Southern California Beach Cities See Spike in Opioid Deaths


Orange County “beach cities” are feeling the spike in opiate addiction and overdose. Not to mention an uptick in drug related crime.

The beach cities of Orange County, California offer an idyllic lifestyle, but these affluent suburbs have a secret problem – a serious heroin and prescription drug problem that has led to the overdose and death of dozens of young people.

The past three years have seen a spike in the number of deaths from heroin and other opioid drugs in South Orange County and the county’s beach cities.

Reporter David Whiting wrote a great Orange County Register article about opioid deaths. David recently reviewed coroner records and found that there were 80 accidental deaths attributed to opioid drugs among people age 24 and younger between the years 2007 and 2010.  Deaths that are attributed to opioids include overdoses of heroin and opiate prescription drugs.

Per OC Register Reporter David Whiting:
80 accidental opiate overdoses among the 24 and younger popluation from 2007-2010

Many of these young people begin by abusing prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin that contain opioids and then move to heroin because it is far less expensive.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reports that the heroin sold in Orange County is brought in across the border from Mexico.  Known as “black tar,” this heroin comes from the Xalisco area of Mexico.  It has a dark, gooey appearance that is attributed to the heroin being less processed than heroin from Columbia.  According to the Register, some experts have said that the daily cost of black tar heroin for an addict is one tenth the cost of prescription drugs that are purchased illegally.

Law enforcement agencies are finding that affluence and easy access are making heroin the new drug of choice among Orange County’s at-risk youth.   Some of the most exclusive high schools in Orange County, including those in the Coto de Caza area, are among the hardest hit by the heroin epidemic.  One youth counselor interviewed by the Register estimated that 3% of the kids at his high school had tried heroin.  This is double the national average reported by the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The majority of Orange County’s opioid victims were male, but 20% were young women and girls.  The youngest opioid fatality was a boy of 14 who lived in Silverado.  Other cities that have been hit by opioid-related deaths include

  • Newport Beach
  • Laguna Beach
  • Huntington Beach
  • Mission Viejo
  • Rancho Santa Margarit
  • San Juan Capistrano
  • Dana Point
  • Lake Forest

Due to Orange County’s proximity to the Mexican border, heroin is more readily available and less expensive than elsewhere in the U.S.

Drug dealers from Xalisco are using Southern California as a staging area for drug distribution. However, the problem is potentially bigger than just a Southern California problem since drug trends that originate in Orange County often foreshadow future trends that will sweep the nation.