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Riverside: Drug Abuse Statistics and Local Treatment Guide

Riverside, California, is a small city to the east of Los Angeles. It is home to almost 325,000 people who enjoy the warm weather of Southern California and proximity to a much larger metropolitan area. The average age in Riverside is about 32 years old, slightly younger than the state’s average age of 36.

While Riverside may seem bucolic, the city is infamous as “America’s Drug Pipeline” due to its proximity to major cities, major ports, and California’s border with Mexico. Much of the area is empty desert, with major highways like Interstate 10 running through, so drug traffickers have historically been able to go unnoticed.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers it one of the riskiest areas in the country for drug smuggling. In 2015, an investigative report stated that the amount of heroin and meth, in particular, being shipped through the city was 10 times higher than in the previous decade.

Riverside, California

Drug and Alcohol Abuse in the Riverside Area

As more drugs are smuggled through Riverside, residents are at higher risk of abuse, and drug-related problems like overdose in the area appear to reflect this trend. Between 2006 and 2015, the rate of unintentional drug poisoning, or overdose, increased 51.8 percent.

Narcotics: Because of Riverside’s proximity to the Mexican border and the ports of Los Angeles, accessible highways, its less populated suburban sprawl, and the ease of getting through to the rest of the nation, it is one of the main areas in the United States where narcotics, particularly heroin and fentanyl, are smuggled in. Over a three-year period, according to a news report, the Riverside DEA Office (which covers San Bernardino) confiscated 770 pounds of heroin. This is one-tenth of the heroin seized by the DEA in drug raids around the rest of the nation. And the amount of heroin seized in raids has been on the rise; in 2013, there were 150 pounds seized, and by 2015, there were 395 pounds seized.

Both emergency department admissions and hospitalizations due to opioid misuse or abuse have increased in Riverside, reflecting state and national trends, since 2010. Between 2010 and 2016, both inpatient hospitalizations and ER treatment involving acute opioid problems increased 50 percent. Most of these hospitalizations are a result of opioid abuse and addiction, leading to overdose. This includes prescription pain relievers like OxyContin or morphine, but it is predominantly from heroin and fentanyl.

Deaths involving heroin increased 80 percent between 2011 and 2015. Currently, one in four drug overdose deaths in Riverside involves heroin, and 37 percent of drug-involved deaths in the area involve opioids.

Although Riverside is abused by traffickers as a drug smuggling pipeline, doctors in the area are changing their prescribing practices, so hopefully fewer people will have access to narcotic painkillers and misuse, abuse, or divert them. Between 2015 and 2017, rates of opioid prescriptions decreased 10 percent.

Methamphetamine: After federal raids of domestic, small-batch methamphetamine producers around the U.S. in the early 2000s, meth abuse across the nation dropped; however, super labs in Mexico began producing more meth, which had a higher purity and lower cost than the meth produced within the U.S. This drug is now much more often smuggled from Central American into the U.S., especially through Riverside, California.

The Riverside DEA’s office reported that, in the same year they confiscated tons of heroin, they also confiscated 6,500 pounds of methamphetamine; this represents a quarter of the meth seized in drug raids by the DEA in the entire country. Like narcotics, the DEA has seized more meth each year. In 2013, they seized 1,567 pounds, and by 2015, they seized 2,546 pounds.

Alcohol: Although there are serious risks from illicit drugs in Riverside County, the area also struggles with excessive drinking, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define as either four to five drinks in a two-hour period (binge drinking), drinking more than seven drinks in a week (heavy drinking), or alcohol use disorder (AUD). These collectively constitute forms of excessive drinking.

In Riverside, a 2015 survey found that the prevalence of harmful alcohol consumption was 18.3 percent — not as high as some counties in California, but still prevalent among residents. The area also has a high rate of alcohol-involved car accident deaths: 34.5 percent per a 2015 survey.

A 2009 survey found that binge drinking in particular was lower in Riverside than the rest of the state: 29.7 percent of adults, ages 18 and older, reported binge drinking at least once in the past year, compared to 31.3 percent of California as a whole. This may indicate that fewer people in Riverside struggle with problem drinking, but when they do drink, they are more likely to drive, which puts them at much higher risk of fatal accidents.

Marijuana: While marijuana is an addictive substance, many states including California have passed legislation allowing recreational and medical use of the drug. As of January 1, 2018, it is legal for adults, ages 21 and older, in California to grow, possess, and consume marijuana without a physician’s recommendation or card. People who use cannabis for medical reasons still require a medical card.

According to current legislation, adults may have 28.5 grams of cannabis, or up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis, but this may not be sold to others, given to underage people, taken across state lines, or left in an open container in a vehicle. No one may operate a vehicle while under the influence of cannabis. Many of the new marijuana laws in California are modeled after alcohol legislation.

marijuana rolled into joint

Treatment Approaches Are Changing in Riverside Thanks to Medi-Cal

In 2017, Riverside, along with San Mateo, California, became one of the first counties in the entire nation to implement a comprehensive continuum of care for people struggling with substance abuse disorders who are on Medicaid or qualify for Medicaid. The focus of the continuum is to better promote the systemic and practical reforms to make evidence-based addiction treatment more accessible and complete.

Part of this program, through Medi-Cal — which is California’s implementation of federal Medicaid dollars — will involve setting up screening for adolescents who may be abusing drugs and alcohol in high school. Prevention specialists will work with high-risk youth in a neutral setting to determine if they need additional support.

three teenagers receiving substance abuse treatment

How to Find Substance Abuse Treatment in Riverside

There are several ways to get help to overcome substance abuse and related behavioral or mental disorders in Riverside. For example, the county offers a mental and behavioral services locator called Network of Care. Information of a range of substance abuse-related services can also be found at the county’s Substance Use Services page. Further information can be found through the nonprofit Up2Riverside, which offers a page on addiction and substance abuse resources in the county.

Cannabis-specific information for adolescents and adults can be found with county sponsorship on the Let’s Talk About Cannabis page. This helps to prevent abuse of the drug at a young age, reduces the risk of drug abuse among pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and encourages responsible, moderate consumption.

If you find yourself in legal trouble in Riverside, the family court system has a series of substance abuse monitoring providers and treatment programs you can be referred to if you are convicted of a drug-related crime.

For those seeking specific approaches to detox and rehabilitation, or additional luxury services not offered through city or county programs, Psychology Today keeps a list of substance abuse treatment centers in Riverside, California.


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Overdose and Opioid Deaths in Riverside County, CA. (February 2018). Health Matters: Riverside University Health System – Public Health.

Opioid-Related ED Visits and Hospitalizations in Riverside County. (October 2018). Health Matters: Riverside University Health System – Public Health.

Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health. (January 3, 2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Community Health Profile. (2013). County of Riverside, Department of Public Health (DPH).

Let’s Talk Cannabis. (October 17, 2017). Health Matters: Riverside University Health System – Public Health.

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Substance Abuse Treatment Centers in Riverside County, CA. Psychology Today.