On the banks of the Santa Ana River, the city of Riverside is in the Inland Empire (which includes San Bernardino County) just outside of Los Angeles and inside Riverside County, which also includes Joshua Tree National Park and the city of Palm Springs. Located in Southern California, Riverside is not far from the US/Mexico Border, and drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) may use the area to smuggle drugs into other parts of the state and country. Local operations that may have ties to Mexican drug cartels may be producing  and distributing methamphetamine and marijuana.

Riverside County is within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Los Angeles (LA) County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) that also includes LA County, San Bernardino County, and Orange County. It is considered one of the major drug trafficking and distribution hubs in the United States.[1] The more readily drugs are available locally, the higher drug abuse rates for the region may be.

Mental health and substance abuse have close ties to each other, as an estimated 8.9 million Americans have a dual diagnosis of substance abuse or dependency and mental illness.[2] Both mental illness and substance abuse and/or addiction are treated with mental health, or behavioral health, services. Unfortunately, there is often a treatment gap between those needing services and those receiving them. In the state of California, only an estimated 34 percent (in 2010) of the 1,175,000 adult residents living with serious mental illness (SMI) received services within the public mental health system.[3] Private substance abuse and mental health services may help to fill the gaps that may be left open by state and county public programs.


Understanding Riverside Treatment Programs

Substance abuse, addiction, and mental health issues are complex diseases with many different levels and methods of treatment. Public programs are usually run by the state or county at a local level and may be free, low-cost, or accept Medi-Cal benefits for payment. These services are provided for the low-income and disadvantaged population as well as those requiring immediate crisis services.

In Riverside County, the Department of Mental Health operates both substance abuse services and mental health services for area residents.[4] The following programs are available:

  • Outpatient Drug Free (ODF) program
  • Specialty services
  • Prevention services
  • Adolescent program
  • MOMS perinatal program
  • Aftercare
  • Residential treatment and detox services[5]

ODF (Outpatient Drug Free) program

This program provides case management, specialized planning sessions, group and individual counseling, and referrals to outside drug or alcohol programs when necessary.

Specialty services

Riverside County has several specialty mental health services, ranging from prevention programs to court-ordered treatment programs. Drug Courts, the New Life Program, Drinking Driver Screening Program, Riverside County Probation Department Day Reporting Center, and the Recovery Opportunity Center are all programs designed for those within the justice system to receive drug, alcohol, and/or mental illness treatment instead of facing jail or prison time. Services may include education on substance use, parenting and anger management classes, group and individual sessions, and information on support services.

Prevention services

Riverside County also has several prevention programs to target substance use early on or before it starts. The Friday Night Live (FNL) program is designed to educate young people on the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. Individual Prevention Services (IPS) is a free service offered at all seven substance use clinics that are operated by the county. These clinics can help families and loved ones work together to establish a personal plan of action regarding their substance abuse with a prevention specialist. The Substance Use Treatment and Recovery Team (START) Program refers individuals to substance abuse programs that cater to co-occurring disorders as a method of preventing numerous admissions to county mental health programs.

MOMS perinatal program

Priority is given to pregnant mothers currently abusing alcohol or drugs, however, any parenting woman may enter into the program as space allows. This is a six-month intensive outpatient program that provides resources, education, and parenting skills to pregnant and substance-abusing mothers. Childcare and transportation is provided as are outside referral services when necessary.


Recovery groups and individual counseling services are provided for those who have already completed a Primary Substance Use Recovery Program. The Spanish-Speaking Program is another program focused on relapse prevention for Spanish-speaking residents, and it follows similar methods as nonbilingual county programs.

Residential treatment and detox services

Riverside County does not specifically run residential or detoxification services; however, the county does contract with private providers for more comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs that are 24-hour recovery programs provided in unlocked facilities. A list of contracted providers is provided on the county’s website.

Private substance abuse and mental health services can offer around-the-clock treatment for Riverside residents seeking a comprehensive recovery program. These programs often use research-based and holistic methods, and they typically offer a range of amenities, strict confidentiality, and privacy.


Meth and Marijuana in Riverside

The LA County HIDTA and Riverside law enforcement agree that methamphetamine production, distribution, and availability are rampant in the county as DTOs move drugs up, down, and across the major highways in the region.[6] In 2008, the number one substance of abuse in Riverside County, based on treatment admissions for substance abuse and dependency, was methamphetamine with 47 percent of all admissions that year.[7]

In the past, local super labs may have operated in much of rural California, cranking out massive quantities of meth at a time. In 2005, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA) made it more difficult to buy in bulk the precursor stimulant cold medicines (pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products) used in meth production, and local production rates dropped.[8]

Mexican DTOs may now supply most of the meth in the LA County HIDTA region, and they may be bringing it across the border in liquid form to be reformulated into crystal meth locally.[9] In 2014, a local bust confiscated materials capable of potentially manufacturing 250 pounds of crystal meth in three different Riverside homes; the methamphetamine was believed to have been smuggled up through Mexico as a liquid in order to be converted into crystal form before distribution.[10]

Meth can also be a contributor to violent and property crimes. In 2011, a National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) within the LA County HIDTA reported meth as being one of the primary drugs impacting these crime rates in the reporting area.[11]

Another drug readily available in the Riverside area, and therefore likely commonly abused, is marijuana, which is legal for medicinal uses in the state of California. In 2008, marijuana was the second most common drug cited as a primary drug of abuse for treatment admissions (20 percent of treatment admissions).[12]

The fertile valleys in Riverside may be ideal locations for marijuana growers, and both legal and illegal cannabis cultivators and marijuana producers may take advantage of this region. In the first half of 2015 alone, more than 56,000 illegal marijuana plants in Riverside County were destroyed.[13] New laws were passed in May 2015 in an attempt to regulate the illegal cultivation of cannabis in the area, as crime, like the theft of water and electricity and other community nuisances, often comes with marijuana production.[14]


Alcohol and Other Drugs

Heroin abuse is increasing at rapid rates across the country, as it may be more difficult to find and abuse prescription opioids. Heroin is likely coming up in the United States from Mexico and through California. Mexican drug cartels and DTOs may be diversifying in order to keep up with demand for this illegal and highly addictive opioid drug. Seizures of heroin at the US-Mexico Border have doubled from 2010 to 2015, and much of the drug may make its way through California on its way to other parts of the country.[15] More than 8,000 Americans died from a heroin-related overdose in 2013, more than four times the number of overdose deaths related to the drug in 2002.[16]

The “new” abuser is not necessarily economically underprivileged or uneducated; in fact, new users of heroin may be more likely to be privately insured and financially stable.[17] Nearly all age groups and socioeconomic brackets are affected by heroin abuse today.[18] Prescription opioids still represent a large-scale problem in the Riverside area, and each September, the Riverside County Sherriff’s Department stages a drug take-back day. This is part of a national U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, where local residents can drop off unwanted pills at several local sheriffs’ stations in the county, as a method of avoiding possible drug diversion and abuse.[19]

A legal mind-altering substance, alcohol accounted for 16 percent of substance abuse treatment admissions in Riverside County in 2008.[20] Alcohol may have some mild health benefits; however, binge or heavy drinking can cause problems. Binge drinking is when a man drinks five or more drinks in roughly a two-hour period, or a woman drinks four or more in the same amount of time. Heavy drinking is typically classified as repeated episodes of binge drinking in a month, or as everyday drinking of at least one or two drinks a day.

In Riverside County in 2012, an estimated 9.9 percent of women and 23.4 percent of men engaged in binge drinking, and 6.6 percent of women were heavy drinkers while 9.4 percent of men were.[21] These rates were very similar to the national averages for 2012.[22] Repeated instances of binge drinking, and patterns of heavy drinking may cause an individual to become dependent on alcohol, as well as create physical, mental, and even criminal problems. Alcohol alters perceptions, impairs coordination, and delays reaction time, making it extremely dangerous to operate a motor vehicle while under its influence. In 2012, approximately 140 of the 1,369 fatalities and injuries from motor vehicle crashes in Riverside County involved alcohol.[23]


Mental Health Targets

Mental health problems may be related to many outside factors, including poverty levels, substance abuse, and access to care. Drugs and alcohol can make symptoms of mental illness worse, and drug or alcohol withdrawal syndromes may even cause mental illness symptoms to appear in individuals with no prior history of mental illness.

In 2014, counties in California were studied in an effort to determine an area’s overall health. Riverside ranked right about in the middle of California’s counties for overall health outcomes; however, Riverside County ranked closer to the bottom for health factors (ranked 26th and 38th respectively out of 57 ranked counties).[24] Health outcomes were measured by looking at life expectancy and quality of life, while health factors included health behaviors, physical environment, economic and social factors, and clinical factors, such as access to care.[25]

Riverside County has the highest number of residents per primary care physician at over 2,500, while the target is closer to 1,000 per primary care physician, which is higher than all neighboring counties and the state in general.[26] Primary care physicians may be the first line of help for mental health or substance abuse treatment, as they can refer an individual to a treatment program and have access to patients’ specific physical and mental health histories. In Riverside County in 2012, there was a rate of 6.7 psychiatrists per 100,000 people.[27]

Poverty levels are also high in Riverside County, which are related to mental health rates as well. In 2010, an estimated 16.6 percent of residents were living in poverty, and 4.6 percent were battling a serious mental illness in 2009.[28] Unemployment rates in Riverside County more than doubled from 2007 to 2010, rising from 6 percent to 14.7 percent.[29]

Mental health is just as important as physical wellbeing, and mental health treatment is an important aspect of substance abuse and mental illness recovery. Both public and private treatment programs in Riverside exist to engage individuals in treatment plans that promote overall wellbeing and long-term health.




[1] (Sept. 2011). “Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Drug Market Analysis 2011.” U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC). Accessed October 6, 2015.

[2] (2014). “San Bernardino County 2014 Community Indicators Report.” The Community Foundation. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[3] (n.d.). “State Statistics: California.” NAMI State Advocacy 2010. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[4] (2013). “Department of Mental Health.” Riverside County. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[5] (2013). “Substance Use Services.” Riverside County Department of Mental Health. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[6] (April 2015), “Submittal to the Board of Supervisors County of Riverside, State of California.” County of Riverside. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[7] (2010). “Indicators of Alcohol and Other Drug Risk and Consequences for California Counties. Riverside County 2010.Center for Applied Research Solutions (CARS). Accessed October 6, 2015.

[8] (n.d.). “CMEA (Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005).” U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Office of Diversion Control. Accessed October 6, 2015

[9] (Sept. 2011). “Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Drug Market Analysis 2011.” U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC). Accessed October 6, 2015.

[10] Soley-Cerro, A. (Sept. 2014). “Nearly $5 Million Worth of Chemicals, Crystal Meth, Marijuana Found at Riverside Homes; 7 Arrested.” KTLA 5. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[11] (Sept. 2011). “Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Drug Market Analysis 2011.” U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC). Accessed October 6, 2015.

[12] (2010). “Indicators of Alcohol and Other Drug Risk and Consequences for California Counties. Riverside County 2010.Center for Applied Research Solutions (CARS). Accessed October 6, 2015.

[13] Burge, S. (June 2015). “Riverside County:  Marijuana Seizures Increasing.” The Press-Enterprise (P-E). Accessed October 6, 2015.

[14] Horseman, J. (May 2015). “Riverside County:  New Rules for Marijuana Crops Greeted With Applause.” The Pres- Enterprise (P-E). Accessed October 6, 2015.

[15] Bonello, D. (June 2015). “In Mexico Illicit ‘Poppy Gardens’ Feed U.S. Demand for Heroin.” Los Angeles (L.A.) Times. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[16] (July 2015). “Today’s Heroin Epidemic.” U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Accessed October 6, 2015.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] (n.d.). “D.E.A. National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.” Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[20] (2010). “Indicators of Alcohol and Other Drug Risk and Consequences for California Counties. Riverside County 2010.Center for Applied Research Solutions (CARS). Accessed October 6, 2015.

[21] (2015). “U.S. County Profile:  Riverside, California.” Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE). Accessed October 6, 2015.

[22] Ibid.

[23] (2014). “2012 OTS Rankings.” California Office of Traffic Safety. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[24] (2014). “County Health Rankings 2014 California.” University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[25] Ibid.

[26] (2014). “San Bernardino County 2014 Community Indicators Report.” The Community Foundation. Accessed October 6, 2015.

[27] (July 2013). “Mapping the Gaps:  Mental Health in California.” California Health Care Foundation (CHCF). Accessed October 5, 2015.

[28] Ibid.

[29] (2013). “Community Health Profile 2013.” County of Riverside Department of Public Health. Accessed October 6, 2015.