Almost 40 million people live in sunny California, and close to 4 million Californians reside in the “City of Angels,” or Los Angeles (LA).[1] Over a quarter of the entire state’s population lives in Los Angeles County, which includes its namesake city, as well as 87 other cities, such as Long Beach, Pasadena, Glendale, Riverside, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Redondo Beach, Beverly Hills, Compton, Malibu, Pomona, and Burbank.[2] Bordering the Pacific Ocean with 70 miles of coastline and several islands, Los Angeles County is extremely diverse, both in its residents and landscape.[3] In addition to waterfront and urban areas, LA County also contains rural areas, parts of the Mojave Desert, and part of the San Gabriel Mountains.[4]

Drugs and alcohol are commonly used and abused within LA and LA County, and there are numerous community outreach and treatment options within the area catering to substance abuse and dependency as well as mental health services.

 

Popular Drugs in LA

Drug abuse in an area is typically measured in a few ways. One is by measuring the primary drug involved in treatment admissions to substance abuse treatment programs, and another is by surveying local populations about current (past-month) and lifetime drug use patterns. The number of emergency department (ED) visits involving drugs is also measured, as are calls to poison control centers, and toxicology tests are performed on deceased individuals.

Drug trends can often be measured by changes in adverse, or negative, drug-related consequences, such as overdose or poisoning. Drug use often correlates with drug availability in a particular region, so drug seizures and analysis done by forensic crime laboratories can also help fill in the drug profile for a certain area. For Los Angeles County, the following trends were observed:

Primary drug reported in treatment admissions in 2014 for substance abuse treatment programs in Los Angeles County:

  • Heroin: 30.1 percent of admissions
  • Methamphetamine: 24.6 percent of admissions
  • Marijuana: 27 percent of admissions
  • Alcohol: 16 percent of admissions
  • Cocaine: 5.8 percent of admissions
  • Prescription opioid drugs: 4.1 percent of admissions[5]


Drugs detected in manner of death in Los Angeles County in 2012:

  • Alcohol: 1,227 fatalities
  • Methamphetamine: 557 fatalities
  • Narcotic analgesics (prescription opioids): 538 fatalities
  • Marijuana: 479 fatalities
  • Antidepressant medications: 446 fatalities
  • Anti-anxiety medications (sedative/hypnotics, like prescription benzodiazepines): 444 fatalities
  • Cocaine: 346 fatalities
  • Heroin: 219 fatalities[6]


Drugs involved in non-fatal emergency department visits per 100,000 people in LA County in 2012:

  • Methamphetamine: 20.9 (increase from 10.3 per 100,000 people in 2009)
  • Opioids (including heroin and prescription narcotics): 18.2 (up from 14.7 people per 100,000 in 2010)
  • Marijuana: 11.5 (similar to rates in 2011)
  • Cocaine: 7.2 (similar to rates in 2011)[7]


Poison control calls in 2013 in LA County involving drugs:

  • Benzodiazepines (alprazolam): 22.1 percent of calls (similar to past year rates)
  • Narcotic analgesics: 17 percent of calls (About 69.1 percent of calls were for hydrocodone products and 14.7 percent were for oxycodone products, and these numbers were similar to the previous year’s rates.)
  • Methamphetamine: 3.4 percent of all calls (up from 1.2 percent in 2008; from January to April 7th, 2014 rates were up again to 4.3 percent)
  • Marijuana: 2.6 percent of calls (up from 1.8 percent in 2008 and up again in the first part of 2014 to 3.3 percent)
  • Cocaine: 1.3 percent of all calls (similar to the previous year, up slightly to 1.4 percent in beginning of 2014)
  • Heroin: 1.1 percent of all calls (up slightly from 2012 rates and up again a little to 1.2 percent for the first part of 2014)
  • MDMA (ecstasy): 0.8 percent of calls (down from 2.4 percent in 2010)[8]


Drug seizures analyzed by a participating Los Angeles County National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) in 2014:

  1. Methamphetamine: 38.5 percent of drugs analyzed (up from 22.2 percent in 2011)
  2. Marijuana and cannabinoids: 28.2 percent of drugs analyzed (down from 36.7 percent in 2011)
  3. Cocaine: 15.4 percent of drugs analyzed (down from 20.2 percent in 2012)
  4. Heroin: 6.5 percent of drugs analyzed (up from 5.2 percent in 2012)
  5. 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or ecstasy): 1.1 percent of drugs analyzed (up from 0.7 percent in 2013)
  6. Alprazolam: 1 percent of drugs analyzed (increased from 0.7 percent in 2013)
  7. Phencyclidine (PCP): 0.7 percent of drugs analyzed (slight decrease from 0.8 percent in 2013)
  8. Hydrocodone: 0.7 percent of drugs analyzed (down from 0.8 in 2013)
  9. Oxycodone: 0.5 percent of drugs analyzed (stable with previous year’s rates)
  10. 3,4-methylenedioxyethylcathinone (Ethylone): 0.3 percent of drugs analyzed (new synthetic drug detected in 2013)[9], [10]

Based on the charts and drug information, one can deduce that heroin, methamphetamine (meth), and marijuana are substantial health concerns in Los Angeles County. An estimated 9 percent of Los Angeles County residents were classified with substance abuse or dependence on average between 2010 and 2012, which is very similar to California substance abuse and dependency rates overall.[11], [12]

Around 7 percent of Los Angeles County residents are believed to struggle with alcohol dependence or abuse while 3 percent battle drug addiction or abuse issues.[13] Approximately 21 percent of Los Angeles County residents binge drank (drank more than five drinks in two hours) on average in the past 30 days (based on 2010-2012 numbers for those over age 12), while 8 percent abused marijuana and another 3 percent used a drug other than marijuana.[14]

 

Drug Trends in LA

Heroin

Heroin abuse is a rising issue across the nation, as users may be switching from prescription opioids to the illegal opioid. The demographic of individuals abusing heroin has also seen a shift in recent years. The 18-25 age group has seen a more than 10 percent spike in the number of treatment admissions for heroin use, from 9 percent in 2008 up to 20.5 percent for the first half of 2013 in LA County.[15] Treatment admissions for heroin dependency or abuse were overwhelmingly male (72 percent), and more than half were non-Hispanic whites.[16] Most had a high school diploma or its equivalent as well, although 19 percent of heroin treatment admissions between January and June of 2013 were homeless.[17] Most abusers of heroin inject the drug (78.9 percent).[18] Heroin may be crossing the Southwest Border from Mexico and making its way onto the streets of LA.

Meth

Methamphetamine has been a rising tide in Los Angeles and across California as a whole. Illicit laboratories produce the drug from over-the-counter cold medications and stimulants, such as pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. These products have become harder to get due to the Combat Methamphetamine Act (CMEA) of 2005, which regulated the sale of these products, making it harder to buy them in bulk and impacting super labs’ ability to produce meth.[19]

Local laboratories may have been affected by the CMEA and law enforcement actions; however, Mexican drug cartels and drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) were more than happy to pick up the slack. Meth remains the number one drug seized and analyzed by NFLIS in Los Angeles County.[20] One out of every three drugs analyzed in the first six months of 2013 in LA County contained meth.[21]

Meth is most commonly smoked (77.2 percent of primary meth treatment admissions smoke the drug), and it is the only drug where almost half of the treatment admissions are female.[22] Most people who were admitted to treatment for meth abuse in 2013 were Hispanic, half had a high school diploma or GED, and a quarter of admissions were homeless.[23]

Meth was the number one illicit drug named in poison control cases in 2012.[24] Meth seems to be easily accessible in Los Angeles and the number one drug involved in violent, drug, and property crimes in the region.[25]

Marijuana

Marijuana is also locally cultivated and produced, in part due to illicit growers being able to live in the shadows of legal medicinal marijuana grow productions. That being said, Mexican DTOs are likely moving marijuana into the area as well. The seizure of indoor and outdoor marijuana plants from illegal growing operations in 2010 increased 72 percent in the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) from the previous year.[26]

This is the one drug where users are commonly underage, and more than half of all treatment admissions for marijuana abuse or dependence are minors (under age 18) and less than 5 percent are gainfully employed within Los Angeles County.[27]

Cocaine

LA and its surrounding areas may also be primary regions for cocaine smuggling into the US via car, truck, boat, or plane at the seaport, airport, or on the highways.[28] Mexican DTOs may move cocaine into the area and then disburse it into the rest of the country and even up north into Canada.[29] Cocaine abuse in LA does seem to be declining in recent years, however.[30]

 

LA County Substance Abuse Programs

There are many different forms of substance abuse and dependency treatment, and they are usually considered either private or public. Private programs may accept insurance plans, be more comprehensive, and cater to specific individual needs more readily, while public programs may be run by the state or local county with government funding and grants. Public substance abuse treatment programs in Los Angeles County fall into the following categories: prevention, treatment services, and recovery services.[31]

Prevention programs are generally community-based. They offer education and resources on the dangers of substance abuse. Many of these focus on youth substance abuse education and prevention. There are 14 public community-based youth programs serving LA County adolescents between ages 12 and 17 (and sometimes up to age 21) in the Substance Abuse and Prevention Control (SAPC)’s Youth System of Services, which includes both residential and outpatient programs.

An estimated 60 percent of Los Angeles County public high school students reported drinking alcohol in their lifetime, while almost 40 percent admitted to using marijuana; 11 percent reported lifetime prescription opioid, inhalant, or MDMA abuse; and 7 percent of high school students had abused cocaine at least once by 2013.[32] This is problematic as abusing mind-altering substances prior to the complete formation of the brain may cause irreversible damage and increase the chances for becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol in the future. The Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA) is a program designed to help youth who are in the probation system receive substance abuse treatment, with a goal to prevent further involvement with the criminal justice system for participants.[33] Prevention programs are often found in schools and afterschool programs around the area as well.

Treatment and recovery services may include detox, counseling, therapy, life skills training, group and individual sessions, education, parenting classes, family services, relapse prevention, nutrition counseling, support groups, community outreach programs, childcare, and more. These programs may be offered in a residential or outpatient setting, depending on what may best suit the individual seeking treatment. Residential programs are generally considered more comprehensive and may provide the highest level of care. Individuals may move between treatment levels as their needs change during recovery. The Substance Abuse and Prevention and Control (SAPC) division of the LA County Department of Public Health has a comprehensive website detailing local substance abuse treatment information.[34]

 

Additional Behavioral Health Information

There are several adult and family criminal justice programs in Los Angeles County. The goals of these programs are to ensure that individuals receive substance abuse and mental health treatment as a means of helping to reduce future criminal activity and to get affected individuals the treatment they need instead of jail time or other punitive measures. Examples include:

  • Family Dependency Drug Court Program: This program provides a minimum of 12 months of substance abuse treatment for substance-abusing parents and attempts to reunify families when possible.
  • Los Angeles County Dependency Court and Drug Courts: There are 12 adult drug courts in LA County that work closely with community-based substance abuse treatment providers to help arrestees get proper treatment.
  • Providing Safe and Stable Families – Time-Limited Family Reunification (PSSF-TLFR): Parents who have had children removed due to substance abuse for fewer than 15 months may be able to speed up the reunification process if they enter substance abuse treatment.
  • Sentenced Offender Drug Court (SODC): This program is for nonviolent felony offenders and offers addiction treatment as an alternative to prison time.
  • Co-Occurring Disorders Court (CODC): This program provides criminal defendants who have both a mental health disorder and substance abuse disorder with 18 months of integrated treatment for both disorders.[35]


Another public program in Los Angeles County is CalWORKS, which strives to help low-income individuals on public assistance who are battling substance abuse or mental health issues get treatment, and move towards gainful employment and self-sufficiency.[36]

Los Angeles has a poverty rate of 17.3 percent, and 4.5 percent of its adults struggle with serious mental illness.[37] In 2010, over 1 million Californians were estimated to live with a serious mental illness.[38] The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LAC DMC) has treatment information on their website as well as a 24/7 helpline individuals can call.[39] The public health system may only be reaching just over 30 percent of California residents who need treatment.[40] Private programs may be more comprehensive and better suited to handle unique and individual circumstances and substance abuse and/or mental health treatment needs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides an up-to-date list of behavioral health services around the country with the ability to click on a specific area and even enter an address in order to find local services.[41]

 
[1] (Sept. 2015). “Los Angeles (city) QuickFacts from the U.S. Census Bureau.” U.S. Census Bureau. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[2] Brecht, M. Ph.D. (June 2014). “Patterns and Trends in Drug Abuse in Los Angeles County, California:  2013.” Community Epidemiology Work Group. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] (Aug. 2015). “National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Sentinel Community Site Profile 2015:  Los Angeles County.” NDEWS Coordinating Center. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[6] (2012). “Los Angeles County Coroner 2012 Annual Report.” County of Los Angeles. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[7] Brecht, M. Ph.D. (June 2014). “Patterns and Trends in Drug Abuse in Los Angeles County, California:  2013.” Community Epidemiology Work Group. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[8] Ibid.

[9] (Aug. 2015). “National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Sentinel Community Site Profile 2015:  Los Angeles County.” NDEWS Coordinating Center. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[10] Brecht, M. Ph.D. (June 2014). “Patterns and Trends in Drug Abuse in Los Angeles County, California:  2013.” Community Epidemiology Work Group. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[11] (Aug. 2015). “National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Sentinel Community Site Profile 2015:  Los Angeles County.” NDEWS Coordinating Center. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[12] (2015). “Behavioral Health Barometer, California 2014.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Accessed September 28, 2015.

[13] (Aug. 2015). “National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Sentinel Community Site Profile 2015:  Los Angeles County.” NDEWS Coordinating Center. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Brecht, M. Ph.D. (June 2014). “Patterns and Trends in Drug Abuse in Los Angeles County, California:  2013.” Community Epidemiology Work Group. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] ibid.

[19] (n.d.). “CMEA (Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005).” U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Office of Diversion Control. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[20] (Feb. 2014). “Drug Abuse Patterns and Trends in Los Angeles County- Update:  January 2014.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Accessed September 28, 2015.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Brecht, M. Ph.D. (June 2014). “Patterns and Trends in Drug Abuse in Los Angeles County, California:  2013.” Community Epidemiology Work Group. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] (Sept. 2011). “Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Drug Market Analysis 2011.” U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC). Accessed September 29, 2015.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Brecht, M. Ph.D. (June 2014). “Patterns and Trends in Drug Abuse in Los Angeles County, California:  2013.” Community Epidemiology Work Group. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[28] (Sept. 2011). “Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Drug Market Analysis 2011.” U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC). Accessed September 29, 2015.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Brecht, M. Ph.D. (June 2014). “Patterns and Trends in Drug Abuse in Los Angeles County, California:  2013.” Community Epidemiology Work Group. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[31] (n.d.) “Substance Abuse Prevention and Control.” County of Los Angeles Public Health. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[32] (Aug. 2015). “National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Sentinel Community Site Profile 2015:  Los Angeles County.” NDEWS Coordinating Center. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[33] (n.d.) “Substance Abuse Prevention and Control.” County of Los Angeles Public Health. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[34] (n.d.) “Substance Abuse Prevention and Control.” County of Los Angeles Public Health. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[35] (n.d.) “Substance Abuse Prevention and Control.” County of Los Angeles Public Health. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[36] Ibid.

[37] (July 2013). “Mapping the Gaps. Mental Health in California.” California Health Care Foundation (CHCF). Accessed September 29, 2015.

[38] (n.d.). “State Statistics: California.” NAMI State Advocacy 2010. Accessed September 29, 2015.

[39] (n.d.). “LAC DMC.” Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LAC DMC). Accessed September 29, 2015.

[40] Ibid.

[41] (n.d.). “Behavioral Health Treatment Locator.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Accessed September 29, 2015.