Laguna Niguel, California, is a small city in Orange County, with just shy of 65,000 residents. The median age for residents in this planned community is 43.9 years old, roughly middle aged. This bucolic city is located at the midpoint between Los Angeles and San Diego. The city’s name comes from the Spanish word laguna, meaning lagoon, and Nigueli, the name of a nearby Janueno Indian village.
As part of Orange County, Laguna Niguel residents are at risk of abusing drugs or alcohol. The Orange County Register reported in 2017 that death in the county due to drugs or alcohol abuse skyrocketed 82% between 2000 and 2015, with opioid abuse being the leading cause. There were about 700 deaths annually from substance abuse poisoning in the county, with cities close to the water or further south, toward San Diego, suffering the most.
Most Frequently Abused Substances in Laguna Niguel, CA
To understand the impact of addiction on Laguna Niguel and surrounding areas of Orange County, it is important to know which substances are abused most often. Residents of the community are at risk of exposure to these substances, which increases their risk of abusing and becoming dependent on these drugs.
Alcohol: Orange County’s excessive drinking prevalence is not the highest in the state of California, but it is relatively high at about 17.7%. There are also high rates of deadly driving accidents involving alcohol at 27.4% for the collection years 2011–2015.
A United Way report published in 2014 found that, in 2011, 32% of all vehicular deaths and severe injuries in Orange County involved alcohol abuse in some way. This rate was high for the state of California, lower only than San Diego County’s reported 33%. However, over the past decade, the report stated that Orange County’s rate of alcohol-involved car accident injuries and deaths decreased about 5%.
Adults in Orange County, including Laguna Niguel, binge drink at a slightly higher rate than adults in the rest of California—35.1% in the past year compared to the state’s 34%. Binge drinking is, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), defined as four or more drinks in about two hours for women, and five or more drinks in that period of time for men. Teenagers in Orange County, however, binge drink at lower rates compared to adolescents throughout California—17.6% of the county’s teenagers ever had an alcoholic beverage compared to 22.5% at the state level, and only 1.9% of Orange County teens reported binge drinking in the past month compared to California’s rate of 3.6%.
Opioids: Deaths from opioid overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, surpassing car accidents. Prescription painkillers, heroin, and illicit fentanyl are the causes of the high rates of opioid addiction and related death. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 80% of people across the nation who abuse heroin began abusing prescription painkillers and then switched to the less expensive, more available illegal narcotic when they could no longer fill their prescriptions for opioid drugs.
The Orange County Health Care Agency & Sheriff-Coroner created a 2017 report regarding opioid overdose and death in the county, which contains Laguna Niguel. In the survey years 2011–2015, the report found that there were 7,457 emergency department admissions, and 7 out of every 10 deaths investigated by the coroner during this survey period involved opioids.
On average, 1,500 Orange County residents are treated in hospitals every year for opioid overdose or dependence. The rate of emergency room admissions in Orange County has doubled since 2005, while the rate of overdose deaths remained stable during the five-year survey period. Of these hospitalizations in 2015, 2,926 involved opioid abuse and dependence; 1,820 involved heroin poisoning; 1,569 were due to semisynthetic prescription opioid poisoning; 854 were caused by opium poisoning; and 288 involved methadone poisoning.
In 2011, Laguna Niguel’s rate of ER admissions for opioid poisoning was 43 out of every 100,000 people; by 2015, Laguna Niguel’s opioid hospitalization rate was 50 out every 100,000 residents.
Overall, men in Laguna Niguel and Orange County were twice as likely as women to overdose on opioid drugs. Neighboring cities Laguna Beach and Laguna Woods both had high reported rates of ER admissions, but Laguna Niguel, as a smaller area, reported fewer opioid poisoning and overdose emergency admissions. However, people between the ages of 45 and 54 had higher rates of opioid overdose and hospitalizations than younger residents, so the age group living in Laguna Niguel is at a higher risk.
Although Laguna Niguel’s narcotic overdose death rate remained roughly stable between 2011 and 2015, there were 10 overdose deaths in both 2013 and 2014, while there were seven in 2011 and 2015. A sudden dip to two overdose deaths in 2012 marked an unusual year during the survey.
Fentanyl is one of the leading causes of the recent spike in opioid overdose deaths around the nation. In 2016, the California Senate passed Senate Bill 1323, designed to combat fentanyl import and abuse by increasing criminal penalties for those found distributing, selling, or possessing illicit versions of this potent narcotic. A senator from Laguna Niguel was one of the co-creators of the bill.
Marijuana: Although marijuana use for both medical and recreational reasons is legal in the state of California as of 2016 due to the passage of Proposition 64, several cities and counties across the state struggled to determine whether they wanted to legalize this drug or not. Residents in the large state must be at least 21 years old to purchase and consume this drug, but even when the proposition went into full effect in 2018, specific areas of the state do not allow use of the drug at all.
Orange County is one of the most restrictive counties for legalized marijuana. Of the 34 cities in the area, only two will allow recreational marijuana use. The county will also not allow any marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas. Laguna Niguel will not, as of 2017, allow any form of recreational marijuana—commercial growing, retail dispensaries, or other businesses.
This is likely related to rates of marijuana abuse in the area. Marijuana is the most widely abused illicit drug among Orange County adult residents, with about 758,000 adults, or 33% of the adult population, reporting abuse of this drug at least once in their lives. About 8% of adults in Orange County in 2012 reported using the drug at least once in the past year, while 4.5% reported abusing it in the past month. As marijuana’s popularity continues to go up, these numbers are likely to increase.
Cocaine, meth, and other illicit drugs: A 2012 survey found that 34% of adults in Orange County abused any illicit drug, except marijuana, at least once in their lifetime; 8% abused an illicit drug in the year before being surveyed, while 5% abused an illicit drug within the month before the survey. Most of this substance abuse occurs among young adults, 18¬–24 years old.
Cocaine and methamphetamine are the most abused illicit drugs in Orange County and the Southern California area. In Orange County, per the 2012 survey on alcohol and drug abuse in the area, 13% of the adult population had ever tried cocaine; 1% had abused this stimulant in the past year; and 0.3% had abused cocaine in the month before the survey. More men than women abused cocaine, and those 45¬–54 years old were the most likely to abuse this drug, likely because they began abusing the stimulant in the 1980s or 1990s, and have continued this struggle with cocaine addiction into middle age.
About 142,000 adults in Orange County in 2012 reported abusing methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime; this represented about 6% of the county’s adult population. Additionally, 0.6% abused this harmful stimulant at least once in the past year, and 0.1% abused the drug in the past month.
Hallucinogens are not widely abused, including in Laguna Niguel. LSD, PCP, and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) abuse occurred monthly for 0.1% of adults in the county, and about once a year for 0.4% of these adults. About 9%, or 212,000 adults, had ever tried a hallucinogenic drug.
Cigarettes: The adult smoking prevalence in Orange County, as of 2015, was about 10.3%. This is lower than many places in California. According to the CDC, about 15 out of every 100 adults, or 15.5%, in the United States smoked cigarettes in 2016; this rate is higher than Orange County’s average.
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Mental and Behavioral Health Struggles in Laguna Niguel and Orange County
Addiction is a chronic disease that changes the brain, according to NIDA. This condition changes structures in the brain, which impacts how neurotransmitters are released and reabsorbed. This effects mood and mental health. Addiction is also closely correlated with existing mental illness—people who struggle with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and personality disorders are at higher risk of abusing drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the uncomfortable symptoms of their behavioral or mental condition.
Understanding the rates of hospitalization, mental illness, and childhood problems in Orange County and Laguna Niguel can help one understand approaches to treatment that can best benefit the community.
Hospitalization and overdose: According to the Orange County Health Agency (OCHA), the overall rate of drug and alcohol overdose deaths rose 82% between 2000 and 2017, and men were about twice as likely as women to be hospitalized for drug poisoning or overdose. Men were also about twice as likely to die from a drug- or alcohol-related incident. Cities like Laguna Niguel in Orange County reportedly have higher rates of alcohol- and drug-related hospitalizations and deaths compared to many other cities in the state of California.
A report found that there were about 5,500 drug or alcohol poisonings resulting in hospitalization and about 700 deaths on average every year in Orange County. The average length of hospital stay, when the person survived alcohol poisoning or drug overdose, was just over four days. About 51.8% of the coroner-investigated deaths involved prescription drugs, mostly opioids.
Depression: This mental illness was the leading cause of hospitalization for children ages 9¬–17, and the second most-prevalent cause of mental health hospitalization (tied with bipolar disorder) among adults 18–64. It was also the second leading cause of mental health admissions among older adults over the age of 65. Mental health hospitalizations in general rose 8% among working-age adults during the period of 2000 to 2011, according to a United Way report published in 2014.
Suicide: In 2018 in Orange County, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), suicide was the 11th most common reason for death. There were about 321.7 completed suicides between 2014 and 2016. Suicide is associated with mental health struggles like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse.
Children: Hospitalizations of children and teenagers in Orange County due to mental health struggles increased between 2000 and 2011, particularly between 2010 and 2011. Major depression was the leading cause of hospitalization among children 0–17 years old; “other” concerns were the second most prevalent; bipolar disorder was the third leading cause; and substance abuse was the fourth leading reason for children’s hospitalization. Mental health hospitalizations among children and teenagers rose 34% during the period between 2000 and 2011.