Report lists how 20,000 San Diegans died last year

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

SAN DIEGO – The number of unintentional deaths due to drugs or alcohol rose last year in San Diego County, with methamphetamine as the leading cause, followed by alcohol then heroin, according to the Medical Examiner’s 2015 Annual Report.

There were 212 meth fatalities, 110 alcohol deaths and 90 caused by heroin in the county, out of a total of 510 deaths. That’s a slight increase over the number of drug- and alcohol-related deaths in 2014, according to the report.

Heroin was the leading cause of drug or alcohol death for those age 20 to 29. Designer drugs accounted for 11 deaths in the county, which was the most ever recorded by the Medical Examiner in that category. Seven deaths were due to drugs similar to fentanyl and four to mitragynine, also known as kratom, an an opioid-like substance made from plants.

“Despite the low numbers, we are keeping our eyes on acetyl-fentanyl, kratom, spice, bath salts, and other rather obscure substances,” Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas said. “So far, we’ve had very small numbers of cases compared to other areas, but they are a concern.”

Read more Obama signs $6.3 billion bill for cancer research, drug treatment

Prescription drug-related deaths increased slightly in 2015 with 249 cases, compared with 245 in 2014.

The overall number of deaths remained about the same, with roughly 20,000 deaths recorded in the county annually.

Deaths obviously due to natural causes are not usually investigated by the Medical Examiner, so the remaining cases, approximately 8,700, are referred to the Medical Examiner. Of those, about 5,700 cases are then determined after an initial review to be sudden, unexpected natural deaths with about 3,000 cases further investigated.

The data in the report focus on the 2,996 cases in 2015 that were fully investigated by the Medical Examiner. The percentages of cases was similar to previous years with the largest portion, 46 percent or 1,384 cases, determined to be accidental deaths. After that, 34 percent or 1,026 cases, were found to be natural deaths, 14 percent, or 427 cases, were suicides, 4 percent, or 105 cases, were homicides, and for 2 percent, or 53 cases, the manner of death was undetermined.

Motor vehicle-related fatalities accounted for 302 cases in 2015, up slightly from 291 the previous year. Accidental pedestrian deaths made up 89 of those cases, not including another one ruled a homicide and another two determined to be suicide.

Read more Teen drug and alcohol use are down, survey says

Additional motor vehicle-related victims included 107 drivers, 37 passengers, and four cases in which it was unclear whether they were drivers or passengers. There were also 47 motorcyclists, nine bicyclists, plus one other determined to be a homicide.

In the deaths investigated by the Medical Examiner attributed entirely to natural causes, the vast majority, or 659 cases, were due to cardiovascular disease, 98 cases were alcohol-related, 45 cases were due to cancer, 42 cases were central nervous system-related, 41 were pulmonary, and 27 were infectious disease-related.

The number of local suicides rose slightly during 2015, with 427 deaths, compared with 420 in 2014. The County’s suicide rate was 13 per 100,000, which was higher than the state’s rate of 10.5, but close to the national rate of 13.1.

As in previous years in San Diego County, the Medical Examiner found the highest rate of suicide among men older than 85 years old.