The city of San Bernardino, California, is located in San Bernardino County. The population of San Bernardino County is estimated to be about 2.15 million, with a median age of about 32.2 years and a poverty rate near 18 percent.
The estimates for the population of the city of San Bernardino from 2010 suggest that there are about 217,000 residents. The top employer in the city is California State University at San Bernardino.
It is estimated that more than 30 percent of the city’s population falls below the federal poverty line, significantly lower than the estimated poverty level of San Bernardino County. Like all cities in the United States, San Bernardino is dealing with substance abuse issues.
Drug Abuse In San Bernardino
Estimates of substance abuse in U.S. cities can be quite variable from source to source. One of the best estimates of substance use and misuses in the United States comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The estimates from SAMHSA regarding substance abuse and misuse are provided in each state and broken down into specific regions in the counties within the state.
SAMHSA data does not provide estimates for substance use and misuse in each city for each state. However, the estimates for several important drugs of abuse for San Bernardino County are reported in the data.
According to data published in June 2018, the estimates for 2014 to 2016 include the following:
- An estimated 13.68 percent of individuals admitted to some marijuana use within the year before the survey.
- An estimated 1.85 percent of individuals admitted to some cocaine use within the previous year.
- An estimated 0.18 percent of individuals admitted to some heroin use within the previous year.
- About 5.92 percent of the population of San Bernardino County would have qualified for a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder in the reporting period.
Admissions To County-Funded Drug Treatment Centers
One potential indicator of the extent of drug abuse in a particular area is the number of individuals getting treatment for some type of substance use disorder. If the number of individuals seeking treatment rises over time, the assumption is that substance abuse is also on the rise, although this may not be an accurate assumption.
- There were 127 people admitted to county-funded treatment centers for a cocaine use issue.
- There were 2,753 individuals admitted for treatment for opiate abuse.
- There were 859 individuals admitted for a cannabis abuse issue.
- There were 2,672 individuals admitted for treatment for methamphetamine abuse.
- There were 1,467 individuals admitted for treatment for an alcohol abuse issue.
The 2016 admissions represent a slight increase in admissions over the previous years. The trend from 2010 to 2016 is a slight upward trend; however, it should be noted that the trend may reflect better education and greater treatment availability for individuals as opposed to a rise in drug abuse.
These figures do not take into account the number of individuals who are getting treatment in private treatment centers or participating in peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
Local Media Reports
Although admissions to county-funded treatment centers appeared to rise from 2010 to 2016, admissions to emergency rooms for opiate overdoses declined in 2016 compared to previous years.
An article published in The Sun in February 2017 reported that there was a decrease in the number of individuals admitted to ERs because of heroin overdoses in 2016, reversing a trend of increased ER visits for heroin overdose between 2010 and 2015.
The article reported that health care officials were at a loss to explain the nearly 28 percent decrease since 2010, and the decrease occurred over all age groups. Speculation at that time was that the decrease in heroin overdoses might be at least partially due to the popularity of methamphetamine in the area.
Overdose Deaths In 2016
According to a follow-up article in The Sun in February 2018, there were more than 1.5 million prescriptions for opiate drugs written in 2016, and there were 36 overdose deaths due to opiates, in San Bernardino County.
The data from SAMHSA and other sources clearly indicate that the percentage of overdose deaths due to prescription opiate overdose is much smaller than the percentage of overdose deaths due to illicit opiate overdose (overdoses from heroin or a combination of heroin and fentanyl).
But the California state data provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicate that the overdose death rate for prescription opiates is higher than the overdose death rate associated with illicit opiates in the state of California.
The overdose deaths associated with illicit opiates has remained relatively stable during the past 10 years. Overdose deaths attributed to prescription opiates in the state have slightly declined recently, which is very different from the overall trend in the United States.
In 2017, San Bernardino County and Riverside County filed lawsuits against large corporations that manufacture and distribute prescription opiates. The corporations included CVS, Johnson & Johnson, Kroger Corporation, Rite Aid, Walmart, Walgreens, and Watson Pharmaceuticals.
Although only 35 people died from opioid overdoses in San Bernardino County in 2017 (a much smaller number than many other counties), and there were about 259 opioid overdose emergency department admissions that were not related to heroin abuse, the county reports that the financial burden and emotional burden of the opioid crises is far more severe, and corporations should be made to pay restitution.
One interesting observation buried in the data provided by the county is that while the rate of overdose deaths associated with opioids has decreased, the rate of deaths associated with alcohol abuse has increased. This includes deaths associated with chronic diseases that are often caused by alcohol abuse, such as cirrhosis and hepatitis.
What Is Being Done?
The County of San Bernardino has been working to address problems with substance abuse among its residents, particularly concerning opioid overdose. Several treatment programs within the county address opioid addiction.
A task force, the Inland Empire Opioid Crisis Coalition, has developed a toolkit for safe opioid prescribing that is designed to be used by opioid prescribers. The county is attempting to break down barriers about the stigma associated with opioid addiction.
The county also proposes the notion that the increase in admissions to county-funded treatment programs for substance abuse problems represents efforts by the county to extend the services and make them more available to residents.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy has implemented its statewide prescription monitoring programs to oversee the prescription of opiate drugs to individuals and ensure that the drugs are being prescribed in a safe and appropriate manner.
Is It Enough?
Despite the state’s numerous efforts to monitor and control the use of prescription drugs, it is clear that the prescription drug abuse issue is only part of the problem.
The relatively large number of individuals admitted to county treatment facilities for methamphetamine compared to other drugs suggests that the controls put in place for prescription drugs have resulted in higher rates of abuse of other illicit drugs and alcohol. These forms of substance abuse are just as dangerous, and they represent a significant portion of the drug abuse problem in San Bernardino.
Efforts should be made to make treatment for all substance abuse issues far more available and visible. State and city agencies should begin to focus on educating the public about the abuse of other drugs with the same zeal as they have approached the control of prescription opiate drugs.
Like many other areas of the country, the focus has been on prescription opiate drug abuse and control in San Bernardino County, but now, that focus should be extended to illicit opiates, meth, and other drugs of abuse, including alcohol.