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Report: The Most Commonly Abused Drugs in LA County

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

Addiction and substance use is a nationwide problem. But specific areas of the country show specific trends and drug patterns. For example, the 2019 Los Angeles County Sentinel Community Site (SCS) Drug Use Patterns and Trends Report shows the current statistics of drug use in Los Angeles County. Dr. Mary-Lynn Brecht of UCLA authored the report, which was funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) together with the Center for Substance Abuse Research. The data includes that of minors (teenagers under age 18).

We summarize the results below.


Methamphetamine (meth) is the most pressing substance of concern in LA County today.

  • Almost half of those who die of toxic substances in LA County tested positive for meth.
  • Meth accounts for almost 33% of treatment admissions in 2018. Treatment programs include those in California receiving any public funding or to programs providing narcotic replacement therapy.

Prescription Opioids

  • Prescription opioid abuse is the second most concerning problem in Los Angeles. Prescriptions include opiates, synthetics, and drugs such as oxycodone/OxyContin.
  • Data from Poison Control in 2018 shows that 13.1% of all calls about illicit substances were due to prescription opioid abuse. This percentage is nearly that of all illicit substances combined (14.4%).
  • According to the data, fentanyl use has also increased in LA County from previous years.


  • While meth and prescription opioids are the most concerning drugs abused in LA County overall, marijuana is the most concerning substance that LA County teenagers abuse.

Poison Control Data

  • There were 4,163 Poison Control reports made in 2018. Of these, 14.4% were for illicit drugs including marijuana.
  • 26.1% of the calls were about benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines include tranquilizers, sedatives/hypnotics, and barbiturates.
  • Calls to poison control about methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine also increased in 2018.

Seeking Treatment for Drug Abuse

  • The percentage of those seeking treatment for meth addiction is on the rise in LA County. There were almost 11,000 LA County admissions for meth abuse in 2018, out of 33,000 total admissions.
  • Second to meth is heroin abuse. 8,400 LA County residents sought treatment for heroin in 2018. This makes up about a quarter of all admissions to substance use treatment programs.
  • In 2018, treatment admissions for heroin, marijuana, and prescription opioids slightly decreased. However, the author of the report admits this could be due to factors such as decreases in state funding and changes in delivery of services.
  • Treatment admissions for crack/cocaine abuse stayed approximately the same.
  • According to the report, LA County males were more likely to seek treatment for substance abuse than females.
  • When it comes to seeking substance use treatment for alcohol, heroin, crack/cocaine, meth, and prescription opioids, teenagers under age 18 only make up about 1%, or less than 1%, of treatment admissions in 2018. Residents between the years of 26-45 are the demographic most common to seek drug treatment in LA County.
  • However, the exception is for marijuana usage. 1,344 LA county teens sought out treatment for marijuana use in 2018. This constitutes almost 40% of all the LA County treatment admissions for marijuana in 2018.

You Can Help

If you or someone you love has problems with alcohol or drugs and you think they need help, you can make them aware that treatment for substance use disorder – aka addiction – is available, effective, and close at hand. Evidence-based treatment can help people break the cycles of addiction and live life without drugs and the collateral damage excess drug use can cause. Encourage them to seek professional help, get an evaluation by an addiction specialist, and consider treatment if recommended.

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