In the southeastern part of Santa Fe County in New Mexico lies the small town of Española. With a population of little over 10,000 residents, it was founded in the late 1800’s during the Industrial Revolution, and developed as one of the main railroad hubs of the Southwest. Today, the Los Almos National Lab is the cites’ main employer. You might be surprised to know that Española has the highest per capita drug overdose rate in the entire country. The figures come out to roughly 42.5 drug-related deaths per 100,000; the national average is only 7.3.
These kinds of results are fairly random, and there isn’t necessarily any rhyme or reason. For example, according to the Substance Abust and Mental Health Services Administration’s most recent survey, Missoula, Mont. had the peak rate of illicit drug use. Surveys taken in 2004, 2005 and 2006 showed that 13.8% of households polled in the Missoula region reported using illicit drugs in the prior 30-day period. Montana has been fighting a methamphetamine epidemic that accounts for 50% of the state’s adult incarcerations.
But aside from these small towns, most of the more predictable urban centers have the highest drug abuse rates; but what is unusual is the differences in drugs abused from city to city in neighboring counties. For instance, Washington, DC has the highest rate of crack and cocaine use in the country, with a 5.22% usage rate in the city, making it the highest in the country. However, neighboring Baltimore – just 40 miles away – has the highest rate of heroin usage, heroin-related crime and overdose. In 2006, 184 heroin-related overdoses were reported. One of the more tragic situations is in New Orleans, long considered one of the most vice-ridden cities in the United States. But following Hurricane Katrina, many crack dealers filtered into the city – even more than before – and never left. The result was an incredible rise of drug turf wars, resulting in the highest murder rate in the country. The statistics are incredible: 95 murders per 100,000 people in 2007, the largest figure in the country by a huge margin. Chicago, New York and Boston have the highest heroin-related hospital admissions in the country, and Baltimore and San Francisco have the highest numbers of heroin addicts and heroin-related crime of any cities in the nation, according to the DEA. Alabama leads the country with the largest number of narcotic painkiller prescriptions; they issue nearly three times as many prescriptions as Hawaii, the lowest prescribing state, according to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention.
But particular areas of the country continue to see enormous drug problems for reasons that often baffle those trying to stem the tide. “There are different drug-use rates among the population,” says John Carnevale, a public-policy consultant who served three presidents at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Some communities do get impacted more–sometimes because of location; it could be local economies; it could be all kind of things. I wish we really knew the answer, and maybe we could have a more effective strategy.” Unfortunately, there is little research on geographic drug-use patterns and effects in America. One of the last important federally funded studies of this sort, the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program, had its resources cut off and ceased operation.