Los Angeles: Drug Abuse Statistics and Local Treatment Guide
Accessing Treatment or Addiction Services in Los Angeles
With millions of people living in the greater Los Angeles County, and most of those in the city of Los Angeles itself, it is important to know where to get help if you struggle with addiction or a loved one suffers from substance abuse.
There are nearly 4 million residents in the large, sprawled out Southern California city of Los Angeles. The town famous for film and television, along with consistently temperate weather, naturally draws a lot of people from everywhere in the world. While many of the people who move to Los Angeles seek opportunity and a good life, they may unfortunately run into problems with substance abuse in such a large urban area.
Alcohol: Excessive drinking covers several problematic drinking patterns, including binge drinking, heavy drinking, and alcohol use disorder (AUD). While Los Angeles County does not report the highest rates of excessive drinking in the state of California, about 18.5 percent of residents report abusing alcohol in these ways. Between 2011 and 2015, 25.2 percent of driving deaths involved alcohol in some way. In 2015, close to 48 percent of Los Angeles County residents reported drinking alcohol in the month before being surveyed; almost 22 percent reported binge drinking, and almost 7 percent reported struggling with a substance use disorder.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that, in Los Angeles County between 2012 and 2014, 22 percent of the population binge drank. While this may not seem like a large percentage, the county is so large that 22 percent of the population is 1.8 million people. About 7 percent of residents in Los Angeles County, ages 12 and older, reported an addiction to alcohol in the 2012–2014 survey year. In 2015, around 53 percent of public high school students in the county reported abusing alcohol at least once in their lives.
Although these rates of alcohol abuse affect millions of people, rates of entering treatment for alcohol use disorders declined between 2011 and 2015. In 2011, about 23 percent of treatment admissions involved addiction to alcohol, but by 2015, that declined to 17 percent. This could indicate that alcohol abuse is not as much of a problem in Los Angeles County, or it could suggest that fewer people are seeking treatment for excessive drinking. In total, 10,482 people sought help for alcohol addiction treatment in 2011, which declined to 5,103 people in 2015.
The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that alcohol was most often found in toxicology reports, as 38.5 percent of cases of death involved alcohol in 2015.
Opioids: The NSDUH for 2012–2014 reports that about 5 percent of Los Angeles County’s population, or about 393,692 people, abused painkillers for nonmedical reasons in the year before being surveyed. Among the 4,529 poison control calls involving drugs in 2015, 12.9 percent involved heroin while 15.2 percent involved prescription narcotics.
Heroin abuse increased nationally between 2011 and 2015, and Los Angeles County was not spared from this phenomenon. Treatment admissions in that six-year span where heroin was the primary drug of abuse rose from about 21 percent to about 31 percent. Among people seeking addiction treatment, there were 9,392 who reported that heroin was their main drug of abuse. The drug was reported in 12.5 percent of all overdose deaths in 2015, a slight decrease from the 16.5 percent reported in 2014.
In 2017, there were reportedly 447 opioid overdose deaths of any kind in Los Angeles County, which is about 4 deaths out of every 100,000 residents. The county reported 759 opioid overdoses, excluding heroin, admitted to the emergency room, or about 7 out of every 100,000 residents; there were 605 opioid-related hospitalizations. That same year, Los Angeles County reported almost 4.3 million opioid prescriptions, which was 390 prescriptions for every 1,000 people living in that county.
Marijuana: In 2016, California residents voted to pass legislation legalizing recreational marijuana use across the state, with each city and county having more specific control over how manufacturing and selling the drug would be handled. As of January 1, 2018, it is legal to use marijuana in California; however, the drug is still dangerous. Although it is legal like alcohol, it is addictive and harmful to mental and behavioral health. Marijuana abuse requires medical treatment.
Between 2012 and 2014, the NSDUH found that 8 percent of residents of Los Angeles County, ages 12 and older, abused marijuana at least once in the month before being surveyed. About 35 percent of public high school students in 2015 abused marijuana regularly. Unfortunately, admissions to treatment programs to overcome marijuana abuse declined in a similar pattern as alcohol admissions: from around 25 percent of people entering treatment reporting marijuana as their main substance of abuse in 2011, or 11,356 people total, to about 16 percent in 2015, or about 4,835 people.
The Los Angeles County Poison Control Center reported in 2015 that there were 4,529 total reports of drugs, with 24.2 percent of those involving marijuana. Although marijuana is rarely fatal, it is often involved in polysubstance abuse when multiple intoxicating drugs are mixed together to get high. The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s office reported that, in 2015, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the intoxicating substance in marijuana, was found in 21.9 percent of reported overdose deaths. It was the third most-commonly reported substance, after alcohol and methamphetamine; it was more often involved in overdose deaths than narcotics.
Other prescription drugs: About 10 percent of public high school students report abusing prescription drugs, from painkillers to other sedatives to stimulants, at least once in their lifetimes. In 2015, the Los Angeles County Poison Control Center reports that 23.3 percent of the 4,529 poison calls for drugs involved benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium. Although benzodiazepines are often reported in poisoning calls or autopsies of overdose deaths, they are rarely the primary drug of abuse, reported by 0.5 percent of people seeking addiction treatment. Alprazolam (Xanax) is the benzodiazepine most frequently reported to be abused.
Illicit drugs: The 2012–2014 NSDUH reported that about 4 percent, or 335,308 people, abused illicit drugs besides marijuana in Los Angeles County in the month before being surveyed. This was an increase from the previous survey years. About 2 percent, or 180,827 people, abused cocaine in the year before being surveyed.
Illicit drugs were the reported reason for treatment among 232,426 people, or about 3 percent of people. About 4.4 percent of people seeking addiction treatment in the county reported that cocaine in any form was their primary substance of abuse, which was a decrease from 5.8 percent in 2014 and 6.7 percent in 2013.
About 7 percent of surveyed public high school students in 2015 reported that they had abused inhalants at least once in their lifetimes; about 5 percent reported ever abusing cocaine; and about 5 percent also reported abusing MDMA. Among calls to Los Angeles County poison control centers, 10.5 percent involved cocaine or crack cocaine. Among overdose toxicology reports, 12.7 percent involved cocaine, which was similar to 2014 levels.
Among people who sought treatment for substance abuse in Los Angeles County between 2011 and 2015, more people reported abusing meth and needing help with that drug: about 25 percent in 2015, up from 17 percent in 2011. Meth abuse has been increasing in Southern California, including Los Angeles County, for several years. Law enforcement reports of seizing meth showed the rise too: 38.7 percent of drug seizures reported meth in 2015, up from 36.4 percent in 2014. Meth was involved in 4.8 percent of poison control calls, also up from 3.9 percent in 2014, and way up from 1.2 percent in 2008.
How Are Residents of Los Angeles Getting Help?
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Medicaid expansions, the state of California plans to expand addiction treatment to many more people who were eligible for Medi-Cal coverage in the state. Two programs — Substance Abuse Prevention Control (SAPC) and the Los Angeles Department of Social Services (DPSS) — have collaborated in Los Angeles County to provide general relief (GR) to people struggling with addiction and substance abuse problems; they created the GR Mandatory Substance Abuse Recovery Program in Los Angeles County, offering a range of services. There are also public meetings hosted by the Commission on Alcohol and Other Drugs, part of the Substance Abuse Prevention and Control initiative through the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department.
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