Public Health Topics
Opioids and Other Prescription Drugs

Beach Cities Health District identified substance use as a health priority for 2022-25. For more information about the health priorities, visit

According to the Mayo Clinic (2022), prescription drug abuse is the use of a prescription medicine in a way NOT intended by the prescriber. This includes anything from taking a friend’s painkillers for your own injury to snorting or injecting ground up pills to get high. The prescription drugs most often misused because of their mind-altering properties include opioid painkillers (OxyContin, Percocet), benzodiazepines like anti-anxiety medicines (Xanax) and sedatives (Valium) and stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin).  

Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from the plant directly, and others are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structure. Opioids are often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. Prescription opioids are used mostly to treat moderate to severe pain. Opioids can also make people feel very relaxed and "high" – which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons. This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common. Heroin is one of the world's most dangerous opioids and is never used as a medicine in the United States (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

The number of drug overdose deaths has quintupled since 1999, with nearly 75% of the 91,799 drug overdose deaths in 2020 involving an opioid. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines the rise in opioid overdose deaths in three distinct waves. 

  1. The first wave began with increased prescribing of opioids in the 1990s, with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone) increasing since at least 1999. 
  2. The second wave began in 2010, with rapid increases in overdose deaths involving heroin. 
  3. The third wave began in 2013, with significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly those involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl. The synthetic market for illicitly manufactured fentanyl continues to change, and it can be found in combination with heroin, counterfeit pills, and cocaine.  

 For more information on fentanyl, visit

  • The opioid epidemic was declared a public health emergency by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2017 
  • Almost 50,000 people die every year from opioid overdose and over 10 million people misuse opioids in a year
  • Teenagers who legitimately use prescribed opioids are 33% more likely to misuse opioids after high school 

Know the Facts

In California:

  • Starting in 2016 in California, all licensed prescribers authorized to prescribe scheduled drugs and all licensed pharmacists authorized to dispense scheduled drugs are required to register for access to the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES), California's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP).

In Los Angeles County:

  • In 2020, there were 1,506 opioid-related deaths in Los Angeles County, an increase of 81.4% from 830 deaths in 2019 (Safe Med LA).
  • There was a 144% increase in the fentanyl-related overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020 (Safe Med LA).

In the South Bay:

SPA 8 includes the communities of Athens, Avalon, Carson, Catalina Island, El Segundo, Gardena, Harbor City, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lennox, Long Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Dominguez, Rancho Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, San Pedro, Torrance, Wilmington, and others.

In the United States:

  • Among people aged 12 or older in 2021, approximately: 
    • 14.3 million people reported misusing any prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past 12 months 
    • 3.7 million people reported misusing prescription stimulants in the past 12 months
    • 4.9 million people reported misusing prescription tranquilizers or sedatives in the past 12 months
    • 3.9 million people reported misusing benzodiazepines in the past 12 months 
  • Among young people in 2022, an estimated:
    • 5% of 12th graders reported misusing any prescription drug in the past 12 months 
    • 2.3% of 8th graders, 2.9% of 10th graders, and 3.4% of 12th graders reported misusing Adderall in the past 12 months 
    • 1.4% of 8th graders, 1.5% of 10th graders, and 1.5% of 12th graders reported misusing tranquilizers in the past 12 months 

Source: NIDA 

Opioid Overdose Spike and COVID-19 

The CDC reports a spike in overdose deaths throughout 2020, with some health and addiction specialists believing that the increase may be related to the stress and isolation during COVID-19 quarantines. Regardless of the cause of the increased death rate, illicitly manufactured fentanyl (and fentanyl analogs) is the most common denominator. Read here for more information.

Overview of Benzodiazepines, Opioids and Stimulants

What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines (sometimes called "benzos") work to calm or sedate a person. Common benzodiazepines include medicines often prescribed for anxiety including diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin), among others.

Side effects of benzodiazepine use include: 

  • Drowsiness 
  • Confusion 
  • Unsteady walking 
  • Slurred speech 

What are stimulants?
Prescription stimulants are medicines generally used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy – uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep. Common prescription stimulants that increase alertness, attention, and energy include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®), dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combination product (Adderall®), and methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®). Adderall is the most popular stimulant for self-medication and its primary illicit use is to be used as a “study aid.” 

Side effects of prescription stimulant use include:

  • Increased alertness 
  • Irregular heartbeat 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Reduced appetite 

Source: Mayo Clinic

What are opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.

Side effects of opioid use include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Mental fog
  • Nausea
  • Constipation

What are the signs of an overdose?
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if a person is heavily under the influence or experiencing an overdose. If you’re having a hard time telling the difference, it is best to treat the situation like an overdose – it could save someone’s life.

The following are some symptoms of being under the influence of opioids or benzodiazepines:

  • Pupils will contract and appear small
  • Muscles are slack and droopy
  • Speech may be slurred
  • They appear to be falling asleep but will respond to outside stimuli like loud noise or a light shake

The following are signs of an overdose:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsive to outside stimulus
  • Awake, but unable to talk
  • Breathing is very slow and shallow, erratic or has stopped
  • Vomiting
  • Body is very limp
  • Face is very pale, clammy
  • Fingernails and lips turn blue or purplish black
  • Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic or not there at all

What should you do if you suspect someone is overdosing?

  • Shout loudly, “Are you okay? Can you hear me?” to make sure the person is conscious. Apply painful stimuli like rubbing the knuckles against the sternum or applying a fingernail to the nail bed.
  • If there is no immediate change in their condition, call 911 immediately. Tell the 911 operator, “I believe this person is overdosing.”
  • California’s 911 Good Samaritan Law provides protections for any person experiencing a drug-related overdose, or a person who seeks medical assistance for a person experiencing a drug-related overdose. For more details, read AB 472 here.

Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids. It can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing with heroin or prescription opioid pain medications.

Types of Naloxone:

  • Injectable: Liquid form, injectable naloxone is commonly used by paramedics, emergency room doctors and other specially trained first responders.
  • Auto-injectable: EVZIO® is a prefilled auto-injection device that makes it easy for families or emergency personnel to inject naloxone quickly into the outer thigh. Once activated, the device provides verbal instruction to the user describing how to deliver the medication, similar to automated defibrillators.
  • Intranasal: NARCAN® Nasal Spray is a prefilled, needle-free device that requires no assembly and is sprayed into one nostril while patients lay on their back. Anyone can be trained to use NARCAN®.
  • For more information on naloxone and how to obtain this potentially lifesaving medication, please visit the California Department of Public Health’s Opioid Prevention Initiative here.

View Naloxone (Narcan) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) here.

How to get help if you or someone you know is dealing with substance use disorder:

  • Substance Abuse Service Helpline (SASH) 1-844-804-7500
    • By calling SASH, residents of Los Angeles County can find out about free treatment that is available with Medi-Cal, My Health LA, and other county-funded programs.
    • The helpline is toll-free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Translation services are available.
    • Available substance use treatment services include:
      • Outpatient Services
      • Intensive Outpatient Treatment
      • Detox and Withdrawal Management
      • Medication-Assisted Treatment and Opioid Program
      • Residential Services
      • Recovery Support Services
  • The Service and Bed Availability Tool (SBAT) is a web-based dashboard of available substance use services throughout Los Angeles County, including a provider directory. To locate Substance Abuse Disorder Treatment, use the LA County Service & Bed Availability Tool.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT?

  • Buprenorephrine (Suboxone ® or Subutex ®):
    • A medicine for people who have chronic pain or addiction to heroin or other opioids. Many know it by the brand names, Suboxone or Subutex.
    • Buprenorephine reduces the risk of overdose and helps rid the body of cravings and withdrawal, without the effect of feeling high.
    • You can be prescribed MAT by an emergency department physician, an addiction specialist or your primary care doctor.

Prescription Drugs and Opioids: What Beach Cities Parents Should Know


  • Visit for health-related information and referrals, or call allcove Beach Cities at (310) 374-5706, Tuesday – Friday: 1 – 7 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse: Opioids
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Opioids - Commonly Used Terms
  • South Bay Families Connected: The South Bay Families Connected Opioid Awareness project, launched in 2017, aims to reduce the stigma that surrounds opioid addiction by increasing community-wide awareness that opioid abuse, addiction and accidental overdose can happen even in the most supportive families, and to the most loved and inspiring youth. In 2020, the project expanded to include Fentanyl overdose and poisoning education and prevention.
  • Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: The Substance Abuse Prevention and Control program leads and facilitates the delivery of a full spectrum of prevention, treatment and recovery support services proven to reduce the impact of substance use, abuse and addiction in Los Angeles County.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Promoting and implementing prevention and early intervention strategies to reduce the impact of mental and substance use disorders in America’s communities.
  • Connecting to Opportunities for Recovery and Engagement (CORE) Center - Community space where everyone can come to get information and resources about how to prevent alcohol and drug use, learn more about substance use disorders (also known as addictions) and find out where to go for free or low-cost treatment services.