THE DRUG PROBLEM IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Federal and local officials formally recognize northern California as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). This is a national designation given to areas seen as centralized locations of drug-related activities. Local law enforcement agencies petition for the designation
and receive it if:

  • Local and state law enforcement allocate resources to aggressively combat the problem.
  • Drugs and related activities currently produce serious and harmful consequences in the
    region and may impact other areas of the nation.
  • The location requires federal resources to effectively respond to the problem.

Northern California has held its status as an HIDTA for several years. Production/ manufacturing, distribution, sales, and use all play a role in the regional drug landscape. The widespread use and trafficking of illegal drugs affects entire communities, and awareness is part of the solution. Statistics to consider:

  • 3 million people in California abuse illegal drugs
  • Drug abuse is California’s #1 premature killer (followed by car accidents, suicides, homicides
    and firearms.) 11 people per day die from drug abuse.
  • 81% of all arrests in Sacramento involve a person testing positive for illegal drug abuse.
  • 40,000 emergency room visits in California each year are drug related.
  • In 2011 the State of California spent $60 million/year housing marijuana offenders behind
    bars. On average each inmate costs $45,000/year and serves approximately a 13-month
    sentence.
  • California has the largest medical marijuana market in the U.S. totaling just over $1,300,000
    (that’s prior to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.)

Drug Trafficking and Abuse

Drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana are smuggled into the state from Mexico; however, meth and marijuana are produced or cultivated in large quantities within the state.

Methamphetamine is the primary drug threat in California, particularly in the more rural areas of Northern 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 laboratories. Clandestine laboratories can be found in any location: high density residential neighborhoods, sparsely populated rural areas, remote desert locations in the southern portions of California, and the forested areas in northern California.

Marijuana remains the most widely available and abused. In the rural counties of Northern California, marijuana is an industry worth billions; even before the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, legal medical marijuana sales were valued at $2.7 billion, and are projected to balloon to $6.4 billion by 2020 with that legalization recently passing.

Overdose Deaths

The number of Americans using heroin increased 75% in the past 5 years, and in that same time, heroin-related seizures have increased 50%.

The number of drug overdoses in the state of California hit a new high in 2014, according to new estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 4,500 Californians
died following drug poisoning in 2014, a 50 percent increase from 2002.

Heroin use is growing primarily among white, middle and upper class 18-22 year olds living in America’s suburbs and rural areas. This trend is partly the unfortunate result of another sweeping epidemic: the abuse of opioid pain relievers. 24% of high school students have abused addictive prescription drugs, a 33% increase in 5 years.

According to the CDC, “Opioids, primarily prescription pain relievers and heroin, are the main drugs associated with overdose deaths. In 2014, opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths, or 61 percent of all drug overdose deaths” nationwide.

Drug overdose deaths are most common in far Northern California. Lake and Shasta Counties have prescription opioid-related death rates that are two to three times higher than the national average.

WHO IS ADDICTION AFFECTING?

With the opioid epidemic in particular, the blue collar industry is often hardest hit, due to the higher likelihood of sustaining injuries on the job, resulting in opioid prescriptions.

The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute study published through LexisNexis Legal Newsroom found on average three out of four injured workers in the US received opioid prescriptions for pain relief following workplace injuries.

According to a study published by ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine), women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription pain relievers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men. Prescription pain reliever overdose deaths among women increased more than 400% from 1999 to 2010, compared to 237% among men.

Among adolescents and young adults, the prescribing rates for prescription opioids nearly doubled from 1994 to 2007. In 2014, 467,000 adolescents were current nonmedical users of pain reliever, with 168,000 having an addiction to prescription pain relievers.

In rural areas, particularly northern California, overdoses are triple the statewide average. Economically, the price of addiction manifests through lost productivity, increased health care costs, plus the damage of traffic accidents and injuries related to substance abuse.

Another heartbreaking byproduct is the neglect, abuse and maltreatment of children whose parents are addicted to drugs. Children of these parents are far more likely to be put in harm’s way, neglected or otherwise abused. Estimates suggest 50 to 80 percent of all child abuse and neglect cases substantiated by Child Protective Services (CPS) involve some degree of substance abuse by the child’s parents. Children living in families with addicted parents are far more likely to develop the same addiction problems, creating a vicious cycle. These families have been identified as one of the nation’s top health priorities by the Surgeon General.

In the case of dysfunctional families damaged by substance abuse, it can be considered the responsibility of anyone who cares for the future generation, to find a way to break the cycle.

HOW TO GET HELP

It’s easy to think of drugs as a modern day scourge, but in fact, mankind has been using psychoactive substances like opium, alcohol and “magic mushrooms” since prehistoric times. The earliest alcoholic drink dates back to 6,000-7,000 BC.

Drug abuse has plagued the American continent since the 1800s, when morphine, heroin and cocaine were hailed for their amazing curative properties. In the 1960s when many new and exotic drugs, such as hallucinogens, amphetamines and marijuana, became more readily available.

It was Benjamin Rush, one of the Founding Fathers of America, who challenged the accepted belief that alcohol addiction was a moral failing and pioneered the therapeutic approach to addiction. A major step for the rehabilitation movement came in 1935, when Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), with its 12-step, spiritually based approach to rehabilitation. AA expanded to include Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), and Marijuana Anonymous (MA). Twelve-step facilitation (TSA) is the most universally accepted standard for addiction recovery in America today, so it’s surprising to find that its success rate is less than exemplary.

Dr. Lance Dodes, a recently retired professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, casts a critical eye on TSA, dissecting its history, philosophy, and ultimate efficacy.

“Peer reviewed studies peg the success rate of AA somewhere between five and 10 percent,” writes Dodes. “About one of every 15 people who enter these programs is able to become and stay sober.”

This contrasts with AA’s self-reported figures: an internal survey showed 33 percent of
members had been sober for more than a decade. It is difficult to establish exact statistics
based on the inherent anonymity of the program. Regardless, supply will match demand and the
demand grew for more effective treatments.

Today, thousands of drug abuse rehabilitation programs offer addicts a variety of
treatment approaches, ranging from traditional, evidenced-based care to more experimental or
holistic services. Treatment regimens may also be personalized to include a range of therapies.
Most start with detoxification and medically managed withdrawal. Options to address the
underlying reasons for addiction range from long- and short-term residential treatment,
outpatient programs, individualized and group counseling, with holistic approaches focusing on
nutrition, exercise, goal-setting, mindfulness, and Chinese medicine.

Key Principles of Treatment

Based on scientific research since the mid-1970s, the following key principles should form the
basis of any effective treatment program:

  • Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.
  • No single treatment is right for everyone.
  • People need to have quick access to treatment.
  • Effective treatment addresses all of the patient’s needs, not just his or her drug use.
  • Staying in treatment long enough is critical.
  • Counseling and other behavioral therapies are the most commonly used forms of treatment.
    Medications are often combined with these.
  • Treatment plans must be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.
  • Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of treatment.
  • Treatment doesn’t need to be voluntary to be effective.

IN CLOSING

The “war on drugs” can sometimes seem to be a losing battle, particularly considering man’s propensity for substance abuse throughout history. Real education and awareness is a vital first step.

The evolving and expanding range of treatment options gives real hope that the scourge of drugs can be overcome. The work can’t be left to “the officials”: every individual has a role to play in having and increasing awareness, being willing to take responsibility for self and others, and vigilance against the threat of falling under the spell of an altered reality. If all else fails and one finds oneself or a loved one trapped in the clutches of addiction, take heart, and make haste to seek the needed assistance as soon as possible.

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