California Junkie Epidemic: $11 Million Heroin Bust

The Highway Patrol’s $11 million heroin bust on northbound Interstate 15 near Victorville highlights the growing California addiction to opiates.

In a lucky break, the Highway Patrol pulled over a big rig for a routine speeding violation at approximately 6:50 a.m. on December 1. But the officer’s trained K-9 “alerted” that there was contraband cargo in the 53-foot trailer. When the van was opened, authorities discovered 100 kilograms of “pharmaceutical grade” heroin.

California Highway Patrol spokesman Leon Lopez said officers arrested the driver, but due to the continuing investigation regarding further suspects, the name of the driver and the identity of the truck owner were not released.

The size of the bust highlights how California is ground zero for America’s accelerating opiate epidemic that was launched by the wide availability of prescription hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine medication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), misuse and overdose of opiates causes long-term health consequences of limitations in daily activity, impaired driving, mental health problems, addiction, overdose, and death.

Death from opiate use is now the number three largest cause of accidental death in the United States, following motor vehicle accidents and poisoning. In 2014, more than 28,000 people died from opioid overdose, with 14,000 of those deaths involving prescription opioids. This does not include a large number of deaths in which opiates were a major contributing factor to accidents.

There were 2,024 opioid-related poisoning/overdose deaths in California in 2014. That works out to a rate of about 3.5 per 100,000. Opioid-related poisoning/overdose emergency room admissions have continued to increase steadily, with over 4,100 admissions in 2014.

California locations with the highest opioid overdose rates tend to be in several northern California rural counties. Lake and Shasta Counties have prescription opioid-related death rates that are two to three times higher than the national average. Urban counties with higher than state average rates include San Francisco, Orange, and San Diego.

A natural progression from the epidemic misuse of opiate prescription medication is the spiraling increase in addiction and overdoses from heroin, which is less expensive than prescription opioids and widely available as a street drug. This explains why heroin deaths have increased steadily by 67 percent since 2006.

There were 1,488,707 arrests for drug law violations in 2015. About 83.9 percent were for possession and 16.1 percent, or 239,682, were for the sale or manufacturing of a drug.

Despite the opiate epidemic, California felony arrests for Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs were reduced by 68.2 percent and 73.6 percent respectively in California between 2014 and 2015, according to data released by the Attorney General’s office.


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