Golden Gate bridge
(Photo by Luciano Mortula-LGM/Shutterstock)

Drug Trend Reports for California Offer Good News and Bad News

In some ways, recent reports on drug use trends make it look like Californians are on a health kick. There’s lower alcohol use across the boards, a big drop in tobacco use, and fewer teens are initiating marijuana use. While those are all good signs, they don’t mean that California can throw a celebratory party quite yet. There’s some drugs that are increasing threats and some age groups that are struggling with those drugs.

Like cocaine. It seemed a few years ago it seemed the U.S. drug market was saturated with cocaine. The slipping market caused drug cartels to start shipping their products to Australia and Europe in greater quantities. Now, cocaine is on a comeback. Between 2009 and 2016, cocaine use among young adults in California went up 28%. Other age groups stayed pretty steady.

The state is in fourth place for illicit drugs (other than marijuana use), after Vermont, Washington, D.C., and Rhode Island.

And now, it looks like methamphetamine is also making a comeback.

The Story of California’s Meth

California has long taken a beating from methamphetamine, along with Oregon and Washington. Methamphetamine abuse began in Asia, due in part because huge stockpiles of the drug—left over in Japan when World War II ended—were freely distributed to the public, causing widespread addiction. Abuse spread to Guam and from there, came to the United States.

A home methamphetamine lab.
A small meth lab, photo courtesy of the DEA.

Outlaw motorcycle gangs along the West Coast discovered how to create this drug in small labs and realized it was a source of income for them. They set up small labs, obtained the cold medication they needed to start brewing meth from pharmaceutical supplies and became distributors. Meth sales, use and addiction spread even further.

Methamphetamine users tend to become addicted more quickly than users of most other drugs. When use is heavy, the drug also tends to cause a fast decline in health and behavior. Therefore, meth users are often involved in criminal activity to pay for their drugs. Car thefts and identity thefts are common methods of financing drug supplies.

Law enforcement has focused on putting precursor chemicals out of reach of meth cooks working in small labs and for a while, this worked to reduce use. But as more states have legalized marijuana and pot supplies come from legal and licensed grows, Mexican cartels have changed their strategies. They’ve pulled out marijuana crops, planted heroin poppies and built themselves more labs capable of cooking up methamphetamine. And since California is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Mexico, it’s relatively easy to get the drug into the state.

Meth Sends the Most Californians to Rehab

California admissions to addiction treatment.
Chart courtesy of SAMHSA.

From 2004 through 2014, more Californians went to rehab for methamphetamine than any other drug, even alcohol. The only other states where this has happened are Hawaii and Idaho and in those states, it has not been a consistent trend like it has in California.

A study of meth-using emergency room arrivals in one California hospital revealed that the number of patients asking for help have increased over the last two decades, and that meth users were becoming older as time went on.

California seems indelibly wedded to methamphetamine which is even more dangerous these days as methamphetamine is more often trafficked along with fentanyl and nationally, meth supplies are increasingly adulterated with fentanyl. A person who knows how their body reacts to meth could unintentionally overdose on a surprise dose of fentanyl. In fact, a harm reduction organization in Northern California reported in September 2017 that 88% of methamphetamine samples tested for purity also contained fentanyl.

Methamphetamine isn’t going to leave California alone any time soon. But as more fentanyl is found in supplies of cocaine and meth in different parts of the country, effective drug rehabilitation becomes an urgent need for any person who is addicted. To learn how the drug rehab program at Narconon Warner Springs, just outside San Diego, Caflironia, can help someone you care about, call us at 1-888-284-5479.



For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.