Addiction and the Quest for Recovery Solutions in Ventura, California
The name “Ventura” conjures up visions of outdoorsy types trekking the coast and mountains and riding the surf, reveling in the natural spectacles the local landscape so generously provides. And a haven for nature lovers it is: With the Pacific Ocean to the west and the hiking trails of Los Padres State Park to the east there’s plenty to occupy cyclists, hikers, surfers, fishers, sailors. The California city being home to the Patagonia Outdoor Clothing & Gear Company, explorers can also count on being well-outfitted.
Ventura is the county seat of Ventura County and was first settled by Europeans after the Mission San Buenaventura was established nearby in 1782. The town had the name Buenaventura at the time of its incorporation in 1866. It now forms part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
The population of the city was last reported as 109,484, and denizens appear to be prosperous. Ventura county has median household and per capita incomes higher than the national average, the poverty level is nearly three percentage points below the national average, and the unemployment rate is unusually low.
What about drugs in Ventura?
Ventura isn’t part of a HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) as are many other counties in California, but the jury is still out on how serious the substance abuse problem is there.
In 2016 the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that the number of opioid deaths had fallen by 23 percent and overdose deaths from all drugs had dropped by 12 percent. It seemed as if the trend was moving in the opposite direction from the rest of the country, in which the number of substance abuse overdose deaths just keeps rising.
Many credit the drug naloxone for the reversing statistics. This drug if administered in time, can stop an overdose from becoming deadly by blocking the brain receptors that up take opioids. The presence of naloxone kits in the hands of emergency responders, police, medical personnel, and friends and family of addicts has meant that many lives have been saved. But the problem of addiction itself, many report, is as serious as ever. The resources needed to address the problem are sometimes in short supply.
According to the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office last year in Ventura County there were 62 opioid deaths, 27 heroin deaths, and 29 deaths due to methamphetamine. This is lower than 2016 and lower than the national averages—but still too high.
Overdose deaths are still at epidemic levels, and the number of addicts is close to the national average—a problem for which the city and county don’t yet provide an adequate response.
Experts say that if every opioid addict in Ventura County decided to seek treatment at the same time, the county wouldn’t have resources adequate to treat them all. At the moment only about one in five addicts seek help for their addictions, but the ideal scenario would be to have enough treatment facilities so that all could be treated. The main reason for the shortfall is that not enough doctors have taken the specialized training required to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication that helps addicts endure withdrawal. And methadone can only be given by certified treatment programs.
Opioid Epidemic, Opioid Shortage
As often as we bemoan the prevalence of opioids and other drugs on the street, it takes drugs to effectively treat addictions, and Ventura County is just now struggling with shortages of the very medications like morphine, methadone and needed to help addicts detox and recover as well as the stronger opioid painkillers like oxycodone, codeine, and fentanyl, used to help patients manage pain after surgery and to manage pain from chronic illnesses.
The severity of the opioid epidemic in the United States compelled the federal government to impose regulatory limits on the manufacture and supply of opioid painkillers. The well-intentioned limits had two unfortunate effects:
- Reducing the amount of injectable opioid painkillers on the market forced opioid addicts to find alternatives on the street—usually heroin, which was sometimes laced with fentanyl illegally imported.
- The supply of pain relief medications grew inadequate to needs, and hospitals were forced to pay more for the drugs, buying them from more expensive distribution channels.
The government can’t be entirely to blame for the shortage, as manufacturing issues arrived at the same time to inadequate supplies.
What are opioids and how do they work?
Opioids, a pain relief class of drugs, reduce pain by binding to nerve cells. They’re called “opioids” because they’re derived from poppies, hence are related to opium, or are synthetic versions of chemicals found in poppies. According to Dr. Celia Woods, quality medical director for Ventura County Behavioral Health, patients prescribed these medications for even four or five days are at risk of becoming addicted to them. This presents a dilemma for doctors.
- Fentanyl is a synthetic version of opioid, in itself 100 times stronger than morphine and available in forms so strong they can be used to tranquilize elephants. It’s sometimes mixed with heroin, with deadly results. Fentanyl can be manufactured illegally and sold on the street. The Ventura County Chief Medical Examiner reported that last year 22 of the 37 reported opioid deaths were caused by fentanyl.
- Oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, Tylox, Percocet, and Percodan, is the modification of a chemical found in opium.
- Heroin, an illegal opioid, is a derivative of poppy seeds.
- Hydrocodone, a modification of codeine, is found in Norco, Vicodin, and Lortab.
Law enforcement has taken a tougher, albeit controversial, approach to investigating overdose deaths, treating overdoses as homicides in an effort to trace the fatal drug back to the dealer. This change comes in response to the epic proportions of drug overdose and in an attempt to find some way to stem the flow of dangerous substances.
Critics say that this actually undermines life-saving practices like the Good Samaritan laws, which guarantee that those who report possible overdoses will not themselves be prosecuted if they’re found with drugs at the scene. This law ensures that those nearest the overdose victim will call it in as opposed to remaining silent for fear of criminal prosecution. They also claim that the person who sold the drugs can’t be held entirely to blame for the complex of circumstances leading to an overdose.
Commonly Abused Drugs in Hayward
Listed in order of prominence, based on documented arrests, confiscations and admissions:
- Cocaine and crack cocaine
- Heroin & other opioids including prescription drugs
- Other drugs
What’s the drug of choice in Ventura?
No accurate numbers are readily available, but based on the rise in the use of the drug Narcan to prevent overdoses, the favorite drug in Ventura would appear to be heroin, which has replaced the former favorite, methamphetamine.
Marijuana in Ventura
In 2016 recreational marijuana was decriminalized in California. This meant that buying, possessing, or using amounts less than 28.5 gram of regular marijuana became legal except when driving or in a prohibited place.
Medical marijuana had already been available for some time. Patients with a doctor’s recommendation can purchase marijuana from licensed dealers without having to pay sales tax.
Sales of recreational marijuana began this year. If you’re over 21 you can purchase limited amounts of marijuana at dispensaries with temporary state licenses. The dispensaries are only allowed to operate between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Municipalities have the right to make their own rules about the sales of recreational marijuana and even to reject the Proposition 64 completely (which Kern and Shasta counties have already done).
Dispensaries now selling medical marijuana can apply for licenses. Dispensaries that already hold medical licenses can also apply for temporary adult use licenses to sell recreational marijuana if they have the permission of their city. Dispensaries who hold both licenses have to label medical marijuana and recreational marijuana separately and keep separate sales records.
Before shipping marijuana to retailers the product must be tested for mold, bacteria, and pesticides. The stock is also tested for standardized THC and CBD content.
Penalties for Drug Possession and Sales in California
California has two general categories of drug possession:
1). Simple possession
2). Possession with the intent to sell (usually established by large quantities)
Dangerous drugs are distinguished from marijuana, which is not designated a “restricted dangerous drug.”
Until 2014 those sentenced for crimes related to their drug addictions could appeal to the court for sentencing in a drug court, allowing them to get help for the dependency that was fueling their criminal activity. The program was remarkable successful and reduced recidivism. But in 2014 California voters passed Proposition 47, which rendered many possession offenses punishable as misdemeanors only.
Inmates charged with possession (except for sex offenders) who’d been incarcerated before Proposition 47 were allowed to petition the court to change their sentences. This meant that many addicts were released without proper access to addiction treatment and that those who might have benefited from the drug court program were no longer urged to comply, choosing the easier route of fines and probation to actually doing the tough work of kicking the habit.
Has substance abuse become a wrecking ball in your life?
If so, you’re not the only one. Many have trod this road before you, and many have made it to the mountaintop to experience life, peace, and joy in ways they could never have done before addiction threatened to destroy them.
Recovery is a road less travelled, and a means of finding so much meaning in life that escaping reality is no longer a desirable option. We’re ready to help you get there! Many of us have gone the same way and know what you’re facing. But we’re also excited about helping you find the treasures we’ve found ourselves.
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.
~ Anne Lamott
If you have a loved one whose life is in danger of imploding because of drug dependency, you might consider planning an intervention, especially if the person is in denial despite close brushes with death. On one hand we need to respect the independence of others, but on the other hand an addict has lost their independence already, having handed it over to a cruel and heartless tyrant.
What is Ventura doing to combat its drug problems?
Ventura has been remarkably creative and proactive in addressing the problem of addiction.
Vivitrol: removing cravings
In Ventura County some drug-dependent prison inmates now have access to Vivitrol (also known as naltrexone) in a pilot program. Vivitrol injection blocks the brain’s opioid receptors, preventing the activation of the pleasure response cycle that causes and maintains addiction.
Vivitrol is not addictive itself and has no street value because it doesn’t grant a high (rather it prevents one). It’s a costly drug ($1200 a month as compared to $250 for methadone and $700 for buprenorphine), but one injection lasts for a whole month. Treatment includes ongoing counseling to warn users of the danger of relapse resulting from Vivitrol’s lowering of tolerance for opioids.
Narcan: preventing death
The drug narcan (or naloxone) is now in common use and dosage kits are given to emergency responders, police, and medical personnel and are available without prescription to drug users as well as to their friends and family members who might one day be called on to administer the life-saving drug. It works quickly, bringing on withdrawal symptoms so quickly that paramedics sometimes have to defend themselves against physical attacks from revived patients and police have to prevent the patient from running off in search of more drugs.
Narcan has been accused of enabling further drug use by reducing the fear of death from overdose, but its advocates say that though the drug is no replacement for recovery treatment, it can keep addicts alive until they’re ready to get help.
Syringe exchange: one death is too many
In the fall of 2017 The Ventura County Public Health Department started up a syringe exchange program whose purpose was to reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis as well as to remove used syringes from the environment. They appointed the non-profit Ventura County Rainbow Alliance to operate the program from its office in the city of Ventura.
In order to legalize syringe exchange programs municipalities were called upon to declare public health emergencies in order to justify them. Although the number of deaths from HIV and hepatitis B and C are lower in Ventura County than in most others in the country, Ventura County decided that even one death from these illnesses, if preventable, was one too many. The program includes blood testing, counseling, free condoms, and information about available detox and 12-step programs.
The drug court tradition, the highly successful program (for those who complete it) originating in Miami in the nineties and quickly adopted in cities across the country, was forced to take a back seat after Proposition 47 had the unfortunate effect of keeping offenders from getting the recovery treatment they might not have sought on their own. As enrollment for the program dropped drug courts were eventually phased out.
Part of the breach has been filled by re-entry court, a probation program for repeat offenders with addictions who are trying to become responsible citizens. Being sentenced to re-entry court means submitting to blood tests for drug use and being regularly examined by probation officers, lawyers, and treatment providers.
Addiction Recovery Treatment Resources in Ventura
California provides both public and private treatment options, the public resources provided to all residents and the private provided for a fee or paid with insurance. Both public and private service providers must be licensed.
If you’re entering treatment for the first time, there are a number of stages that you can normally expect to go through.
During the assessment phase your degree of dependence is determined and a program begins to form with your needs in mind. You will be questioned by a medical professional, most like a doctor, who will gather your history of drug use. The doctor may also try to find out if you have underlying mental health issues, which in the context of drug addiction are called co-occurring disorders. The doctor may demand that you take a second, more detailed interview with another medical professional, but the initial interview is usually enough and normally takes less than half an hour.
“Intake” is the period in which you’re admitted to a treatment program. Payment arrangements will be made, you’ll be counseled as to what will be expected of you (compliance with the program) and what you can and cannot bring to the facility with you.
Most likely you’ll already have undergone detox, or detoxification, to rid your body of the harmful chemical on which is has become dependent, but if you haven’t gone through detox yet you’ll be required to go through it now, before entering a long-term recovery program. No recovery program can work for those who continue to use drugs, and because sometimes drugs make it into these facilities you’ll be tested regularly to assure that your body remains drug free. The period can take up to a month to complete and includes counseling, education, and peer support, as well as medications to ease you through withdrawal.
The term “inpatient treatment” refers to live-in treatment at an RTC, or residential treatment center. In such a place you’ll spend anywhere from three to nine months, or even a year or more, preparing to reenter the world with the least possible chance of relapse. The longer term programs have been shown to be more effective than the shorter terms ones at preventing relapse over a lifetime.
“Outpatient treatment” refers to treatments that occur on a visitation basis, i.e. you remain in your home but visit a center to receive counseling, education, blood tests, and medication to help you stay clean. Outpatient programs have been criticized for not being as effective as inpatient programs because the patient remains in the same environment in which they became addicted in the first place and so are likely to relapse if they remain there.
But in many cases outpatient treatment is the only option for still able to juggle the responsibilities of job and family. And with new medical therapies now available, outpatient treatments now promise a higher success rate. Outpatient treatment is also an essential service for those who wish to remain clean and sober and just need some help now and then to maintain sobriety.
Aftercare and sober living
“Aftercare” refers to the program’s follow-up once you leave the facility. Normally the recovery treatment program will have given you the intellectual and emotional training needed to help you avoid relapse and will also have aided you in creating your own life skills program and in making the changes in your life necessary to avoid relapse. Life changes might include moving to a new neighborhood, avoiding the company of certain people, or finding satisfying, meaningful work. The program will also help you find support in your community by setting you up with local 12-step groups and maybe even finding you a sponsor.
Addiction happens because of errors we make in the quest for happiness. But the human need for happiness can never be satisfied by enslaving ourselves to substances. The road to recovery demands change—changed attitudes, thoughts, practices, and beliefs. For those who have the courage to undertake it, recovery is truly a grand human adventure. Contact us and let us guide you to the things you need to make your recovery a lifelong success story.
Recovery is all about using our power to change our beliefs that are based on faulty data.
Positive thoughts and prayer have been the best means available, since the beginning of time, to transform darkness to light.