Central Coast counties rank in the top 6 for heroin overdoses
July 30, 2016
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
San Luis Obispo County ranked fourth per capita in heroin overdoses leading to hospitalizations in California in 2015 while Santa Barbara County ranked sixth, according to statistics from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
On average, last year in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, one person a week sought medical care at a local hospital because of heroin. At a time when heroin overdoses are on the rise in California, they are increasing at even faster rates in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Statistics show cases of heroin poisoning in the state have nearly doubled over the last four years. In SLO County, over the last 10 years the number of people hospitalized because of heroin poisoning increased by 1,300 percent.
Cases of heroin poisoning in SLO County rose from four in 2005 to 56 in 2015. From 2005 through 2010, SLO County had less than seven cases of heroin poisoning in a single year.
During the past five years, heroin-induced hospitalizations rose steadily each year with 16 in 2011, 26 in 2012, 30 in 2013, 44 in 2014 and 56 in 2015.
In Santa Barbara County, cases of heroin poisoning rose from six in 2005 to 65 in 2015, a 983 percent increase over a decade.
State officials compile heroin poisoning statistics based on cases reported by hospitals. Officials have yet to disclose heroin-related death totals for 2015, but they have released statistics totaling cases of heroin poisoning in which individuals were treated at a hospital but survived.
Statewide, in 2015, Shasta County had the most heroin-induced hospitalizations per capita at 2.9 per 10,000 residents. Santa Cruz and Humboldt counties ranked second and third, each with 2.7 hospitalizations per 10,000 residents. Rounding out the top six, SLO County with 2.0 hospitalizations per 10,000 residents, San Francisco County had 1.7 and Santa Barbara had 1.5.
In total, Los Angeles County had the most heroin-induced hospitalizations: 571. But per capita, at .6 hospitalizations per 10,000 residents, Los Angeles County ranked well below San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Among counties with populations larger than 100,000, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Kings, Merced and Fresno had the fewest heroin-induced hospitalizations per capita. Santa Clara had .2 hospitalizations per 10,000 residents.
SLO County had 20 more heroin-induced hospitalizations than Fresno County — which had 36 — even though the Central Valley county has more than three times as many residents.
In 2015, 66 people died because of drug or alcohol use in SLO County and 75 people died from drug or alcohol abuse in Santa Barbara County, according to the California Department of Public Health. It is unclear, though, how many of the deaths were related to heroin.
State statistics show heroin abuse is increasing at the fastest rate among people ages 20 to 39.
Cases of heroin poisoning among other age groups remained relatively flat, with the exception of people in their 50s. Statewide overdoses among fifty-somethings rose from slightly below 50 in 2012 to 88 in 2016.
In all, around 500 people ages 10 to 69 in California suffered heroin poisoning in the first quarter of 2012. In the first quarter of this year, 856 people ages 10 to 69 suffered heroin poisoning.
Health officials attribute several reasons for the growing trend of heroin addiction. One major factor is users becoming addicted to prescription medications and turning to heroin as a cheaper and more easily accessible alternative.
In response to questions about what programs to reduce heroin use the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office has in place, department spokesman Tony Cipolla said the sheriff is focused on combating the spread of heroin.
“Over the last several years, heroin has been the number one focus of enforcement by the sheriff’s office. We have continually emphasized education in the schools, enforcement in the streets and drug rehab programs in the jail to try and end the scourge of heroin,” Cipolla said in a statement.
John Peschong, a candidate for the San Luis Obispo County District 1 supervisor seat, lost his 21-year-old nephew Jack to a heroin overdose about five years ago. Peschong describes heroin addiction as an epidemic spreading across our country.
“We need to intervene and stop gangs from distributing heroin in the county and expand programs to help people break their addictions to opioids and heroin,” Peschong said.