Meth and opioids in Long Beach: Health Department releases opioid-addiction death report from 2014 to 2018

The report showed 286 substance related deaths occurred in the city from 2014 to 2018.

Meth and opioids in Long Beach: Health Department releases opioid-addiction death report from 2014 to 2018

2011 file photo

In a Feb. 6 memo to the City manager, The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services outlined a five-year report where it analyzed substance-use deaths in Long Beach from 2014 to 2018. The Long Beach City Council requested the Health Department to produce the study following a council meeting on Oct. 8.

According to drugabuse.gov, opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and many others.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) categorized amphetamines as prescription stimulants used to treat Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is often used as a study aid, to stay awake, and to suppress appetites. It can be prescribed as Adderall.

The Health Department’s report showed 286 substance related deaths occurred in the city from 2014 to 2018. Of those deaths, 178 were listed as having home addresses in Long Beach. Opioids were shown as the leading cause of death, which accounted for 75 deaths during the five-year period. Amphetamines caused 62 deaths during the five-year period.

The report also showed that white individuals overdosed the most when compared to other races, and the average age for people who overdosed was between 46 and 60.

To supplement the Health Department’s report, Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) data was requested to record the number of booking charges made for violations to California Health and Safety Codes 11377HS and 11350HS, which make it a crime to possess methamphetamine and other controlled substances. Booking charges for years 2017 through 2019 were analyzed.

In 2019, 953 arrests were made for simple possession of meth, ecstasy and gammahydroxybutyric acid, which was down from a high of 1,191 in 2017; 142 arrests were made for simple possession of heroin and cocaine, down from a high of 270 in 2017.

The report states that in 2014, simple drug possession was reduced to a misdemeanor, and this change reduced the number of drug-related arrests the police made.

Sgt. Timothy Long is a narcotics officer with the LBPD, who spoke with the Signal Tribune last year specifically about methamphetamine use in Long Beach in anticipation of the Health Department’s report on opioids.

Sgt. Long said that in the 1990s, there were many laboratories within city limits manufacturing methamphetamine.

“Methamphetamine as a whole in the history of Long Beach has been consistent,” Sgt. Long told the Signal Tribune on Oct. 2. “It’s a lot better. And when I say it’s a lot better, I mean we’re not dealing with laboratories and things of that nature–– the manufacturing and producing [of] methamphetamine [is] out of the city. People are reaching out of the city and bringing it in.”

As environmental and criminal laws began to expand, law enforcement agencies successfully began to crack down on laboratories in the early 2000s, Sgt. Long said. Eventually, cartel groups began finding it difficult to produce the drug in Long Beach, due to police pressure and expensive costs of laboratory equipment.

“With the enforcement of it, with people who bring it in–– for example cartels or what have you–– it was too arduous for them to get the product in because the enforcement was too heavy on the lab.” Sgt. Long said. “A lot of that they moved over the border, [from] which came your super labs and things like factories. So, they produce it there and then ship it across, versus it being produced here.”

Although Sgt. Long hasn’t seen a rise in meth use in his line of work, he understands the impact drugs have on local communities, and the interactions officers have when approaching a person potentially on drugs.

“One thing we have done in our de-escalation training is to emphasize stimulants such as methamphetamine or other drugs that do heighten the habits in a person that we may come in contact with,” Long said. “That has helped a lot when dealing with the methamphetamine issue.”

Also highlighted in the report was data from the Long Beach Fire Department, which showed a total of 406 overdose incidents involving suspected drug use in Long Beach in the 18 months from June 2018 through November 2019.

During this period, Narcan–– an opioid antagonist used for the complete or partial reversal of opioid overdose–– was administered during 335 overdose incidents.

Beginning in the summer of 2019, 187 overdoses occurred during the period of July through November. Heroin accounted for 46 of the overdoses, and an additional 30 people overdosed on other opioids, for a combined total of 76 opioid overdoses, or 40% of the 187 total overdoses, according to the Health Department. Amphetamines comprised 60 of the 187, or 32%, for the same five-month period.

Since 2019, the Health Department has implemented a website to provide links for addiction services and referred more individuals to Homeless Services, Clinical Services and Public Health Nursing.

Currently, the Health Department has found limited sources for funding opioid-addiction services. Long Beach is not eligible for federal funding because many foundations such as the Aetna Foundation and Merck Foundation restrict their giving to Pennsylvania, North Carolina and West Virginia, the report stated.