Northern California witnesses increase in opioid overdose deaths - Sovereign Health Group
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01-18-17 Category: Addiction, Substance Abuse

Like other rural counties in the United States, rural California is also struggling to combat the growing prescription painkiller epidemic.

In 2002, only one Northern California County – Humboldt – had over 20 drug poisoning deaths per 100,000 residents. However, by 2014, the number of counties had grown to 10, mainly due to prescription opioids.

According to the California Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard, Humboldt County in Northern California leads the state for deaths due to accidents (unintentional injuries). However, in case of opioid overdose, Plumas and Trinity Counties are giving it a tough competition. According to the Dashboard, the average for opioid overdose deaths is 4.2 per 100,000 residents in California. For Humboldt, the average is 13.5 residents, while for Plumas and Trinity it is 31.1 and 23.6, respectively. Humboldt has a population of 136,480; Plumas County has 19,466; and for Trinity, it is 13,776.

Relationship between unemployment and drug abuse

No concrete reason can be associated with the rising opioid menace in these counties. However, with respect to Plumas, one can say that unemployment is driving the residents to abuse opioids. In 2015, the unemployment rate for California as a whole was 6.3 percent; but for Plumas, it was 10.5 percent; and for Trinity County, it was 8.8 percent. The figure is high for Plumas, but hardly a persuasive one when contemplating its high drug overdose death rate.

So far, no corollary data links drug use to economic conditions. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, Imperial County in California had the highest unemployment rate of 20.3 percent. However, according to the County Health Status Profiles 2016, published by the California Department of Health, for drug-induced deaths, Imperial County is ranked 36 out of the 58 California counties.

Peer pressure and family bonds may influence drug use

There are no well-defined reasons for rampant opioid abuse in any particular case. However, rural communities across the country experience greater problems with painkiller addiction as compared to urban and suburban communities. One reason for this can be family. Rural areas have tight-knit communities with extended families. Since most of the drug users are introduced to drugs through a friend or family member, availability is greater in communities where people know one another.

Apart from family bonds, peer pressure may be another reason why younger people experiment with drugs and eventually get dependent on them. This hypothesis holds true for Plumas County, where 23 percent of the population is under 18 years, compared to 18 percent aged 65 years and older. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one-quarter of the population in Trinity County is over 65 years, compared to nearly 17 percent of people aged 18 and below. The hypothesis that older people are dying from opioid overdose is buttressed by the fact that seniors account for 13 percent of the population nationwide but are responsible for one-third of all prescriptions written in the U.S.

Seeking professional help

Sovereign Health aims to improve the lives of patients. Thus, for us, each patient is unique. Every patient receives a treatment plan specific to his or her needs. Our addiction specialists treat both the physical ravages of addiction and the underlying psychological factors that fuel it. An effective treatment needs to address both aspects. Contact the 24/7 helpline listed on this web page for more information.

About the author

Darren Fraser is a staff writer for Sovereign Health. He worked two and half years as a reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at

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