The City of Villa Park is in the center of Orange County, California in the United States. It has an area of 2.1 square miles and a population of 6,500. With the exception of one shopping center, the city is zoned for single-family residences, most of which are on half-acre lots. The shopping center includes a grocery store, banks, a pharmacy with a postal substation, a variety of specialty shops and offices, the City Hall and community room, and a branch of the Orange County Public Library.

According to the city council, “Villa Park is Orange County’s smallest city, but one of its friendliest and most welcoming places to live. Here, you will find people with a wide range of backgrounds, interests, and occupations; quiet neighborhoods and attractive residential streets; the lowest crime rate in the County; and four schools within walking distance.”

Due to Villa Park’s central location and proximity to the freeway system, the wealth of cultural, social, recreational, business and philanthropic activities that Orange County offers are all within easy access.

This “hidden jewel” was incorporated in 1962, but the history of the area goes back to around 1860. It was known in its early days as Mountain View. Villa Park came into usage when a post office was built since there was already a city of Mountain View in northern California.

Villa Park was, for many years, an agricultural area producing, in turn, grapes, walnuts, apricots, and finally, citrus, which was the major crop for about 60 years and is most closely associated with its development. It was the citrus ranchers and their families who molded Villa Park into a vital community and organized its incorporation to save it from what they felt were unwelcome zoning practices from the eastward-moving city of Orange.

These ranchers established the Serrano Water District, which still provides Villa Park’s water. They also founded the Villa Park Orchard’s Association, still a thriving business in Orange, although the packing house that was the dominant Villa Park landmark for many years, located west of the shopping center, was torn down in 1983. The citrus groves have yielded to the developers but these pioneers have left an enduring legacy in the city’s half-acre zoning, which has been instrumental in shaping the city’s character.

Orange County’s Rising Risk

Residents of this part of the world enjoy a nearly perfect climate in which parks and beaches provide abundant opportunities for outdoor activities. Orange County is the home of exciting professional sports, a wide range of tourist attractions including Disneyworld and Knott’s Berry Farm, as well as quality venues for visual and performing arts. Orange County boasts a thriving business economy and a well-educated work force.

Despite these factors, which would seemingly contribute to an ideal lifestyle, this area has extensive challenges with drug abuse. A 2016 article in the Orange County Register headlined the fact that the number of people dying of drug overdoses in Orange County had soared to the highest levels in at least a decade.

More than two-thirds of these involved opioids, a class of drug that includes heroin and prescription painkillers such as Percocet, OxyContin, and Vicodin. This continues a terrifying trend: a 2014 report from the county Health Care Agency found that from 2011 to 2013, 70 percent of all drug and alcohol overdose deaths investigated by the coroner involved opioids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the spike in opioid abuse and death a national epidemic, claiming 78 lives daily in the U.S.

A report by the OC Health Care Agency might surprise those who assume that deaths from overdoses usually affect young, poor and minority populations. According to the report’s analysis of hospital and coroner records, those most likely to die from an overdose in Orange County are white males between the ages of 45 and 64.

“We have a community at risk,” said Dr. Padma Gulur, a pain specialist at UC Irvine Health, who is leading a new coalition of health insurance companies, law enforcement agencies, hospitals and public health agencies collecting information and encouraging physicians to scale back the amount of opioids they prescribe and to know the signs of addiction. It’s also coming up with ways to expand access to naloxone.

While overdoses of prescription drugs are a growing problem, the drug that places most people at risk of death continues to be alcohol. Cirrhosis of the liver is a leading cause of death from substance abuse. Regardless of income or ethnicity, alcohol is the drug of choice for men over the age of 50.

Fortunately, this part of the world boasts several excellent rehabilitation facilities that can help those who are suffering to overcome their addiction and seek a brighter future, free of drugs and their debilitating and even deadly effects.

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