Irvine: Drug Abuse Statistics and Local Treatment Guide

Where to Find Help in Irvine and Orange County, California

If you struggle with substance abuse and you live in Irvine, there are several ways to find help in Orange County.

Substance Abuse in Irvine

Irvine, California, was founded in 1971, making it one of the younger cities in the large state of California. It is also located in Orange County, home to numerous cities and millions of people. Irvine has been named the number one best-run city in America, the safest city with the lowest crime, the best city for active retirement, the third best city for veterans, and the fifth best city for young families. It has also been recognized as one of the most “livable” cities in America.

Although Irvine has been recognized and awarded several times in its 45-year history, the city still struggles with alcohol and drug abuse among its residents. Many other places in Orange County also struggle with these issues, so people living in Irvine may be at greater risk of coming in contact with someone who suffers an addiction, may be pressured into abusing substances at a party or other social gathering, or may come into contact with social groups that treat substance abuse as acceptable.

Further Reading

heroin needle and drugs

The Most Abused Drugs in Orange County

Alcohol and drug abuse are among the top nine leading contributors to behavioral issues in the United States, which can also lead to physical and mental health problems. About half of adults in Orange County who need help overcoming drug and alcohol abuse get the treatment they need, although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded access to mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Unfortunately, the hospitalization rates due to drug and alcohol abuse are higher in Orange County compared to the rest of California, although most mental health and substance abuse measurements for the county are better than the state’s average. The rate of toxicity or overdose admissions to the emergency room has steadily increased in Orange County, about 141 percent overall between 2005 and 2015.

Alcohol Abuse

Measurements of excessive drinking combine statistics for binge drinking, heavy drinking, and alcohol use disorder (AUD) as indicators of larger potential health problems. In Orange County, the prevalence of excessive drinking is 17.7 percent, which is lower than many places, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties. About 27.4 percent of motor vehicle deaths involved alcohol in some way.

Statistical reports from 2004 to 2010 show that there are fewer heavy drinkers in Orange County than in California overall — 15.6 percent compared to 16.6 percent, respectively — which is the same percentage that the Irvine metro area reported. There are fewer alcohol retailers in Irvine, with 57.7 per 100,000 residents reported. Lower exposure to substances, including alcohol, reduces the risk that someone may develop a substance abuse problem.

A 2012 survey found that about 47 percent of Orange County’s adults reported drinking alcohol at least once in the past month. Of these, 40 percent drank 1 or 2 days in the month; 18 percent drank 3 or four 4 in the month; 13 percent drank 5 to 7 days; another 13 percent drank 8 to 14 days; 11 percent drank 15 to 24 days; 2 percent drank 25 to 29 days; and 3 percent reported drinking every day in the month.

The California Healthy Kids Survey in 2011 to 2013 found that 28.6 percent, or more than one in four, 11th grade students in Orange County reported drinking alcohol at least once in the past 30 days. In some school districts, alcohol abuse is even higher than that. In a survey of motor vehicle accidents between 2010 and 2014, 28.8 percent in Orange County involved alcohol; there were 2,877 alcohol or other drug-related collisions in the county.

Opioid Abuse

Although Orange County is not as large as many other counties in Southern California, it has one of the higher rates of opioid abuse and overdose. There were about 1.5 million prescriptions for opioid narcotics dispensed in the county in 2017; 197 people were hospitalized due to an opioid overdose, from either prescription narcotics, heroin, or fentanyl; 294 people were admitted to the emergency room due to an opioid overdose other than heroin; and 255 people died in the county in 2017. Overall, 81 percent of overdose deaths from opioids were accidental; 55 percent were due to prescription painkillers.

Prescription opioid painkillers are not the only opioid addiction problem, but many people begin abusing these drugs before they move on to heroin. The top five most prescribed opioid medications in Orange County include:

man addicted to drugs

In 2014, Orange County reported 9.1 opioid-involved emergency room admissions per 100,000 residents, which was a 127 percent increase since 2006. Opioid overdose deaths in the county was about 7.6 out of every 100,000 residents that year, a 39 percent increase since 2006. The rate was also higher than California’s overdose death rate of 4.9 out of every 100,000 residents. The California Healthy Kids Survey found that one in six 11th graders in Orange County (about 17.1 percent of students) abused opioids and other prescription drugs for any nonmedical reason at least once in their lives.

Between 2011 and 2015, there were 7,457 opioid overdose or abuse cases treated across Orange County’s emergency rooms; 7 out of every 10 overdose deaths in the county in that five-year period reportedly involved opioid drugs. The rate of admissions to ERs in Orange County more than doubled since 2005. During that time, largely because of prescription drugs, people between the ages of 45 and 54 were at the highest risk of overdose death.

In Irvine between 2011 and 2015, there were 323 total overdose deaths involving opioids. This number rose consistently each year, from 47 in 2011 to 74 in 2015.

Abuse of Other Prescription Drugs

While prescription opioid painkillers continue to present the greatest problem among all prescription drugs, other sedatives and stimulants are abused by too many people. In 2012, about 6 percent of Orange County’s adult population, which represents about 145,000 people, reported misusing any prescription drug at least once in their lives.

Marijuana Abuse

California legalized recreational marijuana use in 2016, and it was officially implemented in January 2018; however, marijuana is still an addictive and dangerous drug, especially for adolescents and young adults who are more likely to abuse the substance than older demographics. The California Healthy Kids Survey found that one in five 11th grade students in Orange County abused marijuana at least once in the past month, and that survey measured marijuana indicators before the drug was legalized in the state.

A 2012 survey, well before the drug was legalized in California, reported that 33 percent of adults in Orange County, or 758,000 people, abused the drug once in their lives; 8 percent reported abusing marijuana at least once in the past year; and 4.5 percent reported abusing it at least once in the past month.

Illicit Drug Abuse

A 2012 survey found that 34 percent of Orange County adults reported abusing at least one (out of six) illicit drugs at least once in their lives; this is 773,000 people. About 5 percent, or 105,000 people, reported abusing an illicit drug in the past month before being surveyed. That year, an estimated 13 percent (301,000 people) residing in Orange County reported abusing cocaine in their lifetimes; 1 percent (20,500 people) reported abusing cocaine in the past year; and about 0.5 percent (7,300 adults) reportedly abused cocaine in the past month.

Past-month abuse of illicit drugs in the 2012 survey found that Orange County residents abused these dangerous substances at lower rates compared to other people living in California: 5 percent compared to California’s 9 percent.

community joining hands

What Is Orange County Doing to Help Irvine Residents?  

In 2017, the Orange County Board of Supervisors accepted a grant to dispense more naloxone, a drug that temporarily stops opioid overdoses, giving emergency medical responders more time to treat people suffering from an overdose. With the rise of fentanyl being found more often in heroin in all states across the U.S., access to naloxone is increasingly important. Fentanyl is about 80 times stronger than heroin, so overdose comes on very quickly.

There are many treatment options for those seeking help. Irvine is a peaceful city, but if you struggle with substance abuse, you may not enjoy all the area has to offer. Fortunately, Orange County has several initiatives to help.

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Substance Abuse. Orange County Social Services Agency.

211OC Local Resources. Orange County’s Healthier Together.

Campus Social Worker. University of California, Irvine (UCI) Wellness, Health, & Counseling Services.

Irvine Timeline, 1971-2016. City of Irvine, California.

Orange County Health Improvement Plan, 2017-2019. (January 2017). Orange County’s Healthier Together.

2017 Opioid Overdose & Death in Orange County. (2017). Orange County Health Care Agency & Sheriff-Coroner.

Irvine, CA.

Community Health Needs Assessment, 2013. (2013). Kaiser Foundation Hospital – IRVINE.

Alcohol and Other Drug Use Prevalence: 2012 Survey of Orange County Adults. Orange County Health Care Agency.

Orange County Numbers at a Glance. California Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard, California Department of Public Health.