The Southern California Heroin Problem
Simi Valley Heroin Problem
July 26, 2011
In Simi Valley in the last year there have been twenty-seven heroin overdoses. Five of those people died; the other twenty two barely survived.
All five of those who died were young men between twenty and thirty years of age. Most of the twenty-two survivors were teenagers.
Simi Valley health services specialists are concerned. There has been a dramatic spike in heroin addiction in the last year. Many of the new addicts are teens between fourteen and sixteen years old.
Hollywood Hills Overdoses
In Hollywood Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, heroin overdoses are on the rise. Unlike Simi Valley these victims are not addicts; they are "new" users of the drug.
The problem, say some, is a combination of bad economy, cheap and potent drugs, and the perception that shooting or smoking heroin is hip.
Drug rehabilitation clinicians are seeing a rash of new heroin users who are not habituated and are unfamiliar with the potency of the drug. Most of these new users are young, under thirty. All came to the attention of authorities after experiencing an overdose. They are the lucky ones, they survived.
Part of the problem, authorities say, is stronger than usual street heroin and the perception that occasional use (to prevent addiction) makes its use safer; it does not.
Add to this the perception on the street that smoking heroin will prevent fatality; this is also not true.
Bernadine Fried, a clinician at One80Center, says, "What I've seen is that with the newer users, people who aren't habituated, it can be lethal. In the last couple of years, the potency level is very strong" for heroin.
She goes on to say "It is really plentiful, and there's a cultural element," she says. "It used to be Ecstasy and hallucinogenics; now heroin is regarded as adventurous. [O]nce they've been initiated, it's romanticized and glorified. ... They think if they smoke it they won't O.D. But they can."
Heroin on the Westside
One of the most affluent areas of Los Angeles is called "The Westside." Heroin has made an appearance here as well.
From Santa Monica to the south-bay, well healed kids between nineteen and twenty-eight are experimenting with heroin with devastating results. In the last year heroin overdoses in this age group have skyrocketed.
City politicians have been largely successful in cleaning up the streets, removing dealers from sidewalks and street corners, but the problem has simply moved indoors to many of the trendy clubs in the area.
San Diego and Glendale
Glendale police department is reporting a spike in heroin related crime.
The San Diego Medical Examiner's office reports an increase in heroin related deaths in people under thirty.
The Money Factor
Dealing is fast easy money. Once someone finds a source dealing heroin is a quick and sure way to turn a few hundred dollars into a few thousand.
The profit potential is large and with a wealth of friends and a perception that the drug is "harmless" it is not hard to buy and sell.
How Heroin Kills
There are a number of ways heroin can kill its user.
The first and most common is respiratory arrest. The user simply stops breathing.
The second less common cause is complete heart failure.
Intravenous heroin use can also lead to deadly infections including hepatitis and AIDS/HIV.
Southern California's Year of Heroin
If you are not familiar with southern California you may not know that the places mentioned here are many miles apart. Hollywood Hills is twelve miles east of the Westside. Glendale is eight miles farther east of Hollywood Hills and Simi Valley is over thirty miles west of Glendale.
San Diego is over one hundred sixty miles south of Glendale.
The problem is clearly widespread, but it's not simply a glut of heroin "on the market," it is also the perception that this street drug is safe and hip.
The SoCal Heroin Year
With the proliferation of cheap and powerful heroin from Mexico this is shaping up to be a banner year for heroin overdose and death in Southern California.