Drug-death epidemic must be stopped

Every 4.3 days someone in Butte County dies from drug use

The author is a Chico resident and the founder of Not In Our Town—Glenn County. He maintains the website www.drugpreventioned.com.

Butte County’s citizens have died from drug-induced death at a rate 3.5 times higher than the state average, according to the California Department of Public Health. Drug-induced deaths include all deaths for which drugs, including alcohol, are the underlying cause.

In 2000, there were 13 overdose victims. By 2007, that number went up by 81 percent to 67 overdose victims. The drug-induced death rate has risen dramatically in recent years.

From 2010 through 2012, drug overdoses killed 254 victims, according to Butte County Public Health. That’s an average of 85 overdose victims per year, which means that someone dies every 4.3 days on average—nearly two victims per week. In 2012, of the 72 overdose deaths, only three were attributed to alcohol directly, but frequently, overdose victims have used alcohol with other drugs.

Within the last 10 years, 641 citizens have died from drug overdoses, primarily from prescription-drug use.

To put it another way, residents of Butte County are 2.5 times more likely to die from a drug-induced death than from a motor-vehicle crash.

In 2012, the youngest overdose victim was 16; the oldest was 84. Of this group, 28 were females and 44 males, with a combined average age of 48 years old. Overdoses are killing more 30-, 40- and 50-year-old individuals than other age demographics.

With few exceptions, those who have died from a drug overdose had more than one drug in their system. Nationally, pharmaceutical-drug use now kills more people than illicit drugs.

Obviously, a problem of this magnitude will require a countywide effort—and extremely strong leadership.

The best-case scenario would be for the public, as well as Butte County’s hospitals, medical professionals, county supervisors, health services, law enforcement, city leaders, community-service organizations and Chico State University, to say that enough is enough, and that it is time to address this issue collectively.

Recently, after Chico lost five young people to alcohol use, many of the above agencies, institutions and organizations awoke from their deep, deep sleep on the issue. The silence on the drug-death epidemic over the years has been deafening.

Butte County citizens must decide if men, women and children dying from drug overdoses every 4.3 days is acceptable. If not, is Butte County willing to do the hard work needed to begin reducing this extreme rate of senseless drug-induced deaths?