Drug abuse and addiction have long been at epidemic heights in Los Angeles.

Families have struggled for decades with the loss of loved ones due to drug overdose death, drug-related arrest, and mental health crises.

The rest of the country often looks to Los Angeles County when it comes to finding a workable and appropriate response to the problem. In LA, many families have come to find the treatment they need to heal.

Learn more about drug abuse and trends in Los Angeles, different popular drugs of choice in the area, and how you or a loved one can get the help you need and deserve in order to overcome the scourge of addiction.

Los Angeles Drug Abuse & Addiction: Stats And Facts

Historical Use

With such easy access to all types of addictive substances, both legal and illegal, the consequences of drug use and abuse have hit Los Angeles County hard. High rates of drug sales, addiction, arrests, and deaths have continually placed the spotlight on the need for easier access to effective treatment options and redoubled efforts in prevention.

According to the County of Los Angeles Public Health Substance Abuse Prevention and Control, between 2008 and 2009, it was found that:

  • More than 60,600 residents in LA County entered a public drug rehab program.
  • Of that number, marijuana was the most commonly cited drug of abuse, followed closely by alcohol. Methamphetamine was third in line, followed by crack/cocaine and heroin in last place.
  • Men accounted for about 61 percent of admissions.
  • Drug overdose was the 4th-leading cause of accidental death and the 17th-leading cause of death overall among LA County residents.
  • Opiate drugs like painkillers and heroin, cocaine and crack, alcohol, and prescription drugs, including benzodiazepines and stimulants, were the most common drugs associated with overdose.
  • Almost 41,000 arrests were made in LA County for drug-related felonies, and a little more than 34,000 people were arrested on drug-related misdemeanor charges.

In recent years, though some details have changed, the problem with drug addiction, overdose, and arrest has been an ever-increasing struggle for Los Angeles County residents. According to the Los Angeles County Sentinel Community Site (SCS) Drug Use Patterns and Trends, put out by the National Drug Early Warning System, it was found that:

  • Public high-schoolers reported lifetime use of substances at a rate of 53 percent for alcohol, 35 percent for marijuana, 10 percent for prescription drug use without a prescription, 7 percent for inhalant use, 5 percent for cocaine, and 5 percent for MDMA.
  • In LA County, more than 702,000 people over age 12, or 8 percent of that age group, had either an illicit drug or alcohol use disorder.
  • The primary substance of abuse among those entering drug treatment in LA County changed slightly between 2011 and 2015. Marijuana was the No. 1 reason for treatment admissions in 2011, followed by alcohol, then heroin, and then methamphetamine. In 2015, heroin was by far the No. 1 drug of use among people seeking treatment, with enrollment in heroin rehab spiking 30 percent; methamphetamine treatment numbers increased by about 50 percent taking the second spot; and alcohol and marijuana were both in third.Rates of drug overdose deaths and drug poisonings that did not result in death were up across the board between 2010 and 2014. Drug overdose that did not result in death occurred at increasing rates among opioid users, users of psychostimulants like methamphetamine, cocaine users, and users of benzos.

Drug Trafficking In Los Angeles

Called the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) region, LA has long been a hub for drug cartels smuggling drugs up from South America out to the rest of the country and then bringing the cash from sales back down the same routes to get back across the border.

Los Angeles trafficking routes see vast amounts of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana from South America, transported by Mexican drug cartels. The sprawling city is also home to clandestine indoor and outdoor marijuana growers who profit off California’s marijuana legalization outside of the taxation structure.

Many small-scale methamphetamine producers work overtime in the area. They add their wares to the increasing amounts of meth made in Mexico that come through the region.

Drug Busts In LA County

One of the ways that drug use and abuse are tracked in Los Angeles is by keeping tabs on drug busts and investigations by local, state, and federal authorities. The types of drugs that are seized as well as the amounts are noted and tabulated to determine what primary problems must be addressed to make an impact on the drug epidemic. According to National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Sentinel Community Site Cross-Site Data Presentation: National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) 2016:

  • Methamphetamine drug busts accounted for more than 10,600 of the 27,390 drug reports included in the study sample. That amounts to about 38.7 percent of all drug busts and seizures.
  • Marijuana was next in line with almost 7,500 drug seizures, accounting for more than 27 percent of total busts in LA County.
  • Cocaine was third with just under 4,000 drug seizures of the white powder, adding up to a little more than 14 percent.
  • Heroin was found in more than 2,000 drug busts, equaling only 7.4 percent of arrests.

These four drugs — heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana — account for almost all of the biggest problems facing LA County due to drug use and abuse. From deaths to arrests to undue burden on taxpayers, the significant need for intensive and comprehensive treatment and support for Los Angeles families in crisis due to addiction has never been more evident.

Methamphetamine In LA

One of the primary drugs of concern for law enforcement in Los Angeles is methamphetamine.

Though more drug overdose deaths are caused by heroin, especially heroin tainted with fentanyl, the greatest drug threat and the drug most commonly associated with violent and property crimes is methamphetamine, according to respondents to the National Drug Threat Assessment 2011 from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Additionally, methamphetamine was one of the drugs most frequently named as the drug of choice among those admitted to drug rehab programs in LA.

Toxicology reports by LA County medical examiners also show that the rates of death where methamphetamine was a factor, if not the primary cause, spiked between 2010, when use of the drug was at a low due to federal crackdown on meth labs, and 2015. In 2010, methamphetamine was found in just under 15 percent of decedents, but by 2015, the drug was found in about 28 percent of decedents.

Opioid Crisis In Los Angeles

Opioids were the cause of most prescription drug overdoses between 2010 and 2015.

However, according to Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner reports analyzed by the National Drug Early Warning System, detection of heroin in overdose victims dropped from more than 25 percent of cases to under 20 percent. Detection of narcotic analgesics almost doubled from about 12 percent of cases to about 23 percent of cases.

These numbers demonstrate that the opioid epidemic is just as critical in LA as it is in other parts of the country, with little to no indication of downward trends to come.


Though rates of admission to drug rehab based on the use of marijuana have dropped in Los Angeles in recent years, this likely has more to do with the changing perception of marijuana due to legalization rather than the effect that the increasingly potent versions of the substance has on users.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that in Los Angeles in 2015:

  • 1 in 6 high-schoolers frequenly uses marijuana
  • 16% of high-schoolers used it in the last month
  • 35% of high-schoolers tried the drug at some point
  • Firat use before 13 was low compared to older age
  • Average age of first use dropped to 13
  • 50% of high-schoolers said it was easy to get
  • 50% of high-schoolers who use it have gone to school high

The County of Los Angeles Public Health reports that by 2017:

The trends of marijuana use among young people in Los Angeles broadcasts the future of LA in terms of combating drug use and abuse.

Taking A Stand

Los Angeles officials have long been aware of the drug problem in the city. Though the primary drug responsible for high rates of addiction and overdose death may change over the years, the need for intervention, assistance, and treatment has always been a priority. With increasing rates of drug overdose death caused by heroin and fentanyl or combinations of different substances, many nonprofit, grassroots, and government agencies are working together to create positive change.

For example, to address the prescription drug problem when it was at its height in Los Angeles and across the country, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released a report outlining the risks associated with prescription pills and recommended actions to respond to the problem. They suggested:

  • Increased training and education on the risks
  • Improved tracking and monitoring of scripts
  • Better disposal options for families
  • Investigating legislative changes

Los Angeles families do not have to wait for new laws or other broad community changes to help them if they have a loved one living with addiction. They can reach out for help for their loved one now and get the treatment they need.

Start Your Recovery Journey Today

If you or someone you care about is suffering from substance abuse and is ready to take first steps toward recovery and a better, sober tomorrow, California Highlands Addiction Treatment can help. We offer medical detox treatment with a seamless transition into ongoing care through to our post-treatment alumni program.

Call (866) 794-9171 now to speak with one of our addiction specialists about which of our treatment programs is best for you or your loved one or contact us online for more information.

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