Drug-related arrests down, but some see use rising

Laguna Beach police arrested fewer people for illegal drug use in 2013 than in previous years, but some community members claim the problem is more widespread.

Laguna Beach police made 338 drug arrests in 2013, a 10% decrease from 2012, according to department statistics.

Last year's total is also a decrease from 350 in 2011 and a sharp decline from 563 in 2009.

The arrests include commonly used illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines, along with OxyContin and Vicodin, two prescription medications, police said.

From 2008 through 2013, methamphetamine use drew the most arrests (447) among that group. Heroin was second, at 229, and cocaine was third at 204, according to the statistics.

Heroin arrests spiked from 25 in 2011 to 57 in 2012 before dropping to 35 in 2013. Arrests for cocaine peaked at 60 in 2010, but dropped by more than half to 23 in 2011 and decreased further to 15 in 2013.

The decline in arrests could be attributed to several reasons that include community education programs; public perception of drug use; the Laguna Beach Unified School District working closely with law enforcement to combat drug use among teens; supply and demand; and changing attitudes in society about drug use, Capt. Jason Kravetz wrote in an email.

Resident Rita Conn said at a City Council meeting earlier this month that it's becoming easier for young people to access certain drugs such as heroin. Police Det. Larry Bammer told council members at another meeting that drug use extends beyond the reports.

Conn said a medical professional at Mission Hospital Laguna Beach told her that in the past two years, he has "seen more and more young people dying from heroin."

She noted that she interned at a methadone clinic and saw firsthand how drugs can become addictive.

"I know how impossible it is for heroin users to kick [the habit]," Conn said. "We have to prevent them from getting hooked in the first place. There's an epidemic gripping our country, and it's also gripping our city. It's serious."

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