Los Angeles: Drug Problem in La La Land

Los Angeles may be known as the City of Angels, but the drug problems taking over are far from heavenly.

Nina Fenton
Published on

On the surface everything and everyone in Los Angeles appears to be picture perfect from the sunny beaches to the flawlessly coiffed celebrities hitting the gym with a face full of makeup and a perfect blowout. Appearances aren't always what they seem, though.

A fact that is evident when the thinly veiled facade of the Hollywood glamour is peeled back to reveal an ugly truth that is dominated by rampant drug use and addiction with 32,826 of the city's residents entering substance abuse treatment programs in 2014 alone. Of those 32,826 people 88% were sucked into heroin addiction, 30.1% couldn't resist the euphoria methamphetamine falsely promised, 17.5% chronically using Chronic and 16% hitting the bottle harder than Lindsay Lohan used to hit the Sunset Strip.

There's a dark side to the City of Angels and more than a few residents have tarnished or lost their halos.

Maddening Methamphetamine Mania

Los Angeles has battled against methamphetamine since the mid 1990's. A battle that is showing no signs of abating with usage trends up across the board from rehab admissions, highest amount of reports from the Poison Control System, most diagnoses for non-fatal emergency room cases and tied with narcotic analgesics found during drug testing.

There wasn't much difference in meth usage trends based upon gender, according to the data provided by NDEWS, with 53% of users identifying as male and 47% identifying as female. There was a significant racial divide, though, with Hispanic users accounting for 61% of those included in the report.

LA County law enforcement has noticed a significant decrease in the local production of methamphetamines thanks in large part to the laws restricted the sales of precursor chemicals, namely ephedrine, and pseudo-ephedrine. Wholesale meth prices have also decreased, which is a strong indicator that traffickers from south of the border have been stunted by Mexico's mission to restrict the import of ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine in an attempt to stem the flow of the drugs being shuffled into the United States, according to the NDEWS report.

Despite the progress made in limiting the amount of meth made and trafficked into Los Angeles, the drug doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. Law enforcement attribute its staying power to the "wide availability and low prices" that make it hard for users to just say no. In 2014 alone 13,369 (38%) of the 34,743 drug reports made in LA County were methamphetamine related and accounted for the largest number of drug seizures made by authorities.

Medical Marijuana Mess

It's been nearly 20 years since the Compassionate Use Act was signed in 1996 and resulted in the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The new laws made it possible for physicians to write prescriptions to cultivate, possess and ingest marijuana and allowed their patients to legally possess up to eight ounces of marijuana and cultivate 12 immature or 6 mature plants. The initial buzz over the CAU didn't last long, though.

It quickly became apparent that there were major deficiencies in the industry's state regulations. In fact, there weren't really any regulations, which left quite a mess for local government agencies to sort out and enforce. Needless to say, trouble quickly followed as regulation cherry picking became the norm and proved to be a breeding ground for inconsistencies and confusion.

The cherry picking and inconsistencies came at a price, though. That price is a "robust illegal medical marijuana industry" that is attempting to push back against the very agencies tasked with enforcing rules set in place to restrict the amount of dispensaries, where they can conduct business and how much they can grow. Now 3 out of 4 medical marijuana dispensaries are operating and growing illegally in Los Angeles and have not received the necessary approval or regulation from the city, which is obviously not inline with the original intentions of the CAU.

Los Angeles Police Department isn't backing down against their fight to curb the prevalence of illegal dispensaries...Even if the fight includes what seems like a never ending game of hide and seek where the winner claims 28.2% of the county's drug seizures. Closing as many dispensaries as possible is certainly important to law enforcement, but it's by no means the number one priority, according to Lt. Dennis Ballas of the Los Angeles Police Department.

"Even if I had 10,000 more officers, would I have them tackling marijuana?" he said. "Because we have to prioritize the needs of us as an agency to match the needs of the community. We also go public safety first."

Public safety is a direct concern in neighborhoods with a revolving door of illegal dispensaries popping up on street corners. These areas are typically more vulnerable on socio-economic levels with lower incomes whereas few if any shady dispensaries can be found in middle to higher income areas, according to a 2014 study conducted by UCLA.

The study's lead researcher, Bridget Freisthler, made note of this when she told NBC News, "People living in these areas where there have been high densities of outlets, if they're middle to higher income, they have a lot more capital. So they work together and they decide that this is a problem and they're very vocal about it."

"Areas that are lower income and more disadvantaged generally don't have the same amount of relationships with other people in the neighborhood, or the social capital there," she continued. "They're much more concerned about daily living things, and so they might not be able to mobilize in the same way to get dispensaries out of their neighborhoods."

Lt. Balas also notes the increased crime rates, especially robberies, in communities inundated with illegal dispensaries. He said, "We've seen, at a lot of levels, where the medical marijuana dispensaries are causing harm to the community that surrounds them."

Heroin Hits Los Angeles Hard

Los Angeles hasn't been spared from the heroin epidemic that has been working its way through other parts of the country. Usage trends are holding strong as heroin solidly holds onto the tag as the fourth most popular illicit substance in Los Angeles while rehab admissions rates for users soars, especially among white males who are 26 and older.

It's certainly a grim reality filled with black tar heroin, track marks and an alarming number of toe tags gifted from the LA County Morgue.

Los Angeles County has seen a 60% increase in heroin overdose deaths since 2012, making drug overdoses the third leading cause of death in the area. These statistics aren't too surprising considering the fact that the influx of heroin use was spurred by strict regulations placed upon prescription opioids due to their highly addictive nature. Unfortunately trying to tame the prescription opioid monster only created an even scarier one as users were driven to find a replacement that they happen to be 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.

"The cost is about one-tenth of what it costs to buy Oxycontin, so a lot of teens between ages of 15 and 24 cannot afford to buy Oxycontin, but they can afford to buy heroin because it's a cheap high," said drug addiction expert, Dr. Joseph Haraszti.

Health Street offers drug testing at multiple locations nationwide, especially in California, including Eureka, CA. Find your closest location to get tested now.

Nina Fenton

Nina Fenton

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