Fresno, Ca., is the nation’s capital of intravenous drug use, the Associated Press reports. It sounds like an unlikely distinction for a city of fewer than 500,000 people in one of the nation’s richest agricultural regions. The percentage of people shooting up heroin and other drugs in Fresno is nearly three times the national average, fueled by a boom in methamphetamine use, says a new study. Law enforcement agencies and treatment counselors say they are overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, which is compounded by HIV and hepatitis C infections that come from sharing needles.
The Fresno area is home to Mexican drug cartels that operate in rural expanses where farm chemicals used to make meth are readily available and the noxious fumes are less easily detected. Part of the problem is poverty, said Samuel Friedman, a research fellow at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York and primary author of the study in last month’s Journal of Urban Health. In the study, Fresno was found to have 173 IV drug users for every 10,000 people; the national average is 60 per 10,000. Three other areas within 200 miles also made it into the top 10: San Francisco, Stockton-Lodi, and Bakersfield. Fresno County spends $20 million a year on drug treatment that served more than 9,000 people in 2002, and the programs are straining to keep up with demand.