Trinity, Lake, and Del Norte County Filled More Opioid Prescriptions Than They Have People

Empty prescription bottles

Empty prescription bottles. [Crop of a photo by Pfc. Nikki Phongsisattanak [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

America has an addiction to prescription painkillers. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports we’re in an opioid crisis. Every day an average of 90 people die in this country because they overdosed on opioids.

People living in the beautiful Emerald Counties of California, unfortunately, are among those that fill a large number of prescription painkillers. And, they die at an alarming rate from overdoses.

Opioid deaths Calif

This graphic comes from the California Department of Public Health. The red California line represents the average number of deaths from opioids per 100,000 residents across the whole state.

Last year, Trinity, Lake, and Del Norte Counties actually filled more opioid prescriptions than they have people, according to an article in the Sacramento Bee.

The article points out,

Trinity County is the state’s fourth-smallest, and ended last year with an estimated population of 13,628 people.

Its residents also filled prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone and other opioids 18,439 times, the highest per capita rate in California.

Lake and Del Norte Counties have similar statistics. And, Mendocino and Humboldt vie for ninth and tenth place in the number of opioid prescriptions filled per 100,000 residents in California counties.

Rural counties like ours are at the heart of the opioid crisis. For more information, read the Bee article and explore the California Department of Public Health’s detailed reports and graphics on each county here.

Here’s an example of one interesting map that can be found at the latter site.

Opioid overdose map for Humboldt County

Humboldt Deaths – Total Population – 2016
All Opioid Overdose: Age-Adjusted Rate per 100,000 Residents. [From the California Department of Public Health]



  • Humboldt Co has a belief in a chemical solution to every unhappiness. This is a surprise to anyone?

    • Uh i think you mean western medicine. There are a whole lot of people in humboldt who do all sorts of healing without chemicals.

    • It sounds like there is a doctor problem, not a drug problem. These things are controlled substances. Citizens can only get them with a note from a DOCTOR. If those 18439 prescriptions we’re all monthly refills, that would supply 1536 people with an annual amount. That’s about 1 out of every 9 people taking opioids daily according to DOCTOR recommendations. If half of those 18439 perscriptions were only given to a person for 3 monthly refills, that would be somewhere around 3800+ people out of 13628 perscribed opioids by DOCTORS. Who else would be to blame?

      • You are 100% correct. It is a DOCTOR problem, not a patient problem. Greedy doctors who dint care. Scripts database controls all the US narcotics. Docs going to jail is good. Saved lives. Thanks, Mike

      • Diesel DRW - Curb Weight 7762 lbs

        Pain Pills? Legal!

        Cannabis? Legal!

        Alcohol? Buy and drink all you want!

        Who the fuck cares how many prescriptions are written and filled? It’s a protected and private treatment, and statistics like these prove nothing!

        It’s a free country, kill yourself however you want.

      • Diesel DRW - Curb Weight 7762 lbs

        Doctors give out pills, but usually because PATIENTS ask for them!

      • Thank you for breaking it down properly. A lot of us have chronic medical conditions, lack access to proper medical care and live in pain on a daily basis. And yes, there numbers are totally exggarated! A lot of people have a monthly prescription. I think a lot of the problem is lack of medical care. Also Dr.s are under a giant microscope right now and are very careful about who they prescribe to and some dr.s have left. Just because there is a correlation does not mean there is causation. Makes a nice headline tho oh and most drug related deaths here are from heroin not prescription opioids.

      • That’s unregulated capitalism for ya.

  • “Rural counties like ours are at the heart of the opioid crisis”.
    More propaganda geared towards destroying rural living.
    Move to the ghetto’s where life is sweet and
    to the funny farm…

    • you should try some data. nation wide it is the same scenario – rural areas have the biggest drug related problems. Ohio may declare a disaster it is so bad. Indiana is not far behind. they are building a 128 million dollar tech school where I grew up, which is also a disaster area, in an attempt to stop this cycle. it worked in the 70s/80s and progressive thinkers are hoping it will work again.

      • Data? Yes, let’s try some data. When a thing happens to one person in with a population of 10, it’s happening to 10% of the people. When it happens to one person in a place with a population of 100, it’s happening to 1% of the people.

        Further, the solution with drugs and alcohol appears to be, not prohibition, but jobs and social network.

        For example

        • the data speaks for itself and you clearly have not looked at it. the only solution is education and a path forward which red states and counties across the nation don’t seem to value and in result have been hit the hardest with this drug problem. I have several herniated disc, some days it unbearable. but I don’t take opiates because I know it will destroy my future.

        • Yes, Ernestine, yes!!!

          I get so sick of folks suggesting some barbaric punishment for addicts/’the mentally ill’ when our whole society is set up to only work for a few, leaving poverty and alienation in it’s wake.

          So good to see someone who ‘gets’ it.

    • [edit] There are no biased facts.

    • Just because there are issues in rural counties doesn’t mean there isn’t beauty also but refusing to look at some very real statistics doesn’t sound like you, Shak. We have different views but you have always seemed thoughtful. Look at the map on the Bee. Rural counties, as a whole, have more issues with opioids. That doesn’t mean that rural living is what causes the problem. For instance, some folks believe that many problems in rural areas reflect the fact that urban areas frequently co-opt larger slices of funding for themselves.

      • Thank you kym.
        Across the country, rural areas who have lost the ability to sustain themselves due to big biz takeovers have extremely high rates of drug use.
        Be it ag or timber or whatever, big biz like the ag companies will put small farmers out of business and then hire them at a fraction of what they were making. It doesnt just hurt the pocketbook, it often destroys the pride.

        I know this isnt about meth in this article, but the drug use comes from the same reasons. Look at rio dell after maxxam cut and ran, so much drug use.
        It also sux for the people who do use opiates responsibly for pain management. A lot of people may not believe it,but the studies are showing it over and over again that ingesting pot while taking opiates reduces the need to go up on dosage. I can personally attest to that, after 6 years of using an opiate/acetomenaphyn pain pill&good clean maryjane, i have never had to go up on my pill dosage and am able to easily take breaks from the pills when i want/can. Its crazy, the receptors for opiate and thc are next to each other in the brain. Doctors studying this think the thc helps the opiate work better thus no need for more.

      • Maybe sick people haven’t got much money so they move to the rural areas where living is cheaper. Maybe lots of these people are elderly, and so, more liable to be needing pain pills than young people in the cities. What do you think?

        • I think if anyone is moving to Humboldt for cheaper living, they haven’t looked at the prices. But that may be true in other areas.

        • I agree with you Ed. I live in Lake County and we have a very large population of elderly people because it’s such a popular retirement option. We also have a significant amount of disabled people Lake County as it’s an economical place to live.

  • Probably due to pharmaceutical kickbacks to drs that are prescribing them.
    In trinity the drs were giving norco for the flu.

    • Your barking up the wrong tree. There are no kickbacks for prescribing narcotics. Perhaps look at the patients around here who have dependency issues and prefer to deal with their problems through chemical enhancement vs dealing with reality.

    • Tracy Marie Chappell

      Well where is this doctor I’ve been on Norcos with 10 years and I moved to Solano County and now they won’t give me anything but some Tramadol and Napa sins don’t know what the hell that supposed to do for me I’m just trying to figure out why

  • I’m relatively new around here, but what area of Eureka is that map highlighting in red? Is that the downtown area?

  • Says alot about the doctors around here, get you hooked their drugs so their industry thrives as all these addicts bodies fall apart at 50 and need millions of dollars of healthcare to make it to 65, what a joke , free prescriptions and healthcare for every loser ,I mean user

    • Doctors can prescribe but no one is forcing patients to take the pain killers. Go to the ER here and they are almost disappointed if you do not ask for narcotics. Patients come in asking for drugs frequently and are upset if they do not get them. How about taking ownership of your own poor decisions.

  • Well someone who takes pain meds for a chronic condition will require 12 prescription refills in a year, so Trinity has 10% of its population on permanent pain meds. The fact that they write more prescriptions than the population is not really relevant to anything, 10% of the population on pain meds certainly is though.

  • The data speaks for it self. Through efforts to reform prescription practices and drug education combined with distribution of the narcotic antidote Naloxone, Humboldt County has been able to hold the line on overdose deaths while they have dramatically increased elsewhere. In my opinion all public service agencies, VFDs, law enforcement, libraries and schools should have Narcan on hand. Measure Z funding anyone?

  • 1 out of every 10 cars on the road in Humboldt is high in prescription meds. ,damn legal tweekers , I mean losers

  • Who do we think sponsors the MSM and lamestream drive-by news? Big Pharma. Trump wants to put an end to this and ban pharmacutical TV commercials just like tobacco and alcohol. That is one of the reasons they hate him. Because the media is completelt corrupted and he is honest. So they lie…. and lie…… and lie.

  • First, this only addresses the legally prescribed and issued opioids. Not a mention of street drugs. Second, there’s no mention of how many people filled prescriptions; just the number of prescriptions filled. Third, this chart has several skew dactors in it. What does “age-adjusted” mean i real-life terms? How is age adjusted, and what does adjusting for age mean in terms of total population? Does it kick out a population under say, the age of 12? Is it young adults and adults only? The last time I heard, Humboldt County had a population of about 128,000. So if you’re adjusting per 100,000 in population and you kick out 30% of your population by adjusting for age, your results are goi g to be much different than if you just do an across-the board prescriptions-per population estimate.

    None of this means that I think we don’t have a huge crisis in opioid use. People die, and kill and commit crimes to support their habits. But when you stop blaming addicts and start looking for solutions, it’s pretty clear that over-prescription, and the role of Big Pharma as the pusher of these helldrugs is the obvious place to start.

    • Age-adjustment is technique for making areas more comparable in terms of the age distribution of residents. For example, opioids are more likely to be prescribed to older adults for many reasons, mostly because they tend to have more terminal conditions such as cancer that requires these types of narcotics. A county with an “older” population relative to another will have a higher opioid prescribing rate simply because they have a greater number of older residents. In order to examine county-to-county differences, you would need to remove these differences statistically. Therefore epidemiologists age-adjust rates and make different areas more comparable…as if they had the same population in terms of age. It is a standard practice. I believe the site has “crude rates” as well, which do not take these differences into account.

  • sick and twisted orwellian government.

  • It turns out that the opium of the masses is, well, opioids.

  • Legalize all drugs! Problems solved.

  • This article makes a connection between prescriptions and opioid deaths. Since opioid includes meth, herion and undpecified opioids, I can’t see that connection is documented.


    Deaths with any of the following ICD-10 codes as the underlying cause of death:

    X40-X44: Accidental poisonings by drugs
    X60-X64: Intentional self-poisoning by drugs
    X85: Assault by drug poisoning
    Y10-Y14: Drug poisoning of undetermined intent
    With any of the following ICD-10 multiple cause-of-death codes:

    T40.0: Opium
    T40.1: Heroin
    T40.2: Natural and semisynthetic opioids
    T40.3: Methadone
    T40.4: Synthetic opioids, other than methadone
    T40.6: Other and unspecified narcotics”- from crossed reference in the cited article.

    And the connection between rural and urban areas is also tenuous. There are a lot more rural areas than urban ones- being that truly urban areas are San Francisco, Sacramento, LA, San Diego. The rest of the so called urban areas are a mix of rural and urban. So designating by by counties could be very misleading.

    Then the demographics are that increasing age means increasing opioid prescriptions because frankly every surgery and many other procedures mean a pain prescription. And old people get lots more of those than younger people. And I suspect that Humboldt has a disproportionate amount of older people as young people tend to leave to get work while older people come here because the cost of living is lower.

    Money will not cure the issue . Despite one person announving it’s all the ‘red’ states causing the problem. In truth Washington (State of) has the worst level of opioid deaths on the west coast and they are most liberal. San Francisco County is pretty up there too, despite being as liberal as they come and rich to boot. New York, Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts rank way up there too. While Wyoming and Texas, those dens of red iniquity, for example, do not.

    Beside one coroner’s or doctor’s personal opinion can bias the reported cause of death dramatically, especially in a small county. There was one doctor who wrote tobacco as a cause of death, if the deceased smoked or ever did, no matter what the physical cause of death was. That lead to Humboldt Co having more smoking related deaths when the CDC collected the stats than just about anyone else in the country. I suspect that Del Norte’s huge level of prescriptions may be related to one doctor precribing a lot in a small population.

    That Humboldt Co has a problem is no surprise as it’s a mecca for drug use period. It has its reputation honestly.

    This is just one of many fads in calling alarms by advocates and agendists. Squash one kind of drug and people change to another. If anyone was really serious about the issue, then all recreational drug use, including marijuana, would be an anathema. And good luck with that.

    • methadone is not meth. feel free to look at the nation wide map of this problem. when you overlap the income map it becomes a no-brainer, hence the article in the first place. the biggest drug problem in these States you cite are in red counties, like Lowell Mass which was a textile mill town and now just a drug den and eastern Wash to my knowledge has probably no liberals at all. Olympia, Wash has a bad dioxin problem just like here are for the same reason, do you think its a liberal town? I see the biggest problem in the US is no one wants to admit they fucked up.

      • Meth is indeed not a narcotic.

        However, the idea that somehow rich democrat states are not responsible for their addiction issues, while all republican states are , is not rationable.

        I agree that admitting responsibility for anything negative is rare. Blaming others is common.

    • “opioid includes meth”

      That’s the point where I read no further.

  • Funny thing is as one single person i used to get my pain meds filled every month from the va. So one person equals 12 scripts. Persons with cronic issuses and cronic pain are feeling this crunch, told to learn to deal with the pain as doctors are becoming fearful of perscribing painkillers. For me personally the thought of having to live in pain the rest of my life, such pain that somedays i lay in bed with tears in my eyes , or taking painkillers. I try to only take them on really bad days when i have over done it the day before or on days that i know my tasks will be pushing me and my limitations. But if it wasnt avabile i can tell you i would no longer wish to live, not because of bot having the painkillers but because the pain is so bad that there is really no point to suffer day in and day out. I find many people claiming folks are addicted to these drugs , and i ask myself are they truely addicted to the drug or are they addicted to a pain free life? I also ask myself why arepeople so quick to judge something like pain management verses other health issuses? I cant tell you how many times when i park in a disabled parkings spot with my permit i get old people coming up to me accusing me of stealing it, because someone my age doesnt deserve one . These are everyday battles for people with cronic illiness , and i truely wish i could live out my days in peace on whatever drugs my doctors give me to make it bareable. Life is hard i get that but it is also 2017, you dont see people getting root canels without pain management, most ladies get pain management when they gove birth, why must people that depend on pain pills to make it through the day attempting to be productive members of this country be labled addicts ? And when your doctor gets scared and stops perscribing them, not because they dont feel you no longer need them but because they are only allowed so many scripts a year what are we supposed to do ? Suck it up cringe at every step everytime we bend down everytime we raise our arm to shake someones hand ? Who gets to decide who can enjoy life and who must suffer through it ? Because more and more it isnt my doctors it is some law maker that doesnt know me have never lived in the pain i face daily and i am judged by those people who claim everyone is a addict.

    • Hurtsiknow, you hit it right on the head! I too am a person who lives with chronic pain from back issues to a debilitating bone disease. I’m only 39 years old and I have 6 kids. I have dealt with these issues since my mid 20’s. I no longer get prescription pain meds because I have been labeled an addict by the government and doctors. I have something called an intrathecal spinal pain pump that is filled with Fentynal. I wouldn’t be able to move if it we’re not for this pump. It has gotten so bad, that my pain management facility is “thinning out” my med solution! This liquid pain medicine is something I don’t even see…it is injected into my pump that is under my skin! They control this pump themselves. It gives me micrograms of pain medicine directly into my spine and they are now saying the government is scared that people are figuring out how to get high off of these pumps! Impossible!!! That’s how bad this has gotten! I guess we are a forgotten group in this country…and we don’t matter anymore!

    • Proud Deplorable Grandma

      Exactly. If I did not take pain pills I would be sitting all day doing nothing and being very depressed. Responsible pain pill use has given me back some life. I also fear having them taken away and what my life would become. I do all the things I should be doing, moderate exercise, don’t eat sugar, meditation, etc but I still need them to be active. This didn’t hit me until I was in my 50s and I would give anything to work all day, then come home and work all evening around the house, garden on weekends, etc. Now I have to plan my days around when my pain pills will be the most effective to get chores done and exercise.

  • Taking painkillers is not a death sentence or a life ruiner. If the patient has legitimate health issues and obtains prescription opioids and takes them as they are supposed to, then that is most definitely NOT an immediate death sentence! It’s all these damn people that want to take these things to get high! They have no health issues that require prescription opioids…all they wanted to do was get stoned! Then when the doctor finds out that they are pill seekers, they end the script and where do these addicts go? On the street and start taking heroin! There are alot of people out there who would be able to live as close to a normal life as possible with these prescription opioids if these dope addicts didn’t ruin it for them!

    • So maybe we should ban beer and wine and the like because people abuse it as well. It is so easy to get labeled a pill seeker anymore, hell i had to fight that label myself from a temp doc simply because my scrpit ran out and i went merely to get a new one, because i dont take as many as they give me so that i can function, so my scripts tend to last longer , and when the refill expires and i forgot to get it filled ahead of time i must call up doc and beg for another one. Doc was temp labeled me anpill seeker and it took over a year to get mu script back, a year of hell as the pain i was in. Fumny thing is i never seem to get high from the pills, and i was told that people in true pain wont get high, not sure if that is true or not somce i never take anything just to get high.

  • I agree it’s a doctor problem. It’s also a problem because of all the turmoil in the world people are turning to these types of drugs to get through the craziness. Doctors need to stop prescribing and patients need alternative methods to cope with the pain and their problems.

  • WOW! That is startling, Kym. Very sad. thank you for publishing. Gonna re-share.

  • “Last year, Trinity, Lake, and Del Norte Counties actually filled more opioid prescriptions than they have people”

    My Mother In-law lives in Del Norte County.
    I’m sure she is responsible for at least half of the ‘scripts.
    Crazy Old Coot!

    The problem is, she’s so ornery, she’ll probably outlive me.


    Yeah,it does seem like the Doctors,especially dentists,offer up these pills too easy. And prescriptions for multiple refills is stupid for single visits. Do you really need 120 pills for a filling?
    These people are on the road. Scary.
    Maybe it’s the Auto body shops giving the kickbacks…

  • This is a misleading headline, implying that prescriptions are being written for non-existent people. Prescriptions are filled monthly; only one-twelfth of the population need be on meds for the number of filled prescriptions per year to equal the population.

    • I’m sorry you took it that way. It was intended to show that there was such a large number that everyone in Trinity could have had a prescription last year. In a similar way some folks note that if your DNA was unraveled it would reach the sun. It’s not that they think the DNA can be unraveled and stretched out into space, but it’s a point of comparison to show how large the number is. To use your numbers though, a 1/12 of Trinity County on prescriptions would be another similar way to show a large number but in reality, probably some folks have more than one prescription.

  • It reflects on the people of the north coast, 8 out of ten are complete,fuck up addicts from the look of it

  • This is about personal resposibility – not a doctor problem. I’m not fat because safeway won’t stop selling my ding dongs. Grow up

  • I hope all those prescriptions were covered by insurance. Otherwise, those people are f-cked! Yet another reason why alternatives to pharmaceuticals are such a blessing, and nobody is forcing anyone to use these alternatives. Humboldt Herbals in Eureka is one of my favorite sources of these alternative medicines (not including cannabis, which is another alternative medicine).

  • In the Ferndale Zone

    Tightening up on doctors who misprescribe won’t solve the problem or even make a dent in it. If they make it too difficult and expensive to get a scrip, people will just go round the block and buy black tar heroin, which is half the price and available everywhere at all hours, and don’t kid yourself, it really is everywhere. You can even have it delivered like pizza. That’s what happened to a friend of mine. She was on a doctor’s scrip for chronic pain in another state, moved here and couldn’t get a scrip fast enough, then quickly figured out that black was the way to go. At least if a doctor prescribes, the patient can receive some kind of medical care.

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