Orange County, California, is home to over 3 million people, making it the third most populous county in the state. Orange County is made up of numerous cities including, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach, Mission Viejo, Dana Point, Lake Forest, and more. Orange County is obviously made up of picturesque cities and contains beautiful beaches, homes, and people. However, Orange County has a darker side, which many are unaware of.

Orange County residents may be especially vulnerable to drug abuse and addiction due to the county’s proximity to Mexico, making many substances more readily available.

Opioid Use

In the past three years, Orange County has seen a tremendous spike in opioid use amongst its residents. Opioids (which include opiate prescription pills and heroin) have become the drug of choice for many, and devastatingly, the cause of death for many.

Most Americans have a certain image in mind when it comes to drug addicts. This image frequently involves criminal activity on dark street corners in the “bad” part of town. Essentially, the assumption is often made that drug abuse is confined to the lower-class citizens. But, this notion is quickly becoming dispelled with the popularization of opioids. Opioids are considered the drug for “anyone”; they do not discriminate. Doctors, teachers, businessmen, and stay-at-home moms – they are all just as susceptible to opioid abuse. This is especially true when getting high is a simple as opening one’s mouth and swallowing a pill.

Obviously, addicts of all ages can be found abusing opioids in Orange County. Yet, according to recent statistics, opioid addiction is highest amongst the younger population. Perhaps this is related to research findings, which show the “sweet spot” for the onset of drug experimentation falls between the ages of 12 and 15. Those who start abusing prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin or Vicodin, almost always move on to heroin, due it being far less expensive than the aforementioned pills.

Whether it is a pill or heroin, opioids are considered the most dangerous drugs on the market and are the highest-ranking in terms of causing accidental overdoses and deaths. Sadly, the high concentration of opioid users in Orange County continues to rise.

If you know someone who might be dealing with an opioid addiction, look out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Irritability and depression
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli
  • Hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal
  • Physical agitation
  • Increased energy
  • Increased anxiety

Methamphetamine Use

While prescription pain pill and heroin use currently dominate the discussions on the drug epidemic in Orange County, there are certainly other drugs that are cause for concern. Similar to opioids, in recent years, methamphetamines have experienced a surge in distribution and abuse throughout southern California. In fact, between the years of 2009 and 2014, a number of methamphetamines passed through the California-Mexico border has quadrupled.

The increase in methamphetamine use seems to follow a similar path as that of heroin. Cocaine users are turning to meth more and more in recent years, as the price of continues to cocaine rise. Methamphetamine is a cheaper way for people to achieve the same kind of “high” as cocaine would provide.

Unfortunately, many people do not understand the weight of the problem with meth in Orange County. And with it becoming easier and easier for residents to get their hands on, the methamphetamine problem is growing just like the use of opioids.

If you know someone who might be dealing with an opioid addiction, look out for the following signs and symptoms:

♣ Increased activity and movement
♣ Surge in energy
♣ Rapid/irregular heartbeat
♣ Increased rate of speech
♣ Skin picking
♣ Tooth decay
♣ Hair loss

Marijuana Use

The legalization of medical marijuana in various places throughout the United States has certainly contributed to the assumption that marijuana is not a strong, serious, or addictive drug. Whether or not marijuana is truly a “gateway” drug, it can still cause some significant effects, both physically and psychologically. This is especially true in younger people, in that a person’s brain is not fully developed until they reach their mid-twenties.

Marijuana, just like any other drug, is an addictive substance. And because Orange County residents are reaching for it in droves, whether legally or illegally, it is not to be left out of the discussion.

If you know someone who might be dealing with an opioid addiction, look out for the following signs and symptoms:

♣ Impaired memory
♣ Slowed reflexes
♣ Drowsiness
♣ Delayed motor skills
♣ Paranoia
♣ Red, bloodshot eyes

Moving Towards a Solution

The conversation around the drug epidemic in Orange County, California is a somber one. It is clear drug abuse in this part of the country has become a serious problem, with the countless number of people falling victim to addiction, and overdoses claiming more and more lives. Moving forward, a solution-focused approach is necessary, if positive change is to be seen.

Education is central to finding solutions for Orange County’s drug epidemic. Crucial to the education piece is in helping individuals develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary in making healthy choices and staying away from harmful drugs. Unfortunately, education is not always enough to keep people away from substance use. Because of this, it is just as important to inform must the community around the available services and treatment options for those struggling with addiction. Appropriate treatment for addiction needs to involve more than just a period of detox. Truly preventing relapse means getting to the underlying cause(s) of the addiction, whether it is childhood trauma, a mental health diagnosis, or a biological factor.

There are also areas for improved education when it comes to for drugs that are prescribed within the confines of a doctor’s office, like prescription opioids. There remains a gap when it comes to understanding the science behind addiction and the risks of prescription opioids, and the treatment alternatives in the management of pain.

If positive change is to be seen in terms of Orange County’s drug epidemic, a shift towards prevention is fundamental. Prevention starts with strengthening the public’s awareness and understanding of the problem and devoting more time and money to the development of intervention and treatment programs. The hope is that with these ongoing efforts, the next generation in Orange County will not be destined to addiction.

Kollin Lephart

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