Riverside, California, has been deemed one of the largest centers of drug smuggling and distribution in the United States for years. Situated close enough to the border for easy access by the Sinaloa, Tijuana, Pacifica Sur, and Juarez drug cartels, but far enough out from the main hub of Los Angeles and San Diego to provide room to break up large shipments for distribution across the country, Riverside families have been facing addiction and overdose deaths at higher and higher rates in recent years.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office in Riverside reports that between 2013 and 2015 in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, 6,500 pounds of methamphetamine and 770 pounds of heroin were seized in local drug busts.

This amount adds up to almost 25 percent of the meth and 10 percent of the heroin seized by DEA offices across the country between 2012 and 2014, according to the Desert Sun.

Drug Use, Addiction & Treatment Stats In Riverside: Then & Now

Just like the rest of California, drug and alcohol abuse rates are at epidemic heights. According to the Indicators of Alcohol and Other Drug Risk and Consequences for California Counties: Riverside County 2010 put out by the Center for Applied Research Solutions, which looked at data taken from 2000 to 2008 in Riverside County:


  • About 365 people per 100,000 population enrolled in drug rehab.
  • The No. 1 drug of abuse cited as the reason for entering treatment was methamphetamine. Marijuana was a distant second with alcohol as a close third.
  • The age group with the highest rate of admissions to treatment was the 25-to-34 population.
  • Of those who entered treatment, 75 percent reported that their first use of any illicit substance was before the age of 21, including 60 percent who reported the first use of drugs or alcohol before the age of 18.
  • Arrests for drug-related crimes in Riverside amounted to 699 per 100,000 population, or almost 12,000 arrests.
  • More than half of those crimes were committed by people between the ages of 18 and 34.
  • More than 4,100 people were admitted to the emergency room for drug- or alcohol-related issues, or 201 per 100,000 population.

In the 10 years following that report,  a number of changes have occurred in Riverside County.

The Strategic Health Alliance Pursuing Equity published a community health assessment in 2015 noting that rates of drug overdose death in Riverside have continued to rise year over year. They found that there were 11.5 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 population between 2007 and 2009, a number that rose to 13.3 overdose fatalities between 2011 and 2013.

The California Department of Public Health found that 107 people in Riverside died due to an opioid overdose, many of them due to fentanyl-laced heroin and the use of opiates in combination with other drugs, like benzodiazepines.

Rates of prescriptions for opiate painkillers also continue to rise in Riverside despite the opiate crisis, but rates of buprenorphine treatment for opiate addiction have risen as well. Between 2014 and 2016, there was a 9 percent increase in this outpatient opiate addiction treatment option.

Meth Vs. Heroin In Riverside Drug Busts

There has been quite a bit of media attention placed on heroin use and abuse in Riverside County because of the high percentage of overdose deaths caused by the drug, especially when it is laced with fentanyl. However, according to USA Today, the amount of heroin seized in Riverside County adds up to about 10 percent to 15 percent of the amount of methamphetamine seized between 2013 and 2015.

This indicates high rates of methamphetamine abuse in Riverside, California, and this issue may not be getting the attention it deserves. Use and abuse of meth can contribute to the devastation of families, lifelong addiction, as well as medical emergencies and high rates of overdose death.

The type of heroin seized in Riverside is changing. In the past, black tar heroin ruled the market with little to no “China white,” which is more commonly found in the northeast U.S. and sourced from Asian countries rather than South America. In recent years, that has started to change with DEA seizures finding increasing amounts of white powder heroin in Riverside.

This is problematic because the likelihood of overdose due to unknowingly using fentanyl-laced heroin spikes when heroin matches the color of fentanyl, making it an easy substance to cut the drug with to increase its potency.

Marijuana Seizures In Riverside

Though California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use via the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, there has long been a struggle between law enforcement and Riverside residents when it comes to the illegal growth, distribution, and sale of marijuana.

For example, in the first six months of 2015, the sheriff’s marijuana enforcement team in Riverside followed up on 70 marijuana plant-related cases and destroyed more than 56,000 marijuana plants.

Rates of marijuana seizures and drug busts have not diminished in Riverside County with the legalization of the drug for recreational sales and use. The Cannabis Regulation Task Force out of Riverside County’s District Attorney’s Office discovered about 300 marijuana plants in three locations across the county in September 2018.

During the investigation, they seized 100 pounds of marijuana, up to $100,000 in cash, and found what they believed to be a butane honey oil lab.

The following month, Riverside County Cannabis Regulation Task Force raided a wellness center in Thousand Palms and seized almost 1,150 marijuana plants, about 160 pounds of dried marijuana plants, another 21 pounds of marijuana that had already been processed, and more than $9,000 in cash.

Legal or not, marijuana use has not dropped in Riverside, and neither have illegal trafficking and sales of the drug. This has led to an ongoing struggle with high rates of marijuana-related problems across the state, including:

  • Increasing rates of drugged-driving arrests
  • High rates of young people abusing the drug
  • Incorrect perception that marijuana is safe
  • Neglect of children/dependent family members
  • Higher rates of combining marijuana with other drugs

The Fallout: Drug-Related Crime In Riverside County

In addition to taking large amounts of methamphetamine, heroin, and other drugs off the street over a three-year period, the DEA office in Riverside also reports seizing guns, vehicles, and about $47 million in cash. This does not even account for all the drugs, money, guns, and cars seized across the country that can be traced back to Riverside. Some of the biggest drug busts in the history of other states are from trucks that came out of Riverside.

Crime rates in Riverside County are continually rising as well. The rates of murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as property crimes in the first 11 months of 2018, were higher than in 2017.

Unsafe neighborhoods make it difficult for businesses to prosper, for families to thrive, and for people who need help for addiction to connect with treatment. Overcrowded courts and overflowing jails and prisons mean there is little opportunity for actual rehabilitation through the legal system.

Instead, it only provides for criminal networking and increased opportunities for drug offenders to connect and continue to use, abuse, sell, and smuggle drugs in Riverside upon release.

Community & Government Response To Drug Problems In Riverside

Local officials in Riverside are not standing idly by as these issues continue to unfold. Some measures have been put into place to address different aspects of the drug use and abuse problem in the county, including:

Additionally, some grassroots organizations in Riverside are working to help people in need of recovery to find treatment, educate young people about the risks of drug use with the hope of preventing new cases of addiction, and supporting the families of those living with an addiction to better understand the disorder and provide effective help.

Families Are The Best Hope For People Living In Addiction

It is rare that someone who is actively wrestling with a drug addiction will ask for help. Often, it takes the people who are closest to them to realize the staggering changes that have occurred due to their loved one’s use of substances. When family members are concerned and speak up together, they have a better chance of helping their loved one recognize that they need treatment and being able to support them in choosing to enroll immediately.

It is the nature of addiction to alter the brain so that one’s perception of reality is skewed. With a steady focus on getting and staying high, every decision will be made with that intent in mind. Compulsive use of substances despite an awareness of the negative consequences and a genuine desire to live a sober life can get in the way. For this reason, family members can be instrumental in helping their loved one in addiction begin the healing process.

Is someone you love in crisis because of an untreated drug addiction problem? Are they continually in trouble with the law as a result of the choices they made under the influence or with the intent to get more of their drug of choice? If so, then contact a substance abuse treatment professional near you and connect with the best possible treatment program for your loved one’s needs.

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