After a brief hiatus during which it was replaced in the spotlight by prescription painkillers, heroin use is once more on the rise, ironically, as a more readily available and less expensive substitute for those prescription painkillers. It’s all in the family: the opioid family, that is. The drug problem in California is a case in point.
Heroin-related deaths jumped 39 percent from 2012 to 2013, and the longer-term trends are equally disturbing: from 2002 to 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, researchers have found that prior to the 1980s, whites and nonwhites were equally represented among first-time heroin users. But that’s changed as heroin use has expanded across other parts of the country. Now, nearly 90 percent of the people who tried heroin for the first time in the past decade were white. And a growing number are middle-class or wealthy. It’s easy to see how this profile applies to the drug problem in California.
In a July report, the CDC found “significant increases in heroin use were found in groups with historically low rates of heroin use, including women and people with private insurance and higher incomes. The gaps between men and women, low and higher incomes, and people with Medicaid and private insurance have narrowed in the past decade.”
California has been especially hard hit by the growing trend of opiate-addiction fueled heroin usage. As opioid abuse has increased, stricter laws have been implemented to make it harder for addicts to obtain these drugs. As a result, heroin has increased in popularity: it is more cheaply and readily available on the streets.
During a standard stop for a speeding infraction recently, the California Highway Patrol pulled over a rig that was found to contain 100 kilograms of “pharmaceutical grade” heroin.
The size of the California highway bust highlights how the Golden State is ground zero for America’s accelerating opiate epidemic that was launched by the wide availability of prescription hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine medication. The drug problem in Northern California is especially prevalent.
Death from opiate use is now the number three largest cause of accidental death in the United States, following motor vehicle accidents and poisoning. In 2014, more than 28,000 people died from opioid overdose, with 14,000 of those deaths involving prescription opioids.
The drug problem in California is especially manifest in those areas with the highest opioid overdose rates: Lake and Shasta Counties have prescription opioid-related death rates that are two to three times higher than the national average. Urban counties with higher than state average rates include San Francisco, Orange, and San Diego. The drug problem in Northern CA has reached epidemic proportions.
A natural progression from the epidemic misuse of opiate prescription medication is the spiraling increase in addiction and overdoses from heroin, which is less expensive and widely available as a street drug. Heroin deaths have increased steadily by 67 percent since 2006.
Despite the opiate epidemic, California felony arrests for Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs were reduced by 68.2 percent and 73.6 percent respectively in California between 2014 and 2015, according to data released by the Attorney General’s office.
Officials in Mexico and the United States say Mexico’s opium production rose an estimated 50 percent in 2014, thanks in part to “a voracious American appetite” for heroin. It is all part of a global surge. Overall global poppy cultivation hit its highest level since the 1930s, the United Nations report found, suggesting that today’s heroin epidemic will continue.