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New Study Shows Long Beach Has Big Drug Problem

September 22, 1988|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — This city has an $888-million drug and alcohol problem.

According to a new study, that is what it costs the community each year to arrest, prosecute and jail people involved in alcohol- or drug-related crimes; to treat substance-abuse and related medical problems, and to make up for lost productivity and the suffering of victims, among other factors.

The economic impact amounts to $2,188 for every resident.

Prepared at the direction of the City Council and unveiled Tuesday, the year-long study generally reflects "a significant substance abuse problem in Long Beach," said Jeffrey L. Fortuna, of Drug Education Consultants, in Orange.

'This Is First Step'

When compared to the national average, Fortuna said, the consequences of alcohol abuse here are twice as bad, and the drug problem is three times worse.

Councilman Ray Grabinski said the study, which Fortuna coordinated with a task force of community leaders, demonstrates that the city needs to take alcohol and drug abuse seriously.

"This is the first step toward recognizing) the big problem, which is denial on the part of cities" that they are plagued with major drug and alcohol problems, Grabinski said. "We've admitted we have a problem. Now we're looking for treatment as a city."

Fellow Councilman Jeff Kellogg referred to rampant drug and alcohol abuse highlighted in the study as indicative of a "cancer in our society. If we don't cut it out, it kills."

Fortuna, who also lectures at Cal State Fullerton, told a council committee that one of the most important study findings was the large number of deaths associated with drug and alcohol dependency. He said there were apparently 410 drug-related deaths and 228 alcohol-related deaths in Long Beach in 1987. While the number of alcohol-related deaths are below the national average, the study said, the drug-related deaths were six times higher than the average.

Other major findings in the study included:

There were 306 heroin overdoses and 127 cocaine overdoses treated in Long Beach hospitals in 1986. The study's executive summary, made available Tuesday, did not list the number of overdoses caused by alcohol only, but said that 916 occurred when alcohol was used in combination with other legal or illegal drugs.

Long Beach has a large number of alcohol and drug treatment programs that attract not only residents but people from other cities as well. A total of 15,683 substance abusers were treated for chemical dependency in 1987 within the city--12% more than in 1986.

Of the city's 52 traffic fatalities in 1986, 20 were caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol. Police logged 1,015 arrests per 100,000 population in 1987 compared to a national rate of 903.

Alcohol- and drug-related crime rates were significantly higher in Long Beach than in the nation as a whole. The number of alcohol-related crimes was 4,344 per 100,000 population in Long Beach, compared with a national average of 3,588. Drug-related crimes were 1,479 in Long Beach, compared with 1,027 nationally.

Police said that last year nearly half of all Long Beach crimes were alcohol-related, while one in four was drug-related.

Students Polled

The study included a poll of Long Beach high school juniors, in which 15.7% said they had used marijuana or cocaine at least once in the preceding month. But Fortuna said he believes that is less than the national average.

Seven percent said they use marijuana at least three or four days a week. Two out of five students said they occasionally drink alcoholic beverages.

One out of five students said they abstain from drugs and alcohol, as well as tobacco.

Fortuna blamed the drug use in part on the easy availability of marijuana and cocaine in Los Angeles County. But, without providing specific figures, he said that marijuana use was higher and cocaine use lower here than in the nation as a whole.

He said Long Beach has an abundance of programs aimed at curbing alcohol and drug abuse. The programs have not significantly cut abuse rates because they have not been in operation long enough, he said.

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