Drug Abuse in Moreno Valley, California
The majority of California saw the number of deaths caused by heroin steadily rise over the past few years. Moreno Valley, California located in Riverside County was one of the few that actually saw that number decrease. This has flown in the face of a statewide trend that has seen heroin overdoses rise each year. Nonetheless, the past few years have not been kind to the area. The number of emergency room visits due to heroin and opioid overdoses nearly doubled from 2010.
And the reason behind the lower numbers may have nothing to do with Moreno Valley’s commitment to temperance at all, but rather because Moreno Valley residents still prefer methamphetamine to heroin. While deaths due methamphetamine are rare, stories in the news that highlight “crazy” and aberrant behavior under the influence are largely attributable to meth.
What is Fentanyl?
Still, opioid abuse remains a serious problem for the area. Riverside County has seen crime spike in part because the area has become a pipeline for illicit powders. The three main culprits are methamphetamine, fentanyl, and heroin.
Fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid, can now be easily produced in amateur labs. The result is a growing number of deaths caused by street-grade fentanyl. Most of these drugs are produced in Mexico, and Moreno Valley, being situated where it is, has become what Federal law enforcement calls the largest drug trafficking and distribution center in the US.
Between 2012 and 2014, the Riverside DEA seized over 6,500 pounds of meth and 770 pounds of heroin. That accounted for 25% of all the meth seized by DEA agents nationwide. 770 pounds was roughly 10% of all the heroin.
Being situated near the shore is a major factor while being situated near the border is another. Riverside is the first stop in a distribution hub that services cities as far away as New York and Chicago. Drugs from here will eventually find their way through Oregon and into Canada.
Much of the criminal element in Riverside County is tied to the drug trade, and many residents’ lives are destroyed by the easy availability of drugs in the area. Statistically, both violent crimes and property crimes have risen with the supply of drugs in the area. Drug cartel and gang rivalries account for the majority of homicides.
With the problem out of control, health officials are doing what they can to treat the addiction, but that isn’t easy either. Heroin and methamphetamine are two of the most addictive substances known to man, and fentanyl is proving to be growing burden on both the area and families. Lives are being destroyed.
The remainder of this article is designed to talk about drug issues affecting Moreno Valley and Riverside County from a rehabilitation perspective. If you or someone you love is seeking treatment, this article will familiarize you with the process of recovering from drug addiction. It’s important to realize that for as many lives as there are destroyed by drug addiction, many more are able to kick the habit and regain control over their lives. Lives are rebuilt every day. The situation is not hopeless. Help and support are out there.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a synthetic opioid also known as diamorphine. It distills and hones in on the naturally euphoric effects of drugs and medicines derived from opium. In so doing, it delivers for the user an unbelievable high followed by several hours of tranquility.
Heroin is either sold as a white powder or more frequently as a black tar. Black tar heroin comes mostly from Mexico and has the texture and color it has because it is riddled with numerous impurities.
Heroin can be smoked, snorted, eaten, or injected. If you asked doctors and other health officials which was the most dangerous drug, they would likely tell you it’s heroin. Police officers would probably say it’s methamphetamine, but that’s a story for another time. More individuals find themselves in the emergency room because of heroin and other opioids than all other drugs combined
Despite the fact that police officers and emergency medical technicians are routinely outfitted with the anti-opiate drug naloxone, the number of deaths caused by heroin and opioid abuse has risen steadily throughout the US.
For those that find themselves hooked on heroin, stopping the drug cold turkey is nearly impossible. Medical intervention is usually necessary. That is because the physical withdrawal caused by heroin is incredibly painful.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used to treat severe pain. Until recently, fentanyl was only available as a prescription drug. Over the past few years, law enforcement, medical examiners, and doctors have been finding street grade fentanyl in bodies piling up at the morgue.
Fentanyl is said to be 30-50 times more powerful than heroin. In its pure form, fentanyl is a white powder but is often cut with other drugs on the street. The two major sources for the illicit version of the drug are China and Mexico. Being located on the Southwest border of the US situates Moreno Valley as a key distribution center for the drug. It’s cheaply made, and very easy to turn a profit on.
It’s very difficult to tell the difference between someone who is overdosing from fentanyl and someone who is overdosing from heroin. Since fentanyl is several times more potent than heroin, it often takes more than one dose of Naloxone to reverse the effects of the drug
The likelihood that someone will overdose on fentanyl is far higher than heroin. The drug is not only 30 to 50 times more potent, it is also 30 to 50 times more dangerous. A few grains of fentanyl can kill most people.
The drug is responsible for a growing number of deaths across the country.
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine is a synthetic form of speed also known as a stimulant. The drug has been around for centuries and has grown in popularity throughout the years. Users get a nice rush after using the drug followed by several hours of energy and vitality.
Meth, in its pure form, also is generally a white powder, though fans of the hit TV show Breaking Bad will recall that depends on how it is synthesized. Mostly, it’s synthesized from over-the-counter allergy and flu medications that have pseudoephedrine as an active ingredient. This drug is designed to reduce the drowsy side effects of antihistamines.
Meth also can be taken in pill form, snorted, smoked, or injected. While heroin gets all the press for being the most addictive drug on earth, chronic amphetamine users show higher rates of relapse than do former heroin addicts.
Chemically, these drugs are structurally similar to ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin. But users get a manic high from using the drug.
Heroin, Fentanyl, and Prescription Opioid Addiction
All opiates and their synthetic variants (known as opioids) interact with opioid receptors in the brain. The opioid receptors regulate the sensation of pain. For this reason, opiates and opioids have been used to treat chronic pain syndromes for centuries.
The one major problem with these drugs is that they cause a physical dependency. The more an individual takes, the more their body needs the drug. Breaking the addiction can cause extremely painful withdrawal symptoms, and users end up needing to detox under the supervision of medical staff.
Newer opioids like fentanyl and heroin also have one other side effect. They cause an instant euphoria. This is because upon taking the drug, a flood of dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Heroin users say the high is the best feeling they have ever experienced
Nonetheless, chronic users develop a tolerance to the drug. The more they take, the less pleasurable the experience is. They require an increasing amount to produce the same effect. The risk of overdose is thus extremely high, if not inevitable.
Long-Term Effects of Heroin, Fentanyl, and Opioid Abuse
As with methamphetamine and all drugs that stimulate the pleasure center of the brain, opioids gradually produce severe imbalances in the user’s brain chemistry. There’s no simply medical way to reverse the damage done. After about a year of abstinence, most individuals find that balance naturally restored. In addition, studies have shown that heroin and other opioids cause a deterioration to the brain’s white matter. This can impact a person’s executive functions and decision making.
The more potent an opioid is, the sooner and more severe the withdrawal begins to occur. With heroin that can take place within 24 hours of when the last dose was taken. The user is compelled by the sheer physical agony they feel to seek out more of the substance. Other desires and considerations fall by the wayside. Basic things like eating and taking care of oneself are less important than getting more of the drug.
While meth users have higher rates of relapse, that only tells part of the story. Heroin addicts have a single-minded commitment to the drug. It is the only thing that they live for. Over time, heroin abuse is less about experiencing pleasure, and more about the avoidance of pain. Heroin addicts will develop antisocial strategies for getting more of the drug. Many will turn to prostitution, robbery, or panhandling.
There isn’t a safe way to take heroin, but those that use the needle often have a unique set of complications. That includes collapsed veins, venereal diseases, and numerous infections in their skin. Infections can spread throughout their circulatory system and into their heart.
The consequences of their abuse often last well beyond their period of use.
Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse
Meth is involved with fewer deaths than heroin, but the long-term impact of the drug on the body is in many ways worse. Like heroin, meth over-stimulates the dopamine channel of the brain which is involved with pleasure and reward. Without ingesting the drug, the brain can no longer produce dopamine on its own. Depression, anxiety, and a feeling of emptiness or hopelessness follow. The psychiatric term for this is anhedonia, meaning the inability to experience joy. In this manner, the psychological addiction to methamphetamine is established. Chronic users can’t feel good without the drug.
Dopamine is also involved in psychotic conditions. Individuals that suffer from diseases like schizophrenia have defects to their dopamine channel that causes the overproduction of the neurotransmitter. Antipsychotic medication is thus geared toward limiting the amount of dopamine that the brain produces and restricting access to certain parts of the brain. Amphetamine-induced psychosis is a common side effect of the drug. That’s why the majority of law enforcement officers generally believe meth to be the greatest threat to public safety while doctors and hospital staff insist it’s heroin. Neither are wrong.
In addition to causing severe mental illness, chronic long-term meth abuse causes a number of cardiovascular problems as well as serious heart conditions. These are not reversible. Users remain at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke for the remainder of their lives. In addition, meth attacks blood vessels that supply the body’s organs with nutrients. The organs may themselves become compromised due to long-term meth abuse.
Other lifelong problems meth users face are:
- Meth mouth
- Severe skin damage
For those that have developed a habit they want to break and the individuals that love them, help is out there. Understanding the process will help you understand the journey that you’re in for. It won’t necessarily be easy, but many have broken their addiction and lead happy, meaningful lives without drugs. The process can be broken down into a few steps.
- Assessment / Pre-Intake
- Post-Acute Care
- Long-term Care
Assessment is designed to allow a doctor and medical staff to familiarize themselves with the particulars of an individual’s case. They will want to know how long a patient has been using, how much of the drug is in their system, and what other physical or psychiatric conditions may complicate the process of recovery.
Doctors will determine what the extent of the damage caused by the drug abuse has been, whether that is meth or opioids, and try to treat any other conditions caused by the drug. This can include psychosis caused by methamphetamine abuse or infections caused by heroin abuse.
Detoxing from heroin is an unpleasant experience. Symptoms can include nausea, psychosis, aches, chills, muscle cramps, sweating, and runny nose. Staff will administer drugs like methadone or suboxone to wean patients off the drug slowly. This will mitigate some of the worst symptoms but it won’t get rid of them all together. Most users, however, are able to get through this part without relapsing, especially when they choose to detox as an inpatient.
While not the same kind of addiction as heroin, meth users also go through a sort of withdrawal syndrome. When a user stops taking the drug they generally immediately crash and sleep for a day or two. Afterward, the real withdrawal begins. Symptoms include aches and pains, agitation, depression, psychosis, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, inability to concentrate, mood disturbances, and memory problems.
For users that are experiencing extreme anxiety, benzodiazepines can be prescribed. For those experiencing serious depression, antidepressants have proven helpful. Patients experiencing psychotic symptoms will be prescribed anti-psychotics. These should also help them with insomnia.
The post-acute phase is when the majority of people relapse. This is true for both meth and heroin users. Both will experience a profound sense of crippling depression. Pharmaceutical drugs can sometimes mitigate the impact of this but the dopamine system must restore itself. Doctors cannot artificially stimulate the process or the brain will just become dependant on another drug in order to produce dopamine. The brain must learn to produce dopamine again itself.
At this point, those in treatment generally have three options. The first is extended inpatient programs that can last up to 3 months. For high-risk users or users that show the greatest risk of relapsing, this is the best option. That’s because the environment is the most restrictive. Nonetheless, inpatient programs have shown the highest degree of success.
A second option is partial hospitalization programs. These focus on group therapies and one on one counseling that takes place in the hospital during the day. A recovering addict will be expected to be at the hospital all day long. They are then released to what is hopefully an environment in which they won’t be tempted to use. They will also be given tox screens to ensure that they are not using. Often, drug court programs use partial hospitalization programs to ensure that those in need get the right kind of help.
The least restrictive option is intensive outpatient care. For those that are highly motivated to kick their habit or a have a place to go where they won’t be tempted to use, intensive outpatient programs can be very successful.
Recovery doesn’t end after a user completes rehab. It’s a battle they will fight for the remainder of their lives. Psychotherapy has proven effective at giving those in recovery the tools they need to maintain their sobriety for the long haul. This can include becoming aware of the stressors that compel them to use, and how to manage cravings when they occur. Meth users will need to retrain their brain how to process pleasure and reward. Most people get excited and happy about new relationships or advancement in their career. They’re motivated to improve themselves and the lives of the people they care about. In time, the brain can be retrained to process reward in the same way.
Many individuals find 12 step programs immensely helpful to improving the quality of their lives. There they find friends and like-minded individuals that have successfully rebuilt their lives after sustained periods of addiction. It’s important for anyone to have community support, but it can be especially helpful for those that have burnt a lot of bridges. 12 step programs offer a place to start fresh.
Beginning life fresh is not easy, but it does get easier over time. Lives can be and are rebuilt every day. If you or someone you love wants a fresh start, reach out and find help. Real happiness is possible.