A Surge in Heroin Addiction in Orange County, CA Sounds Alarm
Orange County, California is a beautiful metropolitan suburban enclave in Southern California. The OC, as it is affectionately referred to, has always enjoyed a positive reputation—after all, it is the home of Disneyland, the happiest place on earth—featuring beautiful coastal communities and rolling foothills. Affluence abounds in Orange County, and conservative values still generally prevail. Parents still take the family to church on Sundays and about 70,000 OC kids attend pricey private schools. Why then are heroin-related overdoses and deaths spiking in Orange County?
According to data from the Orange County Coroner’s office, fatal overdoses spiked to about 400 in 2015, a six percent jump from 2014, and a 63% increase since 2005. The majority of these overdose deaths, 286, involved opioids such as heroin, Percocet, Vicodin, and OxyContin.
The epidemic is not just sweeping Orange County, but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is claiming 78 lives a day across the United States. In California, out of its 58 counties Orange County has the 17th highest rate of drug and heroin overdoses statewide.
Factors that May Contribute to the Rising Heroin Addiction in Orange County
While heroin was once considered the drug of the lower socioeconomic strata, afflicting poor minorities primarily, it is now permeating the population across income, race, gender, or geographic location. Even small rural communities have seen an enormous impact of heroin on their youth. The term “suburban junkies” has been coined to refer to the dramatic shift from urban-based addicts to those who reside in the toney communities like Orange County.
Some of the factors that may be contributing to the dramatic increase of heroin addiction in Orange County include:
In many cases of opioid addiction and death, heroin was not the first drug of choice. In this affluent county, teens and young adults have been recreationally abusing prescription opioids, paying upwards of $30 per pill, in their quest to achieve a high. What often transpires is the desire to continue to relive that high, and through ready availability of cash or accessing the pills in parents’ medicine cabinets, they eventually develop a tolerance and become dependent on the drugs.
However, at some point in time, the cost becomes prohibitive and the young person, mostly white males, who is now addicted seeks a cheaper and more readily available substitute in heroin. Because today’s heroin is more pure, and has also been cut with fentanyl in many cases, accidental overdose can occur. Heroin addiction in Orange County is becoming rising problems in many affluent communities across the region.
The Drug Trade Contributing to Heroin Addiction in Orange county
The close proximity of Orange County to the Mexican border, where the majority of the heroin being distributed across the country comes in, keeps the costs down for local users. Also, the type of heroin called black tar, coming in from Xalisco, Mexico, is extremely potent.
A trend has developed where fentanyl is being sold under the guise of heroin or in fentanyl-laced heroin, unbeknownst to users, contributing to many accidental overdose deaths. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is about 50 times more potent than heroin. Drug cartels in Mexico have been ramping up production of this deadly drug in recent years.
Prescription Pain Medications
Over-prescribing of pain medications like OxyContin has also been identified as a precursor to someone developing a heroin habit. Recent legal action against certain doctors, referred to as “pill mills,” has sent a powerful message to the medical community about over-prescribing these dangerous and addictive medications. Even though legitimately prescribed for pain following injury or surgery, it is now becoming apparent how addictive these drugs are and a return to former methods of pain management are evolving.
Dr. Padma Gulur, a pain specialist at U.C. Irvine, has established a coalition of hospitals, health insurance companies, law enforcement agencies, and public health agencies to collect drug overdose data and then encourage physicians to scale back on prescribing opioids. In an interview this year with KNBC news correspondent Vikki Vargas, Gulur stated, “We prescribe these medications, but don’t have adequate safeguards in place to ensure that excess medications don’t flood our community.”
Naloxone, known under the brand name of Narcan, is an antidote to heroin overdose that can be sprayed into the nose or injected into arm or leg muscles to stimulate breathing that has stopped during an overdose. Naloxone is becoming more readily accessible to law enforcement, first responders, and hospitals potentially saving many lives that would otherwise have been lost to a heroin or opioid overdose.
“Naloxone saves lives; it just does,” Dr. Gulur stated. “Looking at the data from the coroner’s office, these are preventable deaths.”
The cost of naloxone is skyrocketing, however, creating difficulty for communities to provide this important life-saving intervention harder to finance. Nevertheless, in the past few years more than 30 states have established policies designed to increase access to naloxone. In 2014, the U.S. Attorney General urged law enforcement agencies nationwide to train personnel to administer naloxone. Naloxone is not the answer to the heroin epidemic, but until more education and awareness is available regarding the dangers of opioids, it will save lives.
Ranch Creek Recovery Treats Heroin Addiction
Because of its proximity to Orange County, California, Ranch Creek Recovery is an excellent option for receiving quality treatment for a heroin or prescription pain medication dependency. Ranch Creek Recovery offers a holistic inpatient treatment program that is tailored to the individual and encompasses all aspects of well-being. Located in the serene hills of Temecula, Ranch Creek Recovery provides just enough distance from Orange County to allow for treatment without the potential triggers or temptations of home. Call us for more information about our innovative treatment program at