Solvang is a city of just over five thousand residents in Santa Barbara County, California, located in the Santa Ynez Valley. Solvang, which is Danish for “sunny field,” was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who wished to establish a Danish colony far from the Midwestern winters. The city was incorporated on May 1, 1985.

Initially, most of Solvang’s buildings were built in the same style as others in the area. The Lutheran church was the first to be based on Danish architecture and bears a close relationship to Danish equivalents. After World War II, interest grew in the concept of a “Danish Village.” Buildings in the half-timbered style of Danish rural houses proliferated, creating a new tourist attraction; today, Solvang has over a million visitors per year.

Tourists were initially attracted to Solvang by the visit of Denmark’s Prince Frederik in 1939.  But it was in 1947, following a feature article in the Saturday Evening Post, that they began to flock to the town. Solvang is home to a number of bakeries, restaurants, and merchants offering a taste of Denmark in California. The architecture of many of the façades and buildings reflects traditional Danish style, and two famous Danish landmarks are represented in replica: the famous Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen, and the bust of famed Danish fable writer Hans Christian Andersen. The town center boasts a replica of Copenhagen’s Round Tower or Rundetårn, which was completed in 1991. In addition to the statues and half-timbered houses, today’s visitors also appreciate the Danish windmills, the Danish rural church, and the Round Tower as well as Danish music and folk dancing. A replica of a 19th-century Danish streetcar, the horse-drawn Hønen (“the hen”), takes visitors on sightseeing tours around downtown Solvang.

Since 1936, Solvang has celebrated Danish folk traditions at its annual “Danish Days” event in September. Led by a “Danish Maid,” the program consists of æbleskiver eating competitions, music, dancing, and processions through the downtown area with floats, marching groups, marching bands, folk dancers, and singers. A Danish Days breakfast on Sunday morning features medisterpølser, a spiced pork sausage recipe of Danish origins, and æbleskiver.

One of Solvang’s attractions is the 700-seat open-air Festival Theater, which was built in 1974 following the success of a makeshift performance of Hamlet in 1971 in the town park.

Solvang is a popular destination for bicyclists and has been featured as a race location on the Tour of California. The surrounding countryside and variable terrain provide a variety of conditions useful for training.

Solvang celebrated its centennial in 2011.

Drugs Casting a Cloud

Even in this quaint and cozy setting, the opioid epidemic is making itself felt, as witnessed in recent overdose deaths in Santa Barbara County and in Solvang itself. Officials say Santa Barbara County is part of a national trend in opioid addiction and accidental overdose deaths.

“Accidental overdose deaths now exceed automobile accident deaths across the country, and in our county,” according to ADMHS Alcohol and Drug Prevention Division data.

Officials say the abuse of prescription painkillers — Vicodin, Percodan/set, Oxycontin, Opana — and heroin have increased by 30 percent over the past five years in Santa Barbara.

Heroin and prescription painkillers are considered the “drugs of choice” for more than 25 percent of new admissions into county drug treatment programs, officials say.

“We are deeply saddened by every overdose — death or not — and every case of opioid addiction,” an official county statement said. “The public needs to know that medications as common as Vicodin have serious addictive potential, that heroin abuse is now a middle-class phenomenon, and that accidental overdose is a very real possibility for anyone abusing these narcotics.

“Finally, people need to understand that most accidental overdose deaths do not occur with an opioid alone, but opioids in combination with other drugs such as alcohol, or sedatives such as Xanax or Klonopin.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), opiate use disorder involves:

Strong desire to use opioids.

Inability to control or reduce use.

Trouble meeting social or work obligations.

Having legal problems due to drug use.

Spending large amounts of time to obtain opiates.

Development of tolerance (meaning the need to use larger amounts over time.)

Having withdrawal symptoms after stopping or reducing use (such as depressed mood, stomach upset, insomnia, and muscle aches.)

Signs and symptoms of opioid misuse include analgesia (feeling no pain); sedation; euphoria (feeling high); respiratory depression (shallow or slow breathing); small pupils; nausea, vomiting; itching or flushed skin; constipation; slurred speech; confusion or poor judgment.

Observation of these signs and symptoms in oneself or others is the first step towards averting what could easily develop into a deadly course. Seeking out help could literally save a life. There are several reputable centers servicing Solvang, offering a variety of methods and approaches.

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