Fatal overdoses in Orange County reach 10-year high
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07-14-16 Category: Substance Abuse

Fatal overdoses in Orange County

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes drug poisoning statistics annually for states and counties. In 2002, Orange County, California, averaged six drug poisoning deaths per 100,000 inhabitants; in 2014, the number doubled.

Orange County’s fatal overdose rate pales in comparison to Kern, Mariposa, Tuolumne, Stanislaus and a smattering of Northern California counties (each with 20 or more deaths per 100,000 in 2014). But the land of surf and sand has little to celebrate. According to the Orange County Coroner’s Office, fatal overdoses in 2015 increased 6 percent over 2014. And over the past five years, there have been over 1,700 fatal overdoses in the county. This article examines the reasons why so many citizens are overdosing in Orange County.

The real addicts of Orange County

In 2012, filmmaker Brent Huff released the documentary “Behind the Orange Curtain.” The film focuses on drug abuse in Orange County. One of the film’s interviewees likens the county to the film “The Truman Show,” where everything is controlled, well-maintained and perfect – but it’s all a lie.

The film presents a number of jarring juxtapositions. Most notable is a close-up of an older woman who has had “work” done (collagen, cheekbones, etc.). For folks who live outside the county and have never visited, this silicone-injected female accords nicely with the media’s portrayal of the county’s wealthy, vain denizens. As the camera pans back, the audience sees that the woman is, indeed, a celebrity. The clip is from an episode of “Celebrity Rehab.”

The show audience sits in rapt silence listening as Dr. Drew talks to an ordinary Orange County housewife about the day her son slipped into a drug-induced coma. She speaks on behalf of her son, Aaron, who sits strapped to a motorized wheelchair next to her. The woman is remarkably upbeat despite the fact her son can no longer speak, must communicate using his fingers, is prone to vocal outbursts and constantly fidgets. During her narrative, the film shows pictures of Aaron before his drug-induced brain damage: the football player, the good son, the popular high school kid. Aaron got this way after taking OxyContin at a party. He was already on antidepressants; the result was a nearly lethal synergistic dose that destroyed part of his brain.

Another interview features a young woman who fits the idealized image of an Orange County beauty. She explains she overdosed on Ecstasy and had a seizure in the middle of a rave. She suffered Broca’s aphasia, a condition that robs the individual of the ability to speak. She did recover but now speaks haltingly and with difficulty.

In a land of plenty, there are plenty of drugs

Between episodes featuring bereaved parents, the audience hears directly from Orange County addicts. These are men and women from affluent backgrounds, from families where substance abuse did not exist, where there was no physical or verbal abuse. As one young man says, “I can pick up the phone and in five minutes, I’ll have my drugs.”

The sad coda to this tale is, based on the addict interviews, drug abuse (at least in Orange County) is not the result of some profound disillusionment, disenchantment or disenfranchisement. It is the product of ennui and opportunity. Most of those interviewed began taking drugs to fit in, enliven their saccharine existences or simply to walk on the wild side. These individuals supplied each other, either by raiding their parents’ medicine cabinets or using their disposable income to procure their drugs.


Sovereign Health treats all major drug addictions. Our approach to treating heroin addiction is the same approach we take for treating prescription drug addiction: we nourish the body and heal the mind. Read about our drug rehab center and contact our 24/7 helpline for more information.

About the author:

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as 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 news@sovhealth.com.

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