Drugs of choice: San Francisco Bay Area

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Recently the San Jose Mercury News reported that drug use has increasingly become a problem in the technology industry. High expectations have led to the adrenaline fueled culture which leaves its workers vulnerable to the temptations of licit and illicit drugs. Specifically, the article documents a rise in the use of uppers and downers to enable workers to maintain their productivity. These drugs include oxycodone, heroin, adderall and provigil. Methamphetamine and cocaine are not mentioned in the article but, from my experience in the field, these drugs are also part of the equation. The simple fact is that, particularly for young middle class professionals, when the doctor stops writing prescriptions you can turn to the streets for cheaper and just as effective options and, since many of these Silicon Valley professionals live in and commute from San Francisco, the drug market is in the city.

Given what the article presents I am given to ask, what exactly is the Bay Area experiencing in terms of drug and alcohol problems? Alice Gleghorn with the Department of Public Health in San Francisco put out a revised report in November of 2013 entitled Drug Abuse Patterns and Trends in the San Francisco Bay Area, California: June 2013. The report includes findings from the San Francisco Metropolitan Area which includes San Francisco, Marin, Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo. I will pull out a few statistics and findings from the report for the 2012 reporting period. While these numbers tell us about the problems associated with the use of substances, they can also help us to begin to understand patterns of drug and alcohol use in general.

Drug Seizures

Drugs most often seized in order of frequency as reported by the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS)

1. Methamphetamine
2. Marijuana
3. Cocaine
4. Heroin
9. MDMA (Ecstasy)

Also, of note, various opiate, sedative hypnotic, and stimulant pharmaceuticals were seized by the DEA and these accounted for 10.6% of all drugs seized. These drugs included oxycodone, hydrocodone, alprazolam (xanax), clonazepam (klonopin), buprenorphine, and amphetamine.

Emergency Department Visits

Some findings from Emergency Department visits as reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) were:

  • With the exception of methadone, many of these same pharmaceutical drugs individually showed significant long- and shorter-term increases in nonfatal emergency department (ED) visits in 2011 as compared with 2004, 2009, or 2010 (methadone-related visits decreased by 17 percent from 2009 to 2011).
  • Alcohol, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) also showed similar ED visit decreases during the same time comparisons.
  • Marijuana rates rose 146 percent from 2004 to 2011, slowing to a 40-percent increase between 2009 and 2011.

Treatment Admissions

Individuals entering treatment represent those who have transitioned from use to problematic use of substances. The most frequent primary drugs of abuse for this population as reported by the California Department of Health Care Services using the CalOMS (California Outcome Monitoring System) system were:

1. Alcohol (particularly among males over 35)
2. Methamphetamine
3. Heroin
4. Cocaine
5. Marijuana
6. Prescription drugs

Primary route of administration

  • Smoking for methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana
  • Injection for heroin and methamphetamine
  • Orally for prescription drugs
  • Inhalation infrequently for heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine

Overdose deaths

As reported by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Medical Examiner Report drug-related deaths were due, in order of frequency, to:

1. Heroin
2. Cocaine
3. Alcohol
4. Stimulants
5. Benzodiazepines

Field reports found “bath salts” (substituted cathinones) and cocaine present in some drug-involved deaths.

Additional Findings

  • Heroin price and purity has continued to decrease to $1.40 per milligram of pure heroin with purity only at 3.9 percent on average in samples.
  • Laboratory analysis of a drug sold as “gunpowder heroin” revealed that this drug contained primarily heroin, lidocaine, codeine and morphine.
  • AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) incidence and mortality have dropped to baseline levels, with approximately 18 percent of cases including injection drug use as a transmission factor.

In conclusion

This is the first in a series of posts that will provide a snapshot of what the experts are finding from their data collection and analysis efforts. Some aspects of drug and alcohol problems inevitably fall under their radar, however. I will continue to explore these elements so we can get the smaller and bigger pictures, that is, how this affects us personally and how this affects our community. Please feel free to contribute to the discussion; I welcome your observations and feedback.

May, P. & Somerville, H (2014, July, 25). Use of illicit drugs becomes part of Silicon Valley’s work culture. San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_26219187/use-illicit-drugs-becomes-part-silicon-valleys-work.

Alice A. Gleghorn, Ph.D. (June 2013, Revised November 2013). Drug abuse and trends in the San Francisco Bay Area, California: June 2013. Retrieved from National Institute of Health (NIH) Community Epidemiology Workgroup.

12 thoughts on “Drugs of choice: San Francisco Bay Area

  1. Drugs are becoming a global problem now…….very recently in Kerala there was a report that drugs were confiscated from a party. As you told, the techies have plenty of money and combined with the enormous stress they are subjected to for achieving the targets, they easily get drawn into this vortex of drug addictions. Now even in a small state of Kerala, there are so many rave parties going on which have drugs in their menu. Government is acting but I think, awareness is the biggest weapon to curb this social menace.

    1. Hey, Gay Bodhi, interesting regarding your observations about the drug issues in Kerala. I did read an article about marijuana use and the police correlating this to Bob Marley paraphernalia for teenagers. I wonder if they are taking MDMA (ecstasy) at the raves in Kerala. That is certainly the case here. This gives me an incentive to see what the researchers there are finding…Thanks for the insights!

  2. Hi Kathleen,

    Meth is a huge problem near me in Indiana. I’m in the rural part and there are a lot of arrests every day for labs and distribution. It’s very concerning. I agree with Gay, awareness is key.

    Thanks for sharing,

    1. Yes,Lillian, it is a big problem wherever there are meth labs. It does seem to occur more in rural areas. There are not only the toxic chemicals and potential for explosions but also the extreme behaviors of users and possible child endangerment. I agree about awareness as being the key. I also think that people need a reason to feel hopeful about their future. I have found that people use drugs and alcohol excessively to medicate their fear and pain. People need opportunities to develop skills and abilities to help them thrive socially, emotionally and in the work force. I feel these are the best prevention measures.

      Thanks for your observations.

  3. Statistics can be influenced to get the results that are wanted. Example: Judges sentencing people to drug rehabilitation and they do this not to help the person they do it for the money they receive from kickbacks from such facilities that support such actions. I am an alcoholic and an addict and one does not change through others forcing such a decision. The addictive personality started the process and so the person has to come to terms with themselves before change will take place. An addict won’t stop unless locked up, dead or deciding on their own. Of course insanity can take over but then the personality is out to lunch.

    1. I hope things are going OK for you. I agree, Harold, that statistics should be viewed critically. However, they can be useful to get an idea of what the public health authorities and law enforcement are finding. This, as you said, is not the entire picture. In San Francisco there is discussion about how a lot of the dimensions of substance use can not be ascertained just by looking at the statistics. I also agree that a person has to decide to change in order to do so. All we can do is be supportive while not enabling their substance use, a very difficult balancing act for sure!

    1. Yes, Carlo, and peer pressure is greatest from the ages of 12 to 30 in my experience. Unfortunately, a lot of people view the use of drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with school and work pressure.

  4. I’ve stayed away from the 5 Hour Energy, Monster and-the-like energy drinks because I can see what’s happening in the tech industry. Some may say that these drinks are harmless sold over the counter drinks that just give you an extra boost. But there are reports of young people overdosing on them. I see a natural progression of “I need a fix” that may have it’s beginning in sugary drinks, energy drinks, Starbucks and then onto your list in this article.

    1. That’s a good point Eddie. It used to be that marijuana was the gateway drug, now it may be energy drinks!

  5. These are some fascinating statistics Kathleen.

    These drugs seem to get more and more dangerous as they evolve. A year ago, living in Ithaca New York, bath salts were a big problem. I’ve seen a young man on them. This is something I never want to witness again. He was going crazy, banging his head against the sidewalk and bleeding. I called the police immediately so he wouldn’t kill himself.

    It is kind of shocking what is happening in the tech industry. Whatever happened to a good old coffee break?


    1. It seems that drug use and binge drinking are a rite of passage for a certain subset of young people. Other than the young guy, you also probably saved a couple of people from getting hurt by calling the police. The behaviors attributed to “bath salts” are reminiscent of the problems that people had when taking PCP, a similar hallucinogenic and amphetamine type of high. Delusions mixed with superhuman strength are not a good combination…

      Thanks for reading!

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