Drug Abuse Patterns and Trends in Los Angeles County, California: June 2013

Mary-Lynn Brecht, Ph.D.

Summary of Key Findings for the 2012 Reporting Period:

  • There was a continuing increase in methamphetamine indicators.
  • Patterns were up or stable for heroin, and prescription opioids across multiple indicators; up for emerging synthetic drugs; down for MDMA; and mixed for marijuana/cannabis and cocaine.

Treatment Admissions

The overall number of treatment admissions in 2012 (n=45,612) was similar to that of 2011 (n=45,736). The four primary sub­stances accounting for the largest percentages of admissions were marijuana (27 percent), alcohol (23 percent), heroin (20 percent), and methamphet­amine (17 percent), with marijuana admissions showing a very slight increase over 2011 (25 percent). There was little change for the others. Cocaine accounted for 7 percent of Los Angeles County alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment admissions, continuing a downward trend (from 13 per­cent in 2009). Slightly more than 3 percent of primary treatment admissions were for other opioids/narcotics excluding heroin, stable from 2011 levels. Benzodiazepines, tran­quilizers, and sedatives together accounted for a very small percentage (0.3 percent) of total pri­mary treatment admissions in; this represented a slight decline from 2011 proportions (0.5 percent). The category of "other" amphetamines and stimulants, which includes several prescription drugs, such as Adderall® and Ritalin®, accounted for a small proportion (less than 0.1 percent) of treatment admissions in 2012. The percentage of AOD primary treatment admissions for methamphet­amine (17 percent) remained relatively stable from 2011 levels. Marijuana was reported as the primary drug for 27 percent of Los Angeles County treatment admissions, increasing from 24 percent in 2011. More than one-half (59 percent) of marijuana admissions were for adolescents younger than 18. Primary treatment admis­sions for MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymetham­phetamine) remained at a very low level (0.2 percent), but they reflected a decrease from 0.6 percent in 2011

Drug Seizures

Marijuana (35 percent), methamphetamine (28 percent), and cocaine (20 percent) accounted for a majority of Los Angeles-based reports (on seizures) of illicit drugs identified by the National Forensic Lab­oratory Information System (NFLIS) for 2012; these results indicated decreases for marijuana and cocaine and an increase for methamphetamine. Twenty percent of drug reports from items analyzed by NFLIS laboratories in 2012 contained cocaine, a decrease from 2011 levels (when cocaine constituted 23 percent of reports from total drug items analyzed). Heroin was reported in 5 percent of drug items analyzed by NFLIS laboratories in 2012, similar to 2011 levels. During 2012, law enforcement officials expressed concern because of decreasing retail prices of heroin, purportedly to “undercut the market for prescription narcotics.” Hydrocodone, oxycodone, and codeine together accounted for 2.2 percent of NFLIS items in 2012, similar to 2011. Methamphetamine remained prevalent and of concern to law enforcement agencies in the Los Angeles County region. Twenty-eight percent of NFLIS drug reports were for methamphetamine; this was an increase from 2011 levels (22 percent), ranking it second among types of substances reported (after marijuana/cannabis). After earlier and continuing declines in wholesale prices for methamphetamine, retail prices declined in late 2012 and early 2013.  Increasing trends in methamphetamine were also noted in emergency department admissions, coroner department toxicology cases, and poison control system reports. Marijuana/cannabis was identified in 35 percent of items analyzed by NFLIS laboratories in 2012, a slight decrease from 2011 (37 percent). MDMA accounted for 0.7 percent of drug reports from items analyzed by NFLIS laboratories in Los Ange­les County, a decrease from 1.8 percent in 2011. While still at very low levels, emerging synthetic drugs, including substituted cathinones, piperazines (e.g., BZP [1-benzylpiperazine] and TFMPP [1-(3-trifluoromethylphenyl)piperazine]), tryptamines (e.g., “Foxy methoxy”), and cannabimimetics showed increases in 2012 NFLIS drug reports over 2011 levels.

For inquiries regarding this report, contact Mary-Lynn Brecht, Ph.D., Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, University of California at Los Angeles, 11075 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025,