In an article written for the Voice of OC, Jonathan Shaywitz writes,
“Most Americans have a certain image in their minds when it comes to drug abuse. It often involves desperate criminals, blighted street corners, and dark rooms in seedy buildings – perceptions that reinforce the comforting belief that people struggling with addiction are nothing like ‘us.’”
So while of course those images are conjured for a reason, it is also understandable that we revert to them for a separate reason – convenience. By letting ourselves think that drug abuse is for the “others” of society, we willingly turn a blind eye to the shadows and the people in them, even when they might look alarmingly like ourselves.
In Orange County specifically, that has been the case. It’s the criminals and the street corners and the dark rooms, but it’s also affluence and age and the willingness of many to ignore the dark side of it all.
In “Behind the Orange Curtain,” an award-winning documentary that dives into the idyllic lifestyle of tree lined streets, young-looking mothers, gated communities, and the wholesome, California shine, Natalie Costa works to dispel the shadow and open up our eyes.
In a segment for ABC7, Eileen Frere talked about the rise of teen prescription drug use in Orange County with Costa, the executive producer of the documentary, who said,
“That’s what the problem is, they don’t expect the consequences, they don’t think it’s going to happen to them.”
Only the thing is, statistics would suggest that it could happen to anyone: it’s in the numbers, the people, and the place, and awareness can perhaps mean avoidance.
According to the OC Health Care Agency, a study done in collaboration with the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Division, found that the overall rate of drug or alcohol overdose deaths in the County increased by 51% between 2000 and 2012. In fact, drug and alcohol overdoses or poisonings resulted in over 5,000 hospitalizations and nearly 600 deaths among Orange County residents each year during that time.
More than that, research from the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, in collaboration with the Center for Applied Research Solutions (CARS), Inc. suggests that the amount of binge drinking that occurs in Orange County alone outweighs the averages for the entire state of California.
Ultimately, whether it’s alcohol or opiates or prescription drugs, the fact is that there’s an epidemic in idyllic Orange County. Like other epidemics too, healing will not come from inaction and crossed fingers. It’s in the numbers, it’s in the people, it’s in the place, and the only way that we can dispel the dark side of Orange County is to shed light on the shadows, to look into the faces there that are so much like our own, and to help them.