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Famous for its nearly 365 days a year of sunshine, celebrities, and gorgeous coasts, California, "The Golden State" is also becoming known for something else: drug and alcohol addiction.
Famous Californian Jack London once wrote, "The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." It's a motto that, by all accounts, he always tried to live by. But sadly, for many Californians, life IS about merely existing. For many residents of the Golden State, life is about fighting just to get out of bed every day, because they face a foe they are wholly unequipped to fight-the soul-crushing reality of opioid addiction.
Much like the rest of the United States, opioid addiction has blown through the Golden State like a hurricane, laying waste to whole communities and decimating families. Prescription painkillers, (opioids) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being vigilant.
The root of the problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. If you are prescribed opioids from a doctor, you may feel like a few pills couldn't hurt, but this is at the root of why they are so incredibly dangerous. Just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. Because prescription painkillers often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain) the heroin problem has exploded in California as well.
In California, an estimated 45% of drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018--a total of more than 2,400—which is a rate of 5.8! And, among opioid-involved deaths in California, the largest increase involved synthetic opioids other than methadone (like fentanyl) with a more than 60% increase from 536 in 2017 to 865 in 2018. (Prescription drug abusers often turn to synthetics like fentanyl, when pills or heroin aren't available.) In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related deaths.
When we widen our lens and take a look at all forms of substance abuse across California, the numbers give cause for concern. These drugs are stealing our family members, our sons, our daughters, our future. In 2010, 4,258 people died in California as a direct result of drug use. (This is extremely high when we compare it to the number of people in California who died from motor vehicle accidents (2,922) and firearms (2,935) in the same year.) And, in a 2007 study, one in eight weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illicit drugs. According to recent Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) data, one in three motor vehicle fatalities (33 percent) tested positive for drugs.
Although the opioid epidemic is a mighty foe, alcohol use in California is actually more prevalent than other types of substance abuse disorders. Six percent of Californians reported meeting the criteria for dependence on alcohol, compared to three percent for illicit drugs.
Substance abuse is a cancer that is most prevalent in young Californian adults ages 18 to 25, occurring at nearly twice the state average rate. This is alarming when we consider that these are formative years in the life of a young person. Use of alcohol and other drugs often begins in adolescence and studies show that by 11th grade, more than half of California students have used alcohol and almost 40% have used marijuana.
A 2017 study focusing on substances abused by youth in California yielded some troubling numbers:
18% of California high school students (grades 9-12) report they drank alcohol for the first time before age 13.
30% of these same high school students report they had at least 1 drink of alcohol on at least 1 day during the last month.
And 13% of California high school students report they had 4 or more drinks of alcohol in a row (if they were female) or 5 or more drinks of alcohol in a row (if they were male), within a couple of hours, during the last month.
38% of California high school students (grades 9-12) report they've used marijuana 1 or more times. This is especially concerning when we consider the fact that marijuana is known to affect brain development in young people and can sometimes lead to the use and abuse of more harmful substances.
4% of California high school students (grades 9-12) report using pain relievers in any way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
The good news for Californians bravely fighting the daily battle against drug and alcohol addiction is that they are never alone. We are now more connected than ever, and help is never more than a few clicks away. The first step is always the hardest but it's the most meaningful. Do this for you.
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." Mark Twain
California State Facts
California Population: 33,864,430
Law Enforcement Officers in California: 85,736
California Prison Population: 239,900
California Probation Population: 350,768
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 10
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in California
Cocaine: 3,186.6 kgs.
Heroin: 121.4 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 786.5 kgs.
Marijuana: 131,871.5 kgs.
Ecstasy: 329,973 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 470 (DEA, state, and local)
California Drug Situation: Due to California’s diverse culture and unique geography, there are many issues that affect the drug situation in California. Most of the illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana are smuggled into California from Mexico; however, methamphetamine and marijuana are produced or cultivated in large quantities within the state. San Diego and Imperial Counties remain a principal transshipment zone for a variety of drugs – cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine – smuggled from Mexico. Most California drug traffickers/organizations that are encountered by law enforcement continue to be polydrug traffickers rather than specializing in one type of drug. Since September 11, 2001, greater emphasis has been placed on carefully screening people and vehicles at all California Ports of Entry into the U.S. from Mexico. This has forced drug traffickers to resort to other means of smuggling drugs and contraband into California, including the use of tunnels that run underneath the border and more sophisticated hidden compartments in vehicles. Los Angeles is a distribution center for all types of illicit drugs destined for other major metropolitan areas throughout the U.S. as well as locally. Increased security measures at Los Angeles International Airport continue to deter drug traffickers from traveling through the airport. Although the northern half of California is awash in methamphetamine in more rural areas, heroin remains the number one drug of abuse in San Francisco, heroin and crack cocaine continue to impact Oakland, and methamphetamine continues in and around Sacramento.
Cocaine in California: Mexican trafficking organizations, working closely with Colombian suppliers, dominate the wholesale cocaine trade. However, the Mexican traffickers continue to specialize in cross-border cocaine transportation by air, land and sea. Based on consistent seizures by U.S. Customs personnel (BICE), the majority of the cocaine destined for the U.S. continues to enter the country by land conveyance through the Ports of Entry along the California/Mexico border. Typically, traffickers transport the cocaine to Los Angeles in vehicles with hidden compartments and then offload the cocaine into stash houses. Cocaine is readily available throughout California with Los Angeles remaining one of the nation’s largest cocaine transshipment and distribution centers. Cocaine is also widely available in San Francisco and other areas of northern California.
Heroin in California: California-based law enforcement agencies primarily seize Mexican black tar heroin throughout the state as well as brown tar heroin to a lesser extent. Mexican black tar heroin is usually smuggled into California in amounts of five pounds or less, but occasionally law enforcement seizes larger amounts. In addition, Southeast Asian, Southwest Asian, and Colombian heroin seizures periodically occur throughout the state. The increased availability of high purity heroin that can be snorted allows a new, younger population to use heroin without a syringe and needle. Drug rehabilitation professionals report that these new heroin users ingest large amounts of heroin and become addicted very quickly. Law enforcement officials normally encounter ethnic West African and Southeast Asian nationals in the distribution and transportation of Asian heroin. California does not have any noticeable heroin abuse in its Asian communities. Reports that high purity Colombian heroin is now available in the counties surrounding Los Angeles is supported by the recent seizure of 200 grams of Colombian heroin by law enforcement in Ventura County. A 40,000 poppy plant grow was discovered by hikers in the Sierra National Forest in June 2003. That was the only poppy grow located in California in recent history.
Methamphetamine in California: Methamphetamine is the primary drug threat in California. Mexican organizations continue to dominate the production and distribution of high-quality meth, while a secondary trafficking group, composed primarily of Caucasians, operates small, unsophisticated methamphetamine laboratories. Clandestine meth laboratories can be found in any location throughout California: high density residential neighborhoods, sparsely populated rural areas, remote desert locations in the southern portions of California, and the forested areas in northern California. In recent years, there has a decrease in the number of meth labs seized within California and an increase in the number of meth labs found just south of the border in Mexico. Rural areas in the Central Valley of California are the source of most of the meth produced in California and seized elsewhere. Regardless, there has been not been a decrease in the availability of methamphetamine originating from (or transshipped through) California and seized elsewhere in the U.S. Within California itself, Hispanics and Caucasians are the almost exclusive consumers of meth. Purity levels of meth have ranged from a low of ten percent to a high of 100 percent purity. As the supply of pseudoephedrine from Canada has diminished after successful law enforcement operations, there has been a noticeable increase in pseudoephedrine and ephedrine seized that originated from China.
Club Drugs in California: MDMA, otherwise known as Ecstasy was considered the most popular “club drug” in California among teens and young adults, however there are indicators that Ecstasy use may be decreasing across the board, yet consistently available in geographical pockets. First, the Partnership for a Drug Free America conducted a study released in February 2004 which stated the use of Ecstasy among teenagers “had dropped 25 percent in the last two years, (that) decrease translates into an additional 770,000 teens rejecting the once trendy drug.” Second, California law enforcement has targeted rave promoters in the San Diego county area, resulting in their inability to hold such events and thereby decreasing the possibility for distribution of Ecstasy through that channel. Recent studies indicate that use of MDMA is expanding from raves and clubs into schools, malls and residences. Although Israeli and Russian organized crime still dominate the importation and distribution of MDMA, primarily from the Netherlands, new poly-drug trafficking organizations are also emerging. Specifically, Asian groups that are producing MDMA in Canada and Vietnam and smuggling the drug into California have recently been encountered by law enforcement. MDMA is widely available in Los Angeles, which is one of three major gateway cities for the influx of MDMA into the U.S. (Miami and New York are the other two cities). Compton (near Los Angeles) remains a primary source of PCP throughout the U.S. Street gangs continue to control both production and distribution of PCP. Though not as widely popular as most rave drugs, LSD remains readily available throughout the Los Angeles area. The ample supply of LSD is due to the number LSD laboratories operating in remote areas of Northern California, which has been the center of LSD production since the 1960’s. Internet sales of GHB and GBL persist.
Prescription Drugs in California: Due to the discrepancy in national laws between the U.S. and Mexico, the prolific “border pharmacies” within walking distance across the border in Tijuana and other Mexican border towns remain the primary source of controlled substances in the San Diego metropolitan area. Doctor shopping and prescription forgery are the primary methods of prescription drug abuse in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas. In Northern California, OxyContin, Vicodin, benzodiazepines and carisoprodol are the most commonly abused prescription drugs. In the Los Angeles area, Demerol, Dilaudid, Diazepam, Hydrocodone and steroids remain the principal drugs abused. The San Diego area prescription drugs of choice are Vicodin, VicodinES, Lortab, and Vicoprofen. Rohypnol remains readily available throughout the Los Angeles area, due primarily to the city’s proximity to Mexico.
Marijuana in California: Marijuana remains the most widely available and abused illicit substance in California. Large quantities of low-grade marijuana are smuggled into California from Mexico. Highly potent Canadian marijuana, commonly referred to as “BC bud” is also smuggled into the state. Potent domestic marijuana is also cultivated in sophisticated indoor, hydroponic gardens throughout California.
Crack in California: Los Angeles based gangs dominate the street level distribution of crack cocaine throughout the Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas. Cocaine bought by the gangs is “rocked” or converted into crack cocaine in the Los Angeles area (including Santa Ana and Riverside) and then sold locally or distributed to other cities in California and nationally. These organizations frequently use intimidation and violence to facilitate their narcotics trafficking activities. Gang members involved in the street distribution of crack are often armed and have a propensity towards violence against other gang members whom they feel are invading their areas of control.
Other Drugs in California: Vicodin, Ritalin, Rohypnol, Ketamine, and Valium are common diverted pharmaceutical narcotics in California. Many of these narcotics are used by teens and young adults frequenting the club scene. Rohypnol is available without a prescription at pharmacies throughout Mexico. The Los Angeles area, specifically Compton, California, is the primary source for the majority of PCP found in the United States. Consequently, PCP remains readily available.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There are three DEA Division offices in California: Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. Combined, these three divisions have completed 63 Mobile Enforcement Team (MET) deployments throughout the State of California since the inception of the program. These cities are: San Luis Obispo (2), Oxnard/Ventura, Gardena, Century, Rampart (2), Antelope Valley, El Monte, Santa Maria, Quad Cities in Los Angeles, Coachella Valley, Wilshire, Pico Rivera, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Santa Paula, Hollenbeck, Devonshire, Ontario, Pasadena, Baldwin Park, Bell Gardens, Garden Grove, Oceanside (2), El Cajon, Chula Vista, National City (2), Vista, San Diego (2), La Mesa, Escondido, San Marcos, Spring Valley, Richmond (2), Vallejo, Seaside (2), Merced (2), Modesto, Oakland (2), West Contra Costa County, Eastern Kern County, Yuba County, San Jose, Stanislaus County, Woodland (2), Salinas, Santa Cruz (2), Monterey, Sacramento, South Bureau LAPD, Corona, Azusa, and Yolo County.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been four (4) Regional Enforcement Team (RET) deployments in the State of California since the inception of the program: Hayward, San Francisco (2 Phases), Riverside/Santa Ana, and San Jose.