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Santa Ana Drug Abuse: Statistics, Trends & Treatment Options

Santa Ana, located in Southern California, is the second most populated city in Orange County. About 10 miles inland from the California coast, it is a large metropolitan city with lots to offer  year-round.

Like most large cities, drug use is a problem in this area. The community is working hard to reduce the negative impacts of substance abuse.

woman sitting from drug use

Drug Use in Santa Ana

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an average of 1.6 million people in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) use illicit drugs every year. This number equates to 15.4 percent of this population in comparison to a 16.8 percent rate of drug use for the state of California and a 14.7 percent rate of drug use across the country.

Overall, rates of drug use in the Santa Ana area are lower than rates in California overall, but about equal to the rates of drug use throughout the United States. Marijuana use in the Santa Ana MSA was about 11.1 percent, while use of prescription pain relievers was 4.4 percent.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health

hand rejecting alcohol

For many people, misusing drugs and alcohol and mental health issues go hand in hand. SAMHSA’s 2012 NSDUH also evaluated rates of substance use disorders and depression, one of the most common types of mental illness.

In the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana MSA, over 890,000 people met the diagnostic criteria for having a substance use disorder in the past year. Of the people included in the survey, 495,000 had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year as well.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that there are common risk factors that contribute to both substance use disorders and mental health issues. NIDA estimates that about 50 percent of people who have some form of mental illness also develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lifetime, and vice versa.

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common co-occurring disorders with substance use.

opioid epidemic

The Orange County Opioid Crisis

Just as the entire country has been dealing with the opioid overdose epidemic, so has Orange County. There are fewer fatal opioid overdoses in Orange County each year than there are across the U.S., but drug-related overdose deaths remains a prominent public health concern.

Between 2000 and 2015, the number of fatal drug overdoses increased by 88 percent in Orange County. About half of those deaths were due to overdoses on prescription drugs.

In Orange County, more than 1.7 million prescriptions were filled for opioid medications in 2015. Despite the risks of taking opioids, residents of Orange County continue to consume greater amounts of opioids each year.

This reflects the same trend of opioid use across the country. In 2015, over 289 million prescriptions were written for opioid pain medications in the United States.

Each year, more people end up in the emergency room due to an opioid-related overdose in Orange County. From 2005 to 2015, the rate of emergency department visits due to an opioid overdose increased by 141 percent.

The increasing number of overdoses seen in Orange County each year can be attributed to the high rates of prescriptions being written, an increase in opioid abuse, addiction, and poisoning by illicit opioids, such as heroin.

Who Is Overdosing?

From 2011 to 2015, 7,457 residents of Orange County went to the emergency room for an opioid-related emergency, reports the Orange County Health Care Agency. The percentage and types of opioid emergencies that sent these people to the hospital include:

  • 39 percent: opioid abuse or dependence
  • 24 percent: heroin poisoning
  • 21 percent: prescription opioid poisoning
  • 11 percent: opium poisoning
  • 4 percent: methadone poisoning

The people using these opioids come from a range of demographics, though there are some general trends on who is most likely to experience an opioid overdose. On average, 1,500 people living in Orange County are seen for opioid dependence or overdose each year. Statistically, this population has been:

  • 61 percent male.
  • 78 percent non-Hispanic white.
  • 15 percent Hispanic.
  • 53 percent between the ages of 18 and 24.

Unfortunately, all ages, ethnicities, and genders continue to see a rise in the number of emergency department visits due to opioid-related overdoses or abuse. The only age group that did not see an increase in opioid problems from 2011 to 2015 was adolescents ages 10 to 17. Such a statistic could indicate hope for future generations being able to slow down the opioid overdose crisis.

Overall, the central cities of Orange County, which includes Santa Ana, saw a 58 percent increase in the total number of opioid emergency department visits between 2011 and 2015. Santa Ana alone had 631 emergency department opioid cases during this time.

During this same time period, the central cities experienced a 20 percent increase in the number of deaths from an opioid overdose. In addition, 91 residents of Santa Ana died due to opioid overdose.

sign for rehabilitation

Santa Ana’s Response to Drug Use

Local efforts are being made to address the increasing rates of opioid overdoses and deaths across Orange County. Public education, treatment, and affordable counseling services are all being offered through the Orange County Health Care Agency to reduce rates of drug and alcohol misuse. Local community organizations are working to provide targeted intervention and prevention services to at-risk communities for drug-related issues.

Local law enforcement agencies have also been working to improve rates of drug and violent criminal activity in Santa Ana and throughout Orange County. Recently, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) partnered with the Anaheim Police Department and the Santa Ana Police Department to target criminal activity throughout the county. Together, the agencies seized 35 firearms, 4 pounds of methamphetamine, and arrested 8 individuals involved with the firearm and drug trade.

Removing weapons and illicit drugs from the streets of Orange County is one of the highest priorities for these agencies, as it improves safety for all residents. By impeding the distribution of illicit drugs, people may be spared from accidental overdoses that are often caused by drugs bought off the street whose quality and contents cannot be guaranteed.

man receiving rehab treatment

Local Resources

If you are looking for help with a substance abuse problem in the Santa Ana area, there are many resources available.

Many affordable or free services are available through the Orange County Health Care Agency’s Behavioral Health division. The following services can be accessed through this program:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse prevention
  • Early intervention for alcohol and drug abuse
  • Suicide prevention
  • Mental illness support
  • Crisis and support
  • Adult inpatient and outpatient programs
  • Children and youth outpatient programs
  • Network of care
  • Residential care
  • Public health services

Specific services are available for children, youth, adults, and older adults (over the age of 60). If you live in this area and are looking for help for yourself or a loved one who is struggling with a substance use disorder, don’t hesitate to take advantage of these services.

If you would like to speak with someone who can refer you to the most appropriate services, the Orange County Links Information and Referral Line provides free and confidential support via phone (1-855-625-4657) or online chat. Trained responders can give you information about the programs available, make referrals, and connect you to those that could benefit you.

Treatment Options in Santa Ana

There are many local treatment options available in Santa Ana. Depending on your level of substance use and goals for treatment, you can determine the level of treatment you need. Inpatient and outpatient programs are available for adults as well as youth struggling with substance abuse.

A great way to start your search for the right treatment program is by utilizing the Orange County Links Information and Referral Line listed above. If you would like a broader search service, SAMHSA also offers a free and confidential online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator as well as a national helpline (1-800-662-4357) that is available to provide treatment and referral information 24/7.

No matter what your goals are for treatment or what your history of substance abuse looks like, there are resources available to help you today. Exploring your options is the first step on your path to recovery.


Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses. (August 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Joint Investigation Takedown in Southern California Nets Drug and Firearms Traffickers. (April 2018). Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Opioid Overdose and Death in Orange County. (August 2017). OC Health Care Agency and Orange County Sheriff-Coroner.

The NSDUH Report: Metro Brief. (March 2012). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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