A California county has the strange distinction of its opioid prescriptions outnumbering its own population. Trinity County is the fourth smallest in the state with an estimated population of only 13,628 people. Its residents, however, filled prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone and other opioids 18,439 times, the highest per capita rate in California.
West Virginia, Ohio and rural New England have had problems with prescription painkiller abuse, a scourge behind the 183,000 deaths from 1999 through 2015.
California is no stranger to the crisis, either. State data reveal that there were 1,925 opioid-linked overdose deaths in California last year, and thousands of emergency room visits.
The problem also has a remarkable geographic dimension to it in California. State data show that in rural and semi-rural parts of the state, where the demographics resemble Appalachia more than Anaheim, prescription drug use and death rates vastly exceed the state average.
Other counties with more prescriptions than people include Lake, Shasta, Tuolumne and Del Norte counties. In the Sacramento region, El Dorado, Placer and Sacramento counties had prescription rates above the statewide average, with Yolo County slightly below the state average.
A county’s prescription total represents all opioids given via prescriptions filled at a pharmacy and tracked by the state. Statewide, 15 percent of Californians were prescribed opioids in 2016, ranging from 7.3 percent of residents in tiny Alpine County to almost 27 percent in Lake County.
The authors of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in July concluded that: “The following characteristics were associated with higher amounts of opioids prescribed: a larger percentage of non-Hispanic whites; higher rates of uninsured and Medicaid enrollment; lower educational attainment; higher rates of unemployment; (small-town) status; more dentists and physicians per capita; a higher prevalence of diagnosed diabetes, arthritis, and disability; and higher suicide rates.”
The state data also use ZIP code in compiling prescriptions. In Sacramento County, for example, ZIP codes with the highest rates of prescription opioids include Galt’s 95632, Del Paso Heights’ 95838, and Rio Linda’s 95673.
The country’s opioid abuse epidemic tracks a quadrupling of prescription drug sales from 1999 to 2014. It used to be prescribed mainly for short-term pain relief but prescription painkillers increasingly are taken for chronic pain.
The trouble is that people get addicted to their painkillers, and other drugs are stolen.
The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health also reveals that about 19 million people abused the drugs that year. The Centers for Disease Control says forty people die of opioid overdoses every day.
It is also unfortunate that young people are among the biggest abusers. Although overall teen drug use has declined nationally, prescription drugs are second only to marijuana in teen drug abuse.
State legislation are addressing the problem on the opioid abuse but few bills on the subject seem likely to pass this year.
The Trump administration has allocated $485 million in grants to states to fight opioid abuse, with California drawing a share of almost $45 million. The money will be used for improving access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid addicts in underserved populations.