the deal. He’d planned to get the money from his friend first, or take his friend directly to another dealer and hopefully get some drugs himself for his trouble.
Still, the police found a stem pipe in his pocket. And the phone call between the two friends had been recorded by the police. With this evidence, Brandon was potentially looking at five years in prison. But maybe, the police said, Brandon could help them out.
It turned out that Brandon had been under surveillance by the Roseville police for some time, and was a known dealer.
Some of the information on Brandon came from another confidential informant, a man Brad DeHaven calls “Steve.” He’s asked the SN&R not to use Steve’s real name, because he believes that would put his family in danger.
Steve had been providing information on Brandon and other dealers. But the police thought Steve was still dealing large quantities himself. “He was doing the big deals and just handing the junkies to the cops,” DeHaven said.
So the police wanted Brandon to set up Steve for a bust.
Since Brandon had been busted, it was unlikely that Steve would deal with him directly. So he’d concocted a story that he was stuck in his parents’ house, but that he had a regular customer he could hook up with Steve. In exchange, Brandon would receive a small “finder’s fee” in the form of a few pills that somebody could drop off at Brandon’s window.
It was a pretty sketchy plan. And the withdrawals were agonizing, when he was not using. Not that he could stay clean. One time when DeHaven found out that his son had managed to get high, he got so angry that he punched Brandon in the face and broke his nose. DeHaven is still horrified. “I had never done anything like that,” he said. While SN&R was interviewing the father and son together, DeHaven asked Brandon, “Why didn’t you hit me back?”
“Because you’re my father,” said Brandon.
The police were waiting for Brandon to make good on his promise. But Brandon was a wreck. “Mentally, he was so scattered and paranoid,” DeHaven said. Physically, he was worse. Brandon stands 6 feet 2 inches tall. At this time, he was down to about 130 pounds. “You could see every bone in his body. He looked dead.”
But just after Christmas 2008, Brandon made the call. Steve said “cool,” he’d do the deal. Brandon gave Steve the number that the police had provided, and they hung up.
“Within 10 minutes, [Brandon’s] MySpace page lit up,” DeHaven explained. “People were posting ‘You’re a snitch,’ and all this stuff. His cell phone started blowing up.” Friends told Brandon that Steve thought Brandon was trying to set him up, and was threatening to kill him.
A call to the Roseville Police Department led to a scary revelation. The phone number that Brandon gave to Steve was a number Steve already knew to be a number for the undercover cop. DeHaven and his son went back to the police department. Brandon could hardly hold his head up during the meeting. And his father was furious.
There in a small interrogation room about the size of a walk-in closet, DeHaven told the detectives, “I’m calling bullshit on this deal. You may have gotten my kid killed.”
Clearly the cops had blown it, but they were unrelenting. If they couldn’t bust Steve, Brandon was going to be charged.
What happened next surprised everybody. A few days before, DeHaven was ready to let Brandon sit in jail and suffer whatever consequences were coming his way. Suddenly, his instincts as a father took over.
“He seemed so helpless,” said DeHaven. “I just said, ‘I’ll do the bust.’”
The Roseville police would not directly discuss with SN&R the details of what happened next, other than to say, “It was a very unique situation,” and that Brandon’s father “is a good man, and a very honest man.”
However, SN&R was able to confirm much of this story through court records and other law-enforcement sources. And it is clear by all accounts that the cops initially wanted nothing to do with the idea of a dealer’s dad being involved in a sting operation. They told DeHaven, “We don’t deal with parents.”
But DeHaven was able to get them to agree that yes, hypothetically, if he were to come up with some information about a drug deal going down involving Steve, that they would be interested in that information.
But how does a middle-class financial planner from Granite Bay conspire to catch a drug dealer?
It turned out that DeHaven had a lot of information available to him—thanks to his son. “I knew it could be done, and I told him how to do it,” Brandon recalled.
DeHaven learned from his son that “The holy grail is an old guy with a scrip.” Older men who are able to work their doctors for pain medication are a favorite source for dealers like Brandon and Steve.
And Brandon passed along another useful piece of information. Steve had a girlfriend, DeHaven just calls her “Ashley,” who was involved in dealing, but made extra money giving “happy ending” massages. And Brandon knew she was advertising her services on Craigslist. After some initial poking around, DeHaven acted on a hunch. He put Steve’s phone number in the search field on Craigslist.
Bingo. Up popped a blond girl, 21 or 22, in a provocative pose, offering massage services for $120 an hour. “It was pretty obvious they weren’t legit massages.”
He went to the Walmart and bought a cheap prepaid cellular phone, which he naturally nicknamed The Crackberry. He had to call a couple of times before he got her on the phone. “We exchanged various bullshit information, and I said, ‘Look, I just want a massage from a pretty girl. I have a bad back, and I thought it would be a fun treat to get a massage from a pretty girl.’”
DeHaven wasn’t entirely lying about the bad back. He still had an old back brace from earlier back problems that he had. He put the brace on and headed to his appointment with Ashley.
They agreed to meet at her apartment in Sacramento County. At this point, the police had no idea what DeHaven was up to. He wasn’t so sure himself. She came to the door in sweats, wearing no makeup. She took his money at the door and pointed him into a bedroom. She went into another room to get a towel to drape over the bedspread. But while she was out of the room, DeHaven heard talking. “It worried me a little bit, but I thought maybe she was just making a phone call.”
She returned as DeHaven was unbuttoning his shirt. Seeing the brace, she asked what was wrong with his back. He told her the doctors weren’t entirely sure, but explained they had him taking all sorts of drugs. Some of the medication he couldn’t even take because it made him too loopy.
He asked for help getting his shoes off, at which point Ashley asked what kind of drugs he was taking. Vicodin and oxycodone, he said. “But I can’t take the oxycodone,” he explained.
By DeHaven’s account, it didn’t take Ashley long to bite. “I’ll take them,” she said.
All the while, they were slowly getting DeHaven undressed. He told her, “I don’t need any trouble,” and said the Oxy should probably remain in his safe at home, and that he should just get his massage. He was down to his underwear when she said, “I get it. I don’t even know if you’re cop anyway.”
“So I just dropped my drawers, and then she said, ‘OK, I guess you’re not a cop.’”
She had DeHaven lay down on the bed and then left the room again. She was gone longer this time and again he heard talking. He was sure now that someone else was in the apartment, and he guessed it was Steve.
“I thought, ‘Fuck, he’s in the other room, listening to everything that’s going on.’” He had the somewhat absurd thought that Ashley’s jealous boyfriend would come through the door, find him naked and try to beat up him up. He had the more reasonable worry, too, that he might get robbed.
Ashley returned and she pulled off her top and sweat pants and, dressed only in thong, sat astride DeHaven’s back.
DeHaven described her body, which he saw in the full-length mirror on the closet door, as “striking.” He was less impressed with her skills as a masseuse. “She was poking me here and there, giving this bullshit version of a massage.”
Then she leaned over, chest against his back, her mouth just inches from his ear, and whispered, “I’m not a cop. Sell me the Oxy.”
“I told her, ‘OK, we’ll work something out.’”
DeHaven was thrilled that his plan was working so well. But he didn’t want this “massage” to go any further; he was married after all. He was also worried about the voice in the other room. Then Ashley told him to turn over and placed his hands on her breasts, telling him, “You can massage me, too.”
Though it was obvious that part of DeHaven was willing to go further, he told her, “Thanks, but that’s not necessary. Just a massage is good enough for me.”
Soon he was getting dressed and heading for home; his own house was about 20 minutes away. “Before I even got home, my phone rang.” It was Ashley, asking about when she could meet him and get the pills.
The cops had initially been shocked at what DeHaven had done. Today, the Roseville police won’t talk about the bust. But clearly, DeHaven had given them little choice but to finish what had been started.
When he called Ashley back a couple of days later, it was from the Roseville police station. There, the undercover unit had affixed a tiny recorder to The Crackberry.
“They had a whole laundry list of things they wanted me to get her to say while they were recording. That the deal was for 100 Oxy, it was $2,500.”
DeHaven and Ashley agreed to meet in the parking lot of a local shopping center. The Roseville undercover officers wired DeHaven up with a microphone in a hotel parking lot, not far from the meet. This was “home base” and where DeHaven was to come back to after the bust happened, or retreat to if anything went wrong.
DeHaven vividly remembers standing in the hotel parking lot with his shirt off while the officers strapped the transmitter to his back and gave him instructions. Everyday civilians kept slowing down in their cars to stare. DeHaven just hoped he wouldn’t see a friend—or worse, a client—driving by.
It was then that officers first mentioned what DeHaven should do if anyone pulled a gun on him. “They said, ‘We do know that he’s robbed people before, and we do know he has a weapon,’” DeHaven explained.
The news made DeHaven, who’d already had doubts, want to quit and go home. But some combination of wanting to protect his family—and not wanting to face the embarrassment of backing out—now propelled him forward.
“It was too late. I had jumped off the cliff, and I was looking at the rocks below.”
Despite the hours of preparation, the bust didn’t happen that night. Even while he was getting wired up, the undercover cops explained, “They will try to move you, and they will try to rob you. Do not be moved.”
Sure enough, as soon as DeHaven got to the agreed-upon meeting spot, Ashley called him and asked if DeHaven could instead meet them in Sacramento County. During the course of several phone calls back and forth, she explained that her friend didn’t want to go into Placer County because he had an outstanding warrant there.
“I said, ‘What do you mean he has a warrant? Who am I dealing with here? I’m not going to get thunked on the head by some guy.’”
But it was no good. “She said, ‘Deal’s off. He’s not going to Placer.’”
DeHaven was depressed. But back at home base, the undercover team was impressed. “They said, ‘You did great. They’re definitely going to call you back.’”
And Ashley did call back, a week later. This time, the deal was arranged for a pharmacy in a shopping center near the Placer-Sacramento County line. The meeting was nearly scuttled again, however, because the Placer narcotics unit had made a big Ecstasy bust earlier that day and there weren’t enough undercover officers ready for DeHaven’s deal.
“My Crackberry is blowing up. She’s chomping at the bit. I keep telling her ‘I can’t talk, I can’t get out of the house.’” By the time the undercover team was in place, it was 9:00 that evening.
The meeting was going to take place at the Safeway on the corner of Sierra College Boulevard and Douglas Boulevard. But immediately, the drug dealers tried again to get DeHaven to meet them at another location. “I just said, ‘No, I’m not playing this game.’”
He waited and waited in the parking lot, worrying that another deal was going to fall through. But eventually a red Dodge Charger with tinted windows—which matched the description of a vehicle the cops said Steve might be driving—slowed down next to DeHaven’s pickup truck, then sped off again. A moment later, The Crackberry buzzed.
“She said, ‘You’re too far out in the open. Meet us over at the Starbucks.’” The Starbucks was perhaps 100 yards from his current location. He had been told repeatedly not to move. But after DeHaven hung up, he said aloud, for the cops on the other end of the wire to hear, “Deal with it, we’re moving to the Starbucks.” Still, he was getting very anxious as he drove across the parking lot. “My heart is beating out of my shirt. I’m wondering, ‘Am I going to die?’”
As he was pulling into a parking spot in front of the Starbucks, he didn’t see the Charger anywhere. But he could see Ashley through the glass of the storefront. She was calling him again to ask where he was. He replied, “I’m looking right at you.” She saw him and said, “OK, I’ll come get in the truck.”
DeHaven watched her as she started for the front door. “As soon as her hand hit the door, she stopped. She answered her phone, but it wasn’t me calling this time.”
“She was looking straight at me, and her eyes got so big around, and she goes, ‘Fuck.’ You could read her lips, just ‘Fuck.’ And then she took her hand off the door and backed up and turned around and bolted back into the Starbucks.”
DeHaven’s other phone, his real phone, rang, and it was the lead narcotics officer. He said, “We’ve got the male suspect. He did get off a phone call.”
DeHaven hit redial on The Crackberry, Ashley answered, frantic. “She was yelling ‘Deal’s off, deal’s off!’” He could hear an echo on the other end of the line, and he called the cops back to let them know she was in the Starbucks bathroom. The lead officer replied with just two words, “Home base.”
As he was putting the car into reverse, he saw undercover officers streaming into the Starbucks, with uniformed officers right behind them. “And I could see them dragging her out and tossing her to the floor of the Starbucks and just jumping on her.”
Back at home base, he learned that Steve had effectively confessed to the whole thing. He also learned that Ashley only had about half the money she had promised to bring. So one way or the other, the couple was planning to rob him.
DeHaven came home at about 11 o’clock that evening. Brandon—likely now spared from going to prison—was ecstatic and thanked his father profusely. He knew he was headed for rehab. DeHaven’s wife, who had worried all night because DeHaven had been unable to call until the bust was done, hugged him tight.
But DeHaven couldn’t sleep. The next morning, after a night of tossing and turning, he went into Brandon’s room and dropped a drug test onto the bed and said, “Pee in it.” This had become the routine after Brandon’s arrest and return home. But this time, the results dismayed DeHaven. His son “tested at the top of the scale.”
Somewhere during the evening before, when DeHaven was getting wired up, or when he was sitting in his truck with his heart pounding wondering if the sting would actually work, his son Brandon was getting high.
SN&R asked Brandon if he felt ashamed at the time. “No, not at all. I justified it at the time by saying, ‘I’m not going to be able to handle this unless I get high.’ It was all I knew. If I started to feel anything, I had to get high.”
“I told him pack up and get the fuck out,” DeHaven recalled.
Brandon trundled himself into his beaten-up Acura. The car had been rear-ended badly, it could only be entered from the passenger side, and it had standing water on the floorboards because it leaked whenever it rained.
“We watched this thing spitting out fumes and just clunking down the driveway,” DeHaven said. “My wife and I just held each other and cried. We didn’t know if we’d ever see him again.”
DeHaven’s name doesn’t appear anywhere in Steve and Ashley’s criminal court records. In the Placer County district attorney’s court filings, there are only a few dull hints at the DeHaven caper, phrases like, “Defendant contacted a confidential informant and arranged purchase of oxycontin.”
The couple admitted to the drug charges facing them. Ashley wound up getting a suspended sentence of three years, and she was ordered into a drug-treatment program. Steve was sentenced to five years in state prison. According to court records, while out on bail Steve robbed a woman, and was sentenced to three years for that.
The DeHavens didn’t hear from their son for a month. But thankfully Brandon wound up in a Narconon rehab facility in San Diego, with the help of an uncle who lived in the area. He spent five months in the center, and another three interning there, learning to help other addicts.
Unfortunately, he said, “There were some things I didn’t really deal with the first time in rehab,” and Brandon relapsed last summer, using OxyContin and Fentanyl patches. But he was subsequently admitted to another Narconon facility in Texas, and returned home to the Sacramento area last fall. Today, Brandon has got a job selling insurance, though he doesn’t want us to say where. He spends some nights at home with his parents, and some in a sober living center.
The father and son are, somewhat tentatively, beginning to reconcile.
DeHaven has written a book about his family’s story, titled Defining Moments: A Suburban Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Oxy Addiction. And he has launched a website, www.rxdrugaddict.com, that he hopes will help local families find resources for their addicted family members—more conventional and effective ways of helping than by going undercover to catch drug dealers on your child’s behalf.
“I don’t know why I did what I did,” DeHaven now says. “It was obviously too much.”
“It came crashing down on me after that night. I’d done his dirty work. But I realized there was nothing I could do to help him. All along I’d just been enabling him.”
Brandon is also conflicted about what happened that night.
“If I worried about everything that happened, all I’d have would be worry. I’m extremely thankful for what my dad did. All I can do to show my thanks is just to remain sober.”
It may help that the pharmaceutical company that makes OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, changed the formulation last summer to make it much harder to abuse. This pill is now produced in a “sticky” form that can’t be crushed into powder and snorted or smoked.
Some of the old Green Goblins are still floating around. Pills that were once going for $50 or $60 are now worth $80 or $90. But police say Oxy abuse is dropping off precipitously. And it may soon release its grip on suburban teens and wannabe ballers.
But that’s leaving a vacuum in the market. Brandon jokingly told SN&R that, “If you could buy stock in heroin, honestly, I’d highly suggest it right now.”
Indeed, the Roseville Police Department says it recently made its biggest heroin bust in the last five years. And according to one narcotics officer, “Heroin is coming into areas we’ve not seen it before.” Maybe even places like Granite Bay.