Heroin and opioid addiction continues to be a growing problem around the globe. Prescription pain relievers are incredibly addictive, damaging lives and increasing overdose death tolls in nearly every state. Opiate and heroin abuse affects the welfare of all societies, including Northern California. The problem in California has reached an all-time high due to low drug prices, easy access to drugs, and lack of awareness. Exploring the drug problem in Northern California can help our community find a solution.
Heroin And Opioids In NorCal: Surprising Statistics
Heroin And Opioids In NorCal- Surprising StatisticsIn 2013, California hospitals treated over 11,500 people suffering an overdose of opiates or heroin – the equivalent of one overdose every 45 minutes. This statistic shows a shocking 63% increase in overdose cases since 2002. Researchers believe this rise is partially due to consistently low prices and plentiful amounts of black tar heroin in California pipelined from Mexico. Every office in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in San Francisco reports the dominance of black tar heroin and that it’s easy to obtain.
According to data gathered by the Sacramento Bee, hospitals in rural superior California have the highest rate of opioid overdose patients. The county averages for overdoses per 10,000 residents were the worst in Northern California. Here’s an overview of the greatest county averages in overdoses per 10k residents from 2006 to 2013:
- Plumas County: 9.1
- Lake County: 8.8
- Humboldt County: 8.4
- Shasta County: 8.1
- Tuolumne County: 7.5
Local counties faired slightly better on the scale but still had high overdose numbers:
- Nevada County: 5.1 (400 total overdoses)
- Yuba County: 4.1 (234 total overdoses)
- Sacramento County: 3.3 (3,723 total overdoses)
- Placer County: 3.3 (918 total overdoses)
Overdose Deaths In California
Shasta County hospitals helped more than 1,150 overdose patients between 2006 and 2013—more than triple the average for the entire state. The rates of overdoses were also higher than the statewide average in Sacramento County, Placer County, and El Dorado County.
In 2013, there were a total of 6,108 ER visits due to opioid overdoses—a rise from 3,517 in 2006. The number has steadily increased each year, as have the number of hospital stays. The number of overdose deaths has risen since 2006, but there was a slight drop in 2012. This may be due to people seeking help before their problem gets out of control or advances in how hospitals treat patients suffering opioid overdoses. Still, an average of 1,752 people die from opioid overdoses in California every year.
The Relationship Between Opioids And Heroin Abuse
Recently, there’s been a statewide switch from prescription opioids to heroin, with a particularly high increase among young people. Evidence suggests that as prescription drugs become less available and more difficult to obtain, drug users are shifting to heroin. For example, a downward trend in OxyContin abuse directly correlated with an increase in heroin use in a study by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Additionally, drug users will build a tolerance for opiates and prescription painkillers, making them more likely to find heroin, which is easy and cheap to purchase in most major cities in California. In some communities, heroin costs less to purchase than prescription opioids. Between 2005 and 2012, the number of known heroin users in the United States almost doubled, from 380,000 to 670,000.
Unfortunately, the risk of overdosing is increased with heroin when compared to prescription opioids. Heroin addicts can’t control the purity of the drugs they purchase, leading to heroin that may be contaminated or mixed with other, unknown drugs. Previously, heroin use was a problem almost strictly in urban areas. Now, the DEA frequently encounters heroin in small towns and suburbs in California.
Sources Of The Heroin And Opioid Problem In Northern California
California officials attribute the ongoing problem to a number of different variables that have changed over the years. An increased patient awareness of the right to pain relief, various organizations that support the use of large doses of opioids, and aggressive marketing from the pharmaceutical industry have all contributed to the issue. Some doctors prescribe opioids loosely without properly educating patients on the addictive nature of such drugs.
Easy Access To Prescription Meds Through Family
Based on a survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the majority of people (54.2%) aged 12 and older who used pain relievers non-medically say that they obtained the drugs from a friend or relative for free—whether by consent or theft. Reducing the number of unused painkillers improperly disposed of may help prevent people, especially young people, from developing a drug addiction. Keeping prescribed pain medications hidden or counting them carefully can also help.
Methods Addicts Use To Obtain Drugs
While only 18.1% of respondents said that they obtained the drugs from one doctor, the 54.2% of people who got them from friends state that 81.6% of their sources got the drugs from one doctor. Patients with addictions can gain access to prescription pain medications relatively easily across the United States. In 2001, there was a movement toward prescribing more opioids, stating that doctors largely undertreated chronic pain. This led to the Pain Treatment Act and Bill of Rights. Since then, doctors have more openly prescribed pain medications for common health complaints without fear of retaliation.
One of the methods addicts use to get their hands on large amounts of opiates and painkillers is “doctor shopping.” Doctor shopping refers to the act of going to multiple doctors and complaining of the same symptoms. A patient may go to one doctor complaining of a health issue, either real or fake, and obtain a legitimate prescription for pain relievers. Then, the same patient will go to a different doctor and do the same thing. Doctor shopping allows addicts to consistently receive a high number of opioids with real prescriptions.
Opioids are available for purchase online, without the need for a prescription, through illegal online pharmacies. Law officials do their best to locate and shut down illegal Internet pharmacies, but they still exist. Online pharmacies may not sell customers prescription-grade opioids, posing an even greater threat to users.
Easy Heroin Availability And Low Prices
Los Angeles is a known collection and distribution point for black tar heroin from Mexico—the primary form of heroin the DEA encounters in Northern California. From there, tight-knit groups transport the drugs to locations in the Central Valley. San Francisco is a significant destination for this heroin, as are San Jose, Redwood City, and East Palo Alto.
Heroin availability has quickly spread throughout California, cropping up in counties such as Sacramento, Placer, Nevada, and Yuba that didn’t previously report heroin problems. The plentiful amount of heroin results in low prices. Prices vary across communities and depending on the purity of the drugs, but heroin typically is less expensive than other addictive drugs. The average cost of 0.1 gram (a single dose) of heroin on the street is only $15.
Effects Of Heroin And Opioid Addictions
Drug addictions can lead to a plethora of negative outcomes, and the price it costs the individual abuser, the community, and the nation as a whole is high. Many drug abusers don’t realize the extensive consequences of heroin and opioid addictions and each drug’s effect on daily life.
Not only do heroin and opioids have devastating mental and physical health effects, but they also cause damages to a person’s finances, employment, quality of life, and relationships. A drug addiction can take over literally every aspect of life until the user has nothing left except his or her addiction.
Effects On The Human Body
Doctors often prescribe hydrocodone and oxycodone in drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin to treat moderate to severe pain. These medications attach to proteins (opioid receptors) found on nerve cells within the body and brain. These receptors reduce the perception of pain, producing a sense of peace. Opioids can also lead to mental confusion, drowsiness, and nausea. When someone abuses opioids, that person is at risk for serious medical complications such as coma and fatal overdose.
Heroin is well known as a drug with a high risk of overdose. Since there’s no regulation for the drug, most users have no way to know exact dosages or purity levels. Chasing the rush, or the feeling of euphoria, that typically comes with heroin leads users to increase their dosages more and more. Heroin can cloud mental function, slow breathing and heart function, and sometimes result in coma, permanent brain damage, and death.
Costs Of Addiction For The Addict And The Community
Opioid and heroin addictions can severely damage a user’s personal life. Addicts no longer express interest in achieving goals, education, working, or cultivating personal relationships. Relations with spouses, children, parents, and friends suffer—sometimes leading to damages that addicts may never be able to repair. Drugs take over every aspect of life, making it impossible for an addict to see past his or her addiction. With intervention and treatment, addicts can take their lives back. Without treatment, they risk eventually dying from overdose.
The community cost of providing healthcare, emergency services, and treatment programs for heroin and opioid addicts is remarkably high. The Centers for Disease Control ranks California as the number one state in the country for total health care costs from opioid abuse, exceeding $4,263 million in 2013. This was $2,299 million more than the number two state, Texas, which totaled only $1,964 million by comparison. The estimated total cost of opioid abuse in America is $25 billion annually.
California’s Lost Work Productivity
In 2010, illicit drugs cost California more than $15 billion in tangible costs, and though this statistic has yet to be updated, other stats suggest this number is much higher now. This includes $5.321 billion in wage work costs alone. Addicts lose productivity while using and abusing heroin and opioids, losing the desire to go into work, and eventually failing to show up at all. Illegal drug abuse also leads to incarceration, resulting in lost time at work and being terminated from jobs. Business costs also include increased employee turnover and higher insurance costs. The citizens and state economy bear 76% of all tangible costs of substance abuse in California.
Violent Crime Increases Across Counties
Violent crime and property damages are often related to street gangs in California who distribute heroin, among other drugs. Street gangs are involved in crimes such as burglary, assault, auto theft, carjacking, mugging, and home invasion. The U.S. Department of Justice states that much of the violent and property crime is in the Northern California region. This is due to trafficking, group rivalry, and drug abuse. Often, illicit drug abusers commit crimes like robberies to pay for their addictions.
The Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program strives to reduce drug trafficking, lowering the impact of illicit drugs like heroin in the ten Northern California counties within its region. Part of the Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area’s goals is to reduce drug-related crime and violence throughout the area. This program locates major drug threats in each region and implements initiatives to put an end to drug trafficking.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome In California
One of the most tragic effects of opioid and heroin abuse in Northern California is the rising number of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), or a dependency on drugs from birth. In 2015, doctors diagnosed about 1,190 California newborns with NAS—up more than 50% from 2014. NAS leads to withdrawal symptoms as the drugs leave the baby’s system, including tremors, vomiting, fever, and restlessness. Neonatal withdrawal is painful for babies, although it doesn’t typically have a long-term effect on their health.
NAS causes lengthy hospital stays compared with normal births, resulting in increased healthcare costs. The average length of stay for a baby without NAS is about 2.1 days, costing around $3,500. In contrast, a baby with NAS has to stay 17 days or longer, costing $66,700. This resulted in an estimated total of $1.5 billion for hospitals in 2012—8% of which state Medicaid programs pay. As the rate of babies born with NAS increases, so does the total cost to California.
Finding A Solution For Opioid And Heroin Addiction
Opioid and heroin have become runaway drugs in California in part due to lack of community awareness and initiative to stop drug abuse. Currently, there are a number of anti-drug campaigns and programs running throughout Northern California, including the Northern District of California Project Safe Neighborhood, a state agency that focuses on areas of high violent crime and drug activity.
Staying on top of the growing trend toward heroin in NorCal and learning what you can do to prevent drug addiction and help current addicts are important steps to take during this time of high drug activity.
Reduce Future Drug Abuse
Addictions can start at an early age, with kids snatching prescription opioids from their parents’ medicine cabinets. Early intervention programs can help put young adults back on the correct path before a drug problem gets out of control and leads to tragedy. Research intervention centers in your area, and learn how to discuss a drug problem with your teenager. Preventing drug-related death, crime, and other tolls starts with spreading awareness to the next generation.
Many Northern California counties have launched community coalitions against drugs. They bring together leaders from the medical sphere, public health department, clinics, law enforcement, and addiction treatment providers to collectively work to decrease drug use and the overprescribing of pain medications within the community. The California HealthCare Foundation recently began an initiative to support new opioid safety coalitions throughout the state. Joining your local coalition can be a fantastic way to support local efforts against addictive drugs.
Support Sufferers And Addiction Research
Research on how best to treat opioid and heroin addictions continues throughout America, leading national recovery center leaders to discover new, more effective ways to reduce withdrawal symptoms and help abusers recover for good. Donate to your local recovery or research center to help further the knowledge industry leaders have about this growing epidemic. Northern California is just one region out of thousands across the country that can benefit from more advanced treatment research.
If you know someone who has a problem with opioids or heroin, learn how you can help them on the road to recovery. Getting past a drug problem is 100% possible with the right mindset and resources. In many cases, your friend or loved one will need an intervention to recognize that he or she has a problem and that treatment is the only solution. Once the addict agrees to seek help, support his or her efforts to embrace treatment and continue on the path to a drug-free life.
Get Professional Help
Drug addictions are complex—especially since there’s a medical component to the problem. Addicts need therapists, recovery programs, support groups, and treatment centers with the right tools and resources to facilitate healing. Thousands of people who have struggled with substance abuse have successfully overcome addiction and led normal, happy lives. Recovery isn’t possible without support from friends and family. Be there for your loved one, and know when to call in a professional for help.
If you feel you’re at risk of becoming addicted to prescription medications, heroin, or any other substance yourself, seek help from a treatment center such as Northern California’s Summit Estate Recovery Center immediately. Treatment centers are no-judgment zones where you can obtain the help you need to prevent or end a drug dependency.
If you would like to learn more news about addiction and drug, read more Summit Estate blogs.