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Drugs are Killing California

As if living in California weren’t hard enough with insane cost of living, rampant homelessness, and out of control crime, the recent spike in drug-related deaths throughout the state is like adding moonshine to Everclear. 

By Gage Skidmore: Governor Gavin Newsom speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California.

As if living in California weren’t hard enough with insane cost of living, rampant homelessness, and out of control crime, the recent spike in drug-related deaths throughout the state is like adding moonshine to Everclear. 

Sitting in traffic in Southern California for over three hours is enough to make anyone shoot up. 

In all seriousness, the drug problem in California is no laughing matter, particularly for the homeless and youth. 

While most people were frantic over COVID-19, a much more lethal and insidious crisis was afoot in California – the drug epidemic. 

The Homeless Correlation

It’s difficult to tease out the drug epidemic from the homeless crisis, particularly in cities such as Los Angeles. 

While the country’s overall homeless population dropped 9% between 2010 and 2020, California’s shot up 31%.

Three of the top six cities – San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego – recorded the greatest number of unsheltered homeless populations. 

This was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

The vast amount of homeless people that died in 2021 was not from the rarely deadly coronavirus, which one would think would rip through homeless encampments that littered almost every sidewalk throughout Los Angeles and beyond.  No, most died of a drug or alcohol overdose. 

An unhoused person is 36 times more likely to die of an overdose than the county’s general population. Specifically, the drugs involved with the highest percentages of overdoses are methamphetamine and fentanyl.

Nearly 1,500 people, the vast majority believed to be homeless, died on the streets of Los Angeles during the pandemic — 40% because of a drug or alcohol overdose. Most experts conclude that number is an undercount. 

Drugs Plague the Entire Country

To be fair, California numbers are not out of normal range with the rest of the country. The entire country has a drug problem, not just its western most state. 

The epidemic in Los Angeles, the largest county in the US, mirrors disturbing trends across the country, where the number of overdose deaths increased to record-breaking levels last year. Fatalities linked to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl increased from 58,000 in 2020 to 71,000 in 2021, and fentanyl is now the most common drug linked to overdoses. 

According to one study, California at 17.8 actually sits below the national average of 24.7 for age adjusted opioid overdose death rates per 100,000. Some of the highest rates are in West Virginia, D.C. Delaware, Tennessee, and D.C. 

This might make sense when you consider, when everything has hit rock bottom, at least it’s sunny and 75*. I always felt the daily doses of vitamin D and easy access to nature have kept me a little less depressed than I may have otherwise been during dire straits. 

However, many of those dying from opioids, such as fentanyl, are sadly, children. 

California’s Youth Are Dying

The overdose issues are particularly problematic among youth because of the devious nature of drug dealers. Most youth are not shooting up narcotics on the playground. They are unwittingly ingesting other sorts of pills, medications, or other less lethal drugs that have been laced with dangerous synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl, which can be up to a hundred times more potent than morphine. 

Many parents are taking action against culprits that contribute to the unsettling rise of overdoses among the younger generation. 

Earlier this year, relatives of over 60 young people who died of fentanyl overdoses filed a lawsuit against L.A. based social media company, Snapchat. The suit claims that ““Snapchat is the go-to means to distribute drugs to children, teens, and young adults through social media, and is involved in a far greater number of fentanyl poisoning deaths of U.S. teens than other social media apps.” 

An August 2021 letter from the California Peace Coalition urged other Californians to join them to put an end to what they called “open air drug markets” and “homeless encampments” throughout the state. 

The group describes itself as “a nonpartisan coalition of parents of children at risk of dying from illicit deadly drugs, parents of children killed by fentanyl, and community leaders who are fighting against drug death markets, for psychiatry for all, and for Shelter First to save lives, our communities, and our state.”

The letter outlines the common fallacies that legalizing or decriminalizing drugs, housing first policies, and “safe injection sites” help reduce drug abuse. 

The group pushes for “practical solutions, not ideology.” 

While opioids are the most pressing problem, they are not the only one. Late in 2022, middle schoolers in Moreno Valley (about 70 miles east of LA) overdosed on marijuana edibles and three need to be treated at the hospital. 

What is California Doing? 

So, what is California doing about the drug epidemic? Not enough.

While Governor Gavin Newsom injected nearly $481 million in grants to help overhaul California’s youth mental health system, there is little the state will do to protect children from those who provide the illicit drugs. 

Cracking down on drug dealers is difficult in a culture that prioritizes therapeutic approaches to drug abuse and notorious for lax laws against criminals.

Last year, for example, lawmakers rejected a proposal to permit convicted drug dealers to be charged with manslaughter or murder for selling fatal doses of fentanyl or other opiates or narcotics. They also killed a bill to increase jail time for people selling 2 grams or more of fentanyl, including those hawking it on social media. 

Thankfully, Governor Newsom did veto a bill that would have allowed some cities to operate “safe injection sites” where people can access clean needles and use drugs under supervision of a medical personnel. 

Last year, state lawmakers convened a bipartisan committee to investigate solutions to the state’s opioid crisis. 

Not much came from in effort in San Francisco when the state deployed the National Guard and California Highway Patrol to crack down on drug dealing. 

With Gavin Newsom galivanting the country, touting his reputation rather than addressing the issues that are plaguing his state, we shouldn’t expect much more. 

Jennifer Galardi is the politics and culture editor for 19Fortyfive. She has a Master’s in Public Policy from Pepperdine University and produces and hosts the podcast Connection with conversations that address health, culture, politics, and policy. In a previous life, she wrote for publications in the healthfitness, and nutrition space. In addition, her pieces have been published in the Epoch Times and Pepperdine Policy Review. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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Written By

Jennifer Galardi is the politics and culture editor for She has a Master’s in Public Policy from Pepperdine University and produces and hosts the podcast Connection with conversations that address health, culture, politics and policy. In a previous life, she wrote for publications in the health, fitness, and nutrition space. In addition, her pieces have been published in the Epoch Times and Pepperdine Policy Review. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.