Dear LAist: How Big A Problem Is Opioid Abuse In SoCal?

(Photo: Cindy Shebley/Flickr Creative Commons)

WE'RE ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS ABOUT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA THAT KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT. IF YOU HAVE ONE, ASK IT HERE.


Reader Sally Ross wanted to know: "Does Southern California suffer from a high number of opioid abusers?"

In short, it depends on how you look at the data.

California as a whole has among the lowest rates of opioid-related hospital visits and overdose deaths in the United States.

Of the Southern California counties, L.A. has the lowest overdose death rate — 3.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, according to preliminary figures from the state Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard. It's lower than the state average — 4.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

Beyond that, Southern California counties have lower (much lower, in some cases) rates of opioid-related hospital visits and overdose deaths than some of the state's more rural, northern counties.

But let's take a closer look at the numbers. For example, Modoc County in northeastern California had the highest rate of opioid-related deaths per 100,000 residents in 2017. But that amounted to just three deaths, because the population is so small.

On the flip side, the opioid overdose death rate in Los Angeles in 2017 was more than seven times lower than in Modoc County — but amounted to 354 deaths.

Collectively, L.A., Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties accounted for half of all opioid-related deaths in California last year.

One thing to keep in mind: counties tally their overdose-related deaths and hospitalizations differently, and some are more thorough than others. So comparing across counties, and even across states, gives an imperfect measure.

You can dive into more of the data with the state's dashboard on opioids. It breaks down the statistics by county and zip code, and lets you explore the numbers from all across California.

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